THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE ISRAELI SIEGE ON THE WEST BANK AND GAZA
A REPORT BY LAW
7 August, 1997
LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment PO Box 20873 Jerusalem Tel: (972) (2) 5812364/5824559 Fax: (972) (2) 5811072 email: email@example.com Web site: http://www.birzeit.edu/lawe
In the wake of the suicide bombings on 30 July 1997, Israeli military forces imposed a siege on the Palestinian territories. Empowered by this closure, Israeli settlers, backed by the Israeli military, have escalated their own attacks against Palestinian residents.
This policy of collective punishment is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has been condemned by the international community. It is also contradictory to the spirit of peace and to the Oslo Accords. Article 7 of the Declaration of Principles clearly demands the respect of freedom of m ovement of laborers from Palestinian-controlled territories to Israel and vice versa. Israel has unilaterally adopted this isolation policy, and Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that the purpose of this siege is to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority and not for "security reasons". Its main aim is to inflict as much damage as possible on the Palestinian economy, to create despair within the Palestinian community and to force them to accept Israeli security conditions on an unjust peace.
The Israeli system of blockades has evolved since the outbreak of the Intifada. There were 17 blockades on the Occupied Territories between the onset of the Intifada in December 1987 and September 1993, totaling a period of 145 days: 102 covering the West Bank and 43 covering the Gaza Strip. Durin g these periods people and goods were prevented from moving from the West Bank and Gaza to Jerusalem and Israel. These blockades became more sophisticated shortly before and after the signing of the first Oslo accord in 1993. In 1993, the Israeli govern ment imposed a permanent blockade on the We st Bank, and instated a system of "entry permits" to control the flow of people across the green line. All Palestinians without a permit are refused entry into Jerusalem and Israel, and this permit system has become increasingly restrictive to now includ e only married men over the age of 35 and w omen over the age of 30.
In addition to the normal blockade, the Israeli government periodically imposes a kind of "super-blockade". The super-blockades are usually imposed during Jewish holidays and feasts, during major Moslem and Christian holidays, after bombings, after cl ashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military, or prior to the anticipated outbreak of protests. In addition, there are random blockades or curfews in scattered towns and villages throughout the West Bank under the pretext of security. During these periods of super-blockade all entry perm its are invalidated and no one is legally a llowed to move in or out of the West Bank or Gaza. There were 8 such super-blockades in 1994, extending over a period of 77 days: 58 over the West Bank, 18 over Gaza, and 3 over Palestinian-controlled Jericho. As the Palestinian economy relies on its work ers inside Jerusalem and Israel, this restr iction on Palestinian labor has been disastrous - the Palestinian Authority estimates that losses resulting from blockades reach 6 million dollars a day.
Despite the signing of the Interim Agreement, or Oslo II, in September 1995 and the cessation of the Intifada, the blockade policy has remained. In fact, it became even easier for the Israeli army to prevent the movement of Palestinian residents in the W est Bank. The canton-like Palestinian-cont rolled Areas A of the West Bank are easily surrounded and sealed by the Israeli military, and a new and improved blockade, or siege, has periodically been put into effect. During these periods all residents of Palestinian controlled areas are under a kin d of "Area A" arrest, and villagers and agr icultural produce from outlying areas cannot come to the towns and people and goods from the towns cannot go to the villages. All Palestinians, even those with permits, are refused entry to Jerusalem and Israel, and the Palestinian borders with Jordan an d Egypt are frequently closed. This is a p olicy of total isolation and economic strangulation, results in massive economic loss, a degradation in health care, and holds serious ramifications for those needing medical care and for schooling. In 1996, following Oslo II, 6 such sieges were imposed. Two of these sieges alone covered the enti rety of the West Bank for a period of 65 days, while the remaining four were partial sieges which closed Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron.
Thus far in 1997, the Israeli government has imposed four sieges on the West Bank. One siege covered all Palestinian-controlled areas, and the other three were partial sieges closing the towns of Hebron, Nablus and nearby villages for a total period of 3 8 days. In total, there have been an estim ated 48 Israeli super-blockades or sieges on the Occupied Territories for a combined period of 436 days.
This kind of collective punishment has proved inefficient in reducing tension and minimizing violence, as it punishes only the innocent. On the contrary, violence inside and outside the West Bank and Gaza can be traced to this Israeli policy and the addi tional hardship it entails. Collective puni shment is actually another method contributing to the spread of violence, increase in tensions, and reduction in confidence in the peace process.
Closure's Impact on Palestinian Democratic and Educational Institutions
The closure also impedes the work and lives of Palestinian democratic and academic institutions. On 31 July, eighteen members of the Palestinian Legislative Council were forced to return to Ramallah after their attempts to pass through Israel to their ho mes in Gaza were denied. However, before b eing permitted to even return to Ramallah, the members were detained for seven hours at the checkpoint. This denial occurred despite the fact that Legislative Council members hold VIP cards, which enable free passage. The members finally returned to Ga za the next day, yet this trip lasted six h ours, again due to problems and delays at Israeli checkpoints. Other Palestinian officials, also holding VIP cards, were denied passage through the Allenby Bridge into Jordan or the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Around 33,000 students and 15,000 teachers h ave been denied access to universities and other institutions of higher learning. Many exams have been either canceled or postponed. In addition, both the Israeli Defense and Communications Ministries have decided to allow the scrambling of the "Voice of Palestine" radio station.
Impact of Closure on Visitors and Travelers
Border closures have also been obstructive for visitors. There are about 8,500 visitors trapped in the Occupied Territories. Approximately 1,600 visitors from Egypt have been denied entry to Gaza. Finally, 20 buses from the West Bank heading to Jordan have been denied permission to exit and ord ered by the Israeli military to go back. Many visiting workers and students are threatened with the loss of their jobs or their university seats in their respective countries. Israeli authorities have also closed the Palestinian borders into Jordan and Egypt, and have refused any entry or exit
to Palestinian citizens since the beginning of the closure on 30 July. As a result, more than 15,000 Palestinians must wait to cross Rafah and Allenby border crossings. In addition, Palestinians needing the advanced medical care available in Jordan have been refused permission to cross the borde r. Thus far, 700 Gazans leaving for Jordan from Gaza have had their permits canceled, been denied entry and sent back. Some have actually completed the exit process and paid the non-refundable travel fees before they were prevented from leaving.
Village Closure and Harassment
Israeli military authorities have thus far destroyed 31 agricultural dirt roads, in an attempt to stop residents from using them to commute to and from West Bank towns. Soldiers have invaded 45 villages in order to spread terror among the residents. Witn esses from villages of Athahirieh, Beit Umm ar, Beit Awwa, Huwara, Budein, Ein Bous, Shoufa, Anabta, Huja, Kuseen, Kufur Lakef, Baket Al Hatab, Quabatia, Hussan, and Nahaleen report that they have had their houses raided, their furniture broken, and their cars stolen as part of the harassment by Israeli soldiers. Dozens have been detaine d during these raids.
In all, 167 Palestinians have been arrested in round-ups during the week-long closure since the bombings in West Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared on 31 July that, in addition to the siege, his security services and military would rese rve the right to conduct military actions i n the Palestinian-controlled Areas A.
Closure Leads to Violence
Many Palestinians have been assaulted at the Israeli military checkpoints, and others have been randomly shot at as they were heading to work or trying to transfer the wounded to nearby hospitals. Sleiman Alhamouz, a resident of Al Fawwar refugee camp, was brutally beaten while heading to a hosp ital in Hebron for an examination. Alhamouz had his clothes stripped off before being beaten by the soldiers with the bottom of their rifles, detained for 5 hours and finally sent home in critical condition. Another citizen, Sayel Zeidan, was brutally be aten at a checkpoint near his village of Ba ni Naim. Mahmoud Zahran was assaulted by Israeli soldiers when they learned that he was employed as a driver for the Palestinian security services. His clothes were stripped off, he was insulted, and then detained for several hours. The same incidents hav e been repeated with other laborers like Fa khri Atawneh, Kamal Jibril, and Naim Yousef.
In the village of Yatta, on 3 August 1997, a leader of the nearby Karmael settlement shot and killed village resident Issa Al Makhamra. According to witnesses, the settler asked Al Makharma, 52, to approach his car, then shot and killed the villager and d rove away. Near the Nablus checkpoints, Ame r and Amin Fatouh were both assaulted and detained as they were returning from work. In Beit Sahour, soldiers randomly shot at various houses with no cause. Other incidents of shooting, carried out with the assistance of settlers, occurred in the village s of Beit Ummar, Noba, and Faris. These inc idents resulted in the injuries of Samir Abu Sara and Muhammad Brigeith. Mazen Da'na, a reporter for Reuters, was assaulted by soldiers for filming Israeli assaults on Palestinian citizens. Raed Faris, 12 years old, was severely beaten by soldiers as he was walking on his family's land, located n ear an Israeli military checkpoint. In the village of Azawiya near Kalkilya, the Israeli military randomly selected a large number of men and children, herded them into a school yard and severely beat them. A curfew was imposed on the village of Beit Fajj ar for 8 hours, while arrests were carried out. A resident of the village was standing in his doorway in his pajamas when he was spotted by the soldiers and severely beaten. In Bani Naim, the Islamic Society office was raided, the furniture and computers broken.
Discrimination against Palestinian Patients by Israeli Hospitals and Officials
In a serious and racist precedent, the Hadassa Ein Kerem administration expelled all Palestinian patients from the hospital after the bombings in West Jerusalem. Randa Hassouna, 20, was in intensive care when she was informed that she had to leave. They t ook out the glucose injection from her arm, then asked her to pack and go. Randa was not accompanied by her relatives, and she encountered numerous difficulties while on her way home. Another patient, Issa Al Makhamra, suffering from a severe spinal infection, was similarly expelled from the hospi tal and was forced to hire a taxi and leave
as quickly as possible. Ali Shihada, 75, of Nablus was also expelled without prior warning.
In similar incidents, the majority of patients in Palestinian hospitals awaiting transfer to Israeli, Egyptian or West Bank hospitals were denied passage. Between 31 July and 5 August, a period in which, on average, 150-180 patients would pass from Gaza to other hospitals, only 40 were permitted. The rest were denied on the determination, by the Israeli military, that they were not "critical cases."
Health Conditions Deteriorate as Israeli Soldiers Ignore Emergencies
Israelis have been hampering the movement of ambulances between West Bank towns, resulting in serious difficulties for local medical services. A number of medical personnel were barred from resuming their duties at hospitals, while several emergency cases were placed at the mercy of the Israeli mi litary, who often refused to cooperate. A Red Crescent Society ambulance transferring a patient in critical condition was refused entry at the Ramallah checkpoint. A second Red Crescent ambulance was shot at near Hebron. In an appalling incident, at the Farsh Al Hawa checkpoint, Israeli soldiers did not allow Fatma Jibril, who was in labor, to go to the hospital, resulting in the death of the child and endangering her life. Finally, on 6 August, a Samia Sawatfa from Toubas was refused permission to enter Jerusalem to go to her new-born baby, w ho had been admitted to al Mekassed hospita l in East Jerusalem for surgery.
Yousef Asaha'rawi, Director of 'Alia Hospital, complained that the hospital lacks both medical and human resources. Other hospitals in the West Bank, including the Mustasseb, Al Alhli, Women's Union, and Tulkarem hospitals have confirmed to LAW that they face similar problems. There is a serious s hortage of vaccinations and of medicine required for the treatment of such diseases as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. Moreover, supplies of other necessary medical materials and implements are depleted.
Economic Losses under Closure
There is a growing shortage of basic foodstuffs in the West Bank and Gaza markets. Vegetables are rotting in the fields, resulting in a loss of $350,000 per day. The damage to other agricultural markets, like flowers, is estimated at $100,000 per day. In addition, the planting season for winter c rops is now, in August, and farmers are unable to access their fields, which lie mostly in Area C. If prevented from planting for much longer, the Palestinian population, and especially the families who rely on their own produce, also face hunger and eco nomic losses. The supply of dairy products is decreasing by nearly 40% per day. Payment of pending tax revenues owed to the PNA, estimated at 70 million shekels or 60% of the budget of the PA, have been halted by Israel. The unemployment rate has risen from 40% to 75% in Gaza and from 35% to 65% in the West Bank. Approximately 65,000 la borers have been denied entry to Israel to resume their work, resulting in an estimated loss in laborers' wages of 4.5 million NIS per day. Fishermen in Gaza have been denied access to the sea since 30 July and are sustaining net losses of $30,000 per da y. In the most serious and long-term move, the Israeli Builders and Contractors Association announced that they would cease hiring or employing Palestinian workers, even those with legal working permits from the Israeli authorities. Approximately 30,000 Palestinians are employed by this Associat ion, and the loss of their jobs will mean a
massive loss of personal and national revenue.
In a further repressive measure, Israeli Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani closed the Palestinian Office for Social Welfare and Development in East Jerusalem. Finally, all Palestinian import and export activity has been brought to a complete hal t. Roughly 320 containers earmarked for Wes t Bank businessmen are awaiting transport from the Ashdod port, while 402 containers bound for Gazans need to be transferred to Gaza from Ashdod.
Closure as Cover for Further Israeli House Demolition
Amidst this confusion and chaos, the Israeli government has taken the opportunity to carry out a rash of house demolitions in Jerusalem and the West Bank. In the space of 8 days 16 homes have been demolished, leaving over 90 people homeless. Most of th ese homes lie near settler by-pass roads or in the path of proposed settlement expansion. This removal of the native Palestinian population from areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem in favor of a different religious group (Jewish Israelis) constitutes a form of ethnic cleansing. This brutal poli cy takes on added significance given the fa ct that the Israeli government has successfully exploited the fact that the attention of the international community is focused elsewhere, and the Palestinian population cannot react to these demolitions because of the siege. The homeowners are unable to get to their lawyers, and their lawyers ca nnot go to their clients in the current state of siege.
Six homes have been destroyed in the Jerusalem area, resulting in the displacement of over 45 people. Many of the Jerusalem homeowners have been trying to obtain permits from the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, but to no avail. The Israeli Jerusalem Muni cipal Council and the military authorities at the Beit El administration, which controls the issuance of building permits in Areas C in the West Bank, either refuse or postpone the issuance of construction permits, without a legal basis for doing so. Thus far 6 houses, out of the 300 threatened by demolition orders, have been demolished i n Jerusalem, in the villages of Al Issawiya, Shu'fat, Atour, Anata, and Al Ram.
In the West Bank, 10 homes have been demolished in the Hebron and Jerusalem areas, Most for being near the proposed trajectory of settler by-pass roads. In a particularly tragic incident, the Israeli military carried out the demolition of Tahe Abu Sneine h's house, located in the outskirts of Hebr on in Area B, by mistake. The Israeli authorities have confessed to their mistake.
LAW Calls for Immediate Cessation of the Closure
LAW views the imposition of the siege and the total blockade of the Occupied Territories as a collective punishment on the entire Palestinian population, and in violation of international law and norms of behavior for an Occupier. The continuing blockade of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel to Palestinians since 1993 has reduced the West Bank and Gaza Strip to economic penury. This current type of siege, which essentially restricts or ends trade, prevents laborers from going to their place of work, and blocks 2.5 million Palestinians from their economic, political, cultural and religious capital does not deter violence, but only increases the existing tension in the areas.
Collective punishment is expressly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention article 33 and the right to work by article 39. The economic devastation of the general and now expanded blockade, and the continual loss of Palestinian land to Jewish settlements and roads, have threatened more than anything else the stability of the West Bank and Gaza strip.
Note: All information regarding the West Bank and general effects of the closure obtained from LAW fieldworkers. Information on Gaza obtained from Closure Update No. 19: A Report by the Palestine Center for Human Rights on the Closure Imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip ______________________________________________________
LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment is a non-governmental organization, dedicated to preserving human rights through legal advocacy. LAW is also an affiliate member of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights.