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From the field

Alongside welcome, albeit limited, improvements, B'Tselem warns that so long as the settlement enterprise and the siege on Gaza continue, there will be no real improvement in human rights

The siege on Gaza: Collective punishment of 1.5 million people


Israel continues its siege on the Gaza Strip, which began in 2007. As a result, until June 2010, 95 percent of the factories and workshops in Gaza had closed and the agricultural sector was severely damaged, which led to unemployment of 40 percent. The siege has also prevented reconstruction of thousands of homes destroyed in Operation Cast Lead. As a result of the continuing damage to the water system in Gaza, at least 95 percent of the water drawn from the system is not potable, as of August 2010. Israel continues to restrict access to land 1,500 meters from the Gaza perimeter fence, including by use of live gunfire. According to UN figures, limits of Palestinian access to these areas, which constitute some 17% of the Gaza Strip and are primarily agricultural areas, harms some 7.5% of the Gaza population who are dependent on these areas for agriculture, housing or education./>/>

Child filling water from a container provided by OXFAM, at Jabalya refugee camp. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 18 Aug. '10.
יChild filling water from a container provided by OXFAM, at Jabalya refugee camp. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 18 Aug. '10. />

Following the violent interception of a flotilla to Gaza in May, Israel announced the easing of some restrictions on imports, and, in December, on exports. It is still too early to evaluate implementation of these decisions and their effects, but it is clear that these decisions do not overturn the policy of collective punishment of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza. The limited opening of Rafah Crossing by Egypt since June also does not free Israel of its obligation to enable movement between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The settlement enterprise: Continuing harm to Palestinians

About half a million Israelis now live in 236 settlements: 124 authorized settlements, 100 unauthorized outposts, and 12 neighborhoods on land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem. The transfer of 43 percent of the area of the West Bank to control of the settlements has prevented the development of Palestinian communities, especially those in the Jordan Valley and in the southern Hebron hills. Israeli control of land, along with its control of the Israeli-Palestinian joint water sources prevents the development of Palestinian agriculture, the major sector in the Palestinian economy. Following the partial moratorium on building in settlements in the West Bank, in September, construction work was renewed in 63 settlements, in which 1,629 housing units are now being built, according to the figures of Peace Now. The establishment of settlements is prohibited under international law, and their continued existence and expansion in the West Bank severely violates Palestinians’ rights to property, freedom of movement, livelihood, self-determination, and other rights.

Construction work expanding the Maskiyyot settlement, in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, B'Tselem, 26 Dec. '10.
Construction work expanding the Maskiyyot settlement, in the Jordan Valley. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, B'Tselem, 26 Dec. '10./>

This year, Israel continued its actions aimed at separating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. These actions include placing restrictions on Palestinians from the West Bank wishing to enter the city. The Jerusalem Municipality has continued to advance plans to expand Israeli neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem, and settler organizations have been expanding settlement enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods, among them Sheikh Jarrah, Ras al-‘Amud, and a-Tur. Construction of new sections of the Separation Barrier have led to the detachment of residents of the village Sheikh Sa’ed from the center of their life in  Jerusalem, and is expected to sever the residents of the village al-Walaja from their farmland, which provides their primary income. Until 20 December, Israel demolished, or forced Palestinians to demolish, 17 houses of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, leaving 135 persons homeless, including 66 minors.

Separation Barrier built next to houses of al-Wallaja. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, B'Tselem, 5 November 2010.
Separation Barrier built next to houses of al-Wallaja. Photo: Eyal Hareuveni, B'Tselem, 5 November 2010. />

Other issues

Drop in number of fatalities: As of 30 November, Israeli security forces killed 67 Palestinians (12 in the West Bank and 55 in the Gaza Strip), eight of them minors. At least 24 of the persons killed were not participating in hostilities, 39 were killed while engaged in hostilities, and in the case of two fatalities, B'Tselem does not know if the person killed participated in hostilities. Two of the Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip were the object of a targeted killing. The number of Palestinians killed by security forces in the West Bank was lower than in previous years. In addition, Israeli civilians killed two Palestinians.

Palestinians killed eight Israelis: five civilians (including a policeman) in the West Bank, two members of Israel’s security forces in the Gaza Strip, and one member of Israel’s security forces in the West Bank. Palestinians also killed one foreign national inside Israel. Five Palestinians were executed in Gaza by the Hamas government.

Continued fragmentation of the West Bank alongside less checkpoints: In addition to isolating East Jerusalem, Israel continued to sever the Jordan Valley and the area lying west of the Separation Barrier from the rest of the West Bank, by severely restricting Palestinian movement to and from these areas. The number of checkpoints in the West Bank decreased. There are now 99 checkpoints in the West Bank, compared to 103 in 2008, and 420 physical obstructions (dirt piles, concrete blocks and the like), compared with 488 at the end of 2009. As of October 2010, Israel restricts or prohibits Palestinians from traveling on 232 km of major roads in the West Bank.

Continuing construction of the Separation Barrier: Israel has completed 61.4 percent of the Barrier and 8.4 percent are currently under construction. The total length of the Barrier is 707 kilometers, more than twice the length of the Green Line. 85 percent of the route runs through the West Bank, causing harm to some 400,000 Palestinians.

Increase in West Bank house demolitions (not including East Jerusalem): Israel restricts Palestinian construction in Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank, leaving Palestinians living there with no option but to build without a permit. This year, up to 20 December, the army demolished 82 houses of Palestinians in the West Bank (compared to 28 houses in 2009), leaving 445 persons homeless, 204 of them minors. Most of the demolitions took place in the Jordan Valley, part of efforts to push Palestinians out of this area.

Residential shacks that were demolished in al-Farsiyya, in the Jordan Valley. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 19 July 2010.
Residential shacks that were demolished in al-Farsiyya, in the Jordan Valley. Photo: 'Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 19 July 2010. />

Decrease in firing at Israel by armed Palestinian organizations: According to the Israel Security Agency, this year, armed Palestinian groups fired 131 rockets and 173 mortar shells from the Gaza Strip into Israel (as of the end of November), compared with 561 rockets and 286 mortar shells that were fired until the end of November 2009, and 2,048 rockets and more than 1,672 mortar shells firing throughout 2008. 

Lack of accountability: B'Tselem continues its efforts to hold security forces accountable for harming Palestinians. The figures are not encouraging: from 2006-2009, B'Tselem made a demand for a Military Police investigation in 148 cases in which security forces killed Palestinians not taking part in hostilities (the figures do not include Operation Cast Lead, which is discussed below). Of these, only 22 investigations were opened. As of September 2010, only two of the investigations had been completed: in both cases, the Judge Advocate General’s Office closed the file without prosecution.

In 2010, B'Tselem demanded MP investigations into seven cases. In two of them, an investigation was opened.

The case of Bassem Abu Rahma, a demonstrator killed by direct fire of a tear-gas canister, exemplifies the Judge Advocate General’s Office’s dismal handling of cases in which Palestinians are killed: only after B'Tselem and attorney Michael Sfard conducted their own investigation, based on video documentation, and threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, did the JAG order a criminal investigation, in July 2010.

No investigation of decision-makers for Operation Cast Lead: B’Tselem has raised serious concerns over Israel’s policy and actions in Operation Cast Lead, in which at least 759 Palestinians not taking part in hostilities were killed. Two years later, Israel has indicted soldiers in only three incidents regarding harm to the civilian population (one for killing a person, another for using a child as a human shield, and the third for stealing a credit card). The political echelon and senior military commanders have not been held accountable for their responsibility in setting the policy that led to extensive loss of life and limb and property damage during the operation. Israel reported that more than 40 investigations have been opened. Some of them were opened a year and a half after the operation ended, and the Judge Advocate General’s Office has not revealed how many have been closed.  

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has not taken any steps to investigate crimes committed by its own people and by other armed Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip, and to prosecute those responsible.

Limitation of freedom to demonstrate: In 2010, Israel renewed its use of Order 101, which severely restricts the right of assembly of persons protesting in the West Bank. Based on the order, two leading activists against the Separation Barrier in Ni’lin were imprisoned for more than a year: Abdallah Abu Rahma and Adib Abu Rahma.

Drop in number of administrative detainees: At the end of November, 205 Palestinians (two of them minors) were being held in administrative detention in Israel, compared with 291 (one of them a minor) in November 2009.

Gilad Shalit remains a hostage: Since June 2006, Hamas has held abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in an unknown place and under unknown conditions. No ICRC representative, or any other person or entity, has been allowed to visit him, and he has been denied all contact with the outside world, in breach of international law. In October 2009, a video of Shalit filmed since he was abducted was broadcast in Israel. To the best of B'Tselem’s knowledge, no other information about his physical or mental health has been provided.