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26 April 2006: Israel must respect human rights of residents of the Gaza Strip

In September 2005, following the removal of Israeli settlements and IDF forces from the Gaza Strip, Israel declared the end of the military government in the Gaza Strip. In doing so, the state sought to exempt itself from responsibility for all matters relating to Gaza residents and their welfare. Indeed, the changes following disengagement improved the lives of the Palestinians living there, particularly in the sphere of freedom of movement within Gaza .

However, even after disengagement, Israel continues to hold decisive control over central aspects of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip: Israel controls Gaza's air space and territorial waters; Israel completely controls movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; Israel controls the population registry, the entry of foreigners into Gaza, and family unification; Israel has substantial control over the movement of goods into Gaza and on the tax system in Gaza.

Israel's control over these issues confer upon it a legal obligation to respect the human rights of the more than one million residents of the Gaza Strip, at least in the areas over which it exercises control. This obligation exists regardless of whether Israel is considered the occupier of the area.

Under international humanitarian law, Israel must, for example, protect the wounded, sick, children, and pregnant women, enable the free passage of medicines and essential foodstuffs, enable medical teams to provide assistance, and not impose collective punishment. Under international human rights law, Israel must respect the right of every person to freedom of movement, to work, to an adequate standard of living, to education, to adequate health care, and to family life.

These are legally-mandated rights to which the population in the Gaza Strip is entitled, not acts of benevolence that Israel may carry out at its discretion. Israel cannot shirk its legal responsibility to respect the human rights of Gazans, and continues to be responsible for the consequences of its actions and omissions in the Gaza Strip.