On 5 November, Israel closed the crossings into the Gaza Strip and blocked the entry of goods and supplies, including basic foodstuffs. Since 18 November, Israel has allowed the entry of goods, though much less than in October. According to government officials, the crossings were closed in response to the firing of more than 100 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Prior to the closing of the crossings, on 4 and 5 November, Israeli forces killed six Palestinians who were taking part in the hostilities.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that, from 5-18 November, the Gaza power station received 24 percent of the industrial fuel needed to operate the station at full capacity. As a result, power supply to Gaza City and the central Gaza Strip was interrupted for 16 hours a day, leaving some 650,000 residents without electricity at any given time. The power breaks also affected water supply: 20 percent of all Gazans received running water once every five days, and then only for six hours; 40 percent received water once every four days; and the remaining residents received water once every three days.
Pita bakery in Gaza that shut down operations due to the shortage of wheat and fuel. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 24 Nov. 2008
Continuation of the fuel shortage is also liable to bring the sewage pumps to a halt, resulting in an uncontrolled flow of unpurified sewage into residential neighborhoods. In recent weeks, the hospitals have relied on generators to maintain normal operations. However, continued reduction of fuel supply or breakdowns in the generators are liable to affect the ability of hospitals to function properly.
Medicines and essential medical equipment intended for Gaza remain stuck at Ben Gurion Airport because the crossings are closed. Also, bread is being rationed, due to the lack of cooking gas and the reduction in supply of wheat. As a result, 28 of the 47 bakeries in Gaza City and all bakeries in Rafah have been forced to stop work.
According to media reports, goods are being brought into Gaza from Egypt via tunnels in Rafah, but in insufficient amounts to match the normal extent of trade, which is controlled almost exclusively by Israel.
The rocket fire at Israeli communities is a grave breach of the laws of war and constitutes a war crime. Israel is allowed, and is even obligated, to defend its citizens from these attacks. In doing so, however, it must use only legal means. Not allowing the entry of goods into Gaza in response to the rocket fire constitutes unlawful collective punishment imposed on one and a half million civilians.
Since the disengagement in 2005, Israel has increased the restrictions placed on residents of the Gaza Strip, preventing entry of goods that are not considered “humanitarian,” including raw materials for construction and manufacturing needs, and preventing almost completely exports from the Strip. As a result of this policy, most Gazan households live in deep poverty, and approximately half of them depend on humanitarian aid to survive.
Israel’s control of the crossings and of so many aspects of life in the Gaza Strip requires it, inter alia, to enable the passage of medicines, foodstuffs, and necessary goods. Israel must immediately and completely reopen the crossings for the entry of supplies and goods into the Gaza Strip and refrain from collective punishment of the residents there.