Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence


Written evidence submitted by Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

RE: GLOBAL SECURITY, MENA—ISRAEL'S CLAIM THAT GAZA IS NO LONGER OCCUPIED

  1.  On the occasion of the Committee's inquiry into Global Security, Middle East, we wish to update you on a position by the Israeli government that it no longer occupies Gaza and no longer bears responsibility for the welfare of Gaza residents. As an NGO concerned with the human rights of Palestinian residents, we ask that you raise the issue of Israel's occupation of Gaza in your reports, with a recommendation to take measures to assure compliance with international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the UK is a party.

ISRAEL CLAIMS THAT IT DOES NOT OCCUPY GAZA AND OWES NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE WELFARE OF GAZANS

  2.  Since removing Israeli settlements and evacuating permanent military installations from Gaza in September 2005, Israel has taken the position that Gaza is no longer occupied and that completion of its "disengagement" extinguishes its legal obligations towards Gaza, thus leaving the running of Gaza and the fulfillment of obligations vis a" vis Gaza residents—to the sole responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

  3.  While Israel has refrained from stating the above position in public international fora, domestically, especially in proceedings before the Israeli Supreme Court, the State of Israel has declared an end to its occupation of Gaza, has declared the crossings with Gaza to be international border crossings, and has expressed the position that Gaza residents have no right to enter the West Bank.

  4.  In response to requests to allow Gaza residents to receive imported goods and export finished products, to travel to the West Bank, and to leave and enter the Gaza Strip, Israel's response has been that it no longer occupies Gaza and therefore bears no responsibility for the welfare of Gaza residents.

  5.  Israel has all but cut off travel between Gaza and the West Bank. It treats Gaza residents as "foreigners" who have no right to enter the West Bank, which Israel considers to be a "closed military zone" under the control of the IDF. The restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank separate families, block access to jobs, medical services and educational opportunities, and further isolate Gaza, whose 1.4 million residents are living in poverty and unemployment.

  6.  We note that there are obviously significant political implications to the claim that Gaza is no longer occupied and that it can be cut off from the West Bank.

GISHA'S POSITION: ISRAEL OWES HUMANITARIAN OBLIGATIONS TO GAZA RESIDENTS BECAUSE OF CONTINUED CONTROL

  7.  In a recently released comprehensive position paper, Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza, Gisha argues that Israel has not relinquished control over Gaza but rather removed some elements of control while tightening other significant controls. Far from improving the economy and welfare of Gaza residents, Israeli actions since September 2005—including severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and an economic stronghold on the funding of civil services—have contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza not seen in the 38 years of Israeli control that preceded the withdrawal of permanent ground troops.

  8.  Gisha takes the position that Israel continues to owe legal obligations to residents of Gaza in the significant areas in which their lives are subject to and affected by Israeli control. That responsibility exists under human rights law, Israeli law, and the international law of belligerent occupation, primarily the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Israel is bound to respect the rights of Gaza residents in its control of Gaza's borders, population registry, tax system, and other areas, and it also owes positive duties to permit and to facilitate the proper functioning of civilian institutions in Gaza, pursuant to international humanitarian law.

  9.  Gisha's position is based on continued Israeli control over life in Gaza. Israel continues to control Gaza through:

    —    Substantial control of Gaza's land crossings;

    —    Control on the ground through incursions and sporadic ground troop presence ("no-go zone");

    —    Complete control of Gaza's airspace;

    —    Complete control of Gaza's territorial waters;

    —    Control of the Palestinian population registry (including who is a "resident" of Gaza);

    —    Control of tax policy and transfer of tax revenues;

    —    Control of the ability of the Palestinian Authority to exercise governmental functions;

    —    Control of the West Bank, which together with Gaza, constitute a single territorial unit.

  10.  Gisha takes the position that Israel does exercise effective control over significant aspects of life in Gaza, and thus, in the areas in which it exercises such control, Israel owes obligations to Gaza residents under the international humanitarian law of occupation. Gisha specifically recommends that Israel fulfil its obligations toward the people of Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, and Israeli and international human rights law, namely:

    —    To open Gaza's borders to the free passage of people and goods;

    —    To permit Gaza to build an airport and seaport for the passage of people and goods;

    —    To transfer the tax money it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to the use and benefit of Palestinian civil society;

    —    To permit adequate supply of goods—humanitarian and commercial—to Gaza;

    —    To allow the free movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, which constitute a single territorial unit under internationally-recognised agreements;

    —    To refrain from inflicting damage on Gaza's infrastructure, including sources of water, electricity, fuel, and transportation;

    —    To uphold its responsibilities, under the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 43 of the Hague Regulations, to allow the people of Gaza to conduct normal lives, including the ability to engage in commerce, to travel abroad, and to access humanitarian goods and supplies.

THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IN ENFORCING THE FOURTH GENEVA CONVENTION

  11.  Responsibility for the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects residents of an occupied territory, lies with the High Contracting Parties to the Convention, including the UK.

  12.  Gisha believes that there is a contradiction between continued Israeli control over Gaza and claims that Gaza is no longer occupied. We believe that inquiries and statements of position from foreign governments regarding the status of Gaza and the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding occupied territory will have the effect of moderating Israel's position and encouraging it to comply with its international legal obligations.

  13.  We respectfully request that you investigate this issue and take appropriate measures. In particular, we encourage you to request that Government representatives make inquiries among their Israeli interlocutors regarding the status of Gaza and call upon Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law.

  14.  I respectfully refer you to Gisha's position paper, Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza, available at our web site, www.gisha.org or at the link: http://www.gisha.org/english/reports/Report_for_the_website.pdf

  15.  Gisha is an Israeli not-for-profit organization, founded in 2005, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents. Gisha promotes rights guaranteed by international and Israeli law.

  16.  I welcome a chance to discuss these issues with you. A signed copy of this letter and a copy of our position paper will follow by mail.

26 February 2007





 
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