Israel's deliberate targeting of Gaza's health sector and denying those in need of humanitarian care from obtaining it constitute a crime against humanity by any definition
Some describe Gaza as either the world's largest "concentration camp" or "open air prison", while others liken it to the modern-day equivalent of the Warsaw ghetto.
Whatever appropriate analogy you apply to the enclave, that traps two million Palestinians on a slender piece of coastal land along the Egyptian-Israeli border, it's impossible to overstate the level of human misery and suffering that is taking place there today.
A catastrophic situation
When I spoke with Dr Basem Naim, the former Palestinian minister for health and resident of Gaza, I referred him to a UN report that forewarned that Israel's medieval-like blockade promises to make the territory "uninhabitable" by 2020.
"What do they [UN] mean? It's uninhabitable here now," Naim told me. "The situation today is catastrophic."
Dr Naim explained how Israel's intentional cutting of Gaza's power supply, meant to exert pressure on Hamas but, instead, punishing ordinary Palestinians, is having dire affects on the health sector in Gaza.
"The typical Palestinian gets only three to five hours of electricity each day," he said. "You can't pump water to apartments that are above ground level. You can't pump sewage, which is why more than 95 percent of Gaza’s drinking water is undrinkable."
Israel's intent has always been to strangle Palestinian political, social, and civil life in the hope that those it occupies will come to the realisation that resistance is futile
He explained that hospitals, which depend on 24-hour electricity, are unable to perform life-saving surgeries, and that some, including Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, have ceased doing operations altogether.
This is happening while newborn babies and the elderly freeze to death in the winter, and die from heat exhaustion in the summer. This is happening because Israel is allowing only 120 watts of power to be provided to Gaza, knowing that 400 watts are needed to meet the basic minimum survival needs of two million Palestinian people.
"The scarcity of energy and the severe shortage of fuel in Gaza have damaged all aspects of life in the Strip," said the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement issued last year.
But the biggest problem facing the imprisoned citizens of Gaza is the "closed borders", according to Dr Naim. He explained:
"For example, the last time Rafah border crossing was opened, which was one week ago, came after more than 100 days of closure, and out of the 35,000 people waiting to leave Gaza through Rafah, only 2,000 were able to leave, and the others must wait again for another 100 days. When I talk about 35,000 people, I’m talking about urgent humanitarian cases; patients, and people who need to meet their families for urgent situations. It’s nearly impossible for Palestinians in Gaza to get urgent medical care in Israel, Egypt, or Jordan.
"If a Palestinian wants to leave Gaza for urgent medical care or treatment, he or she must wait 70 days to get [an] Israeli reply saying he or she is allowed or not. And after 70 days, and even if the request is approved, he or she must come to Erez crossing for an interrogation, and he or she might be arrested. I know many cases where the families of patients were blackmailed by Israeli security forces, like Shin Bet, under these very circumstances."
A Palestinian girl suffering from cancer is seen at the al-Rantisi children's hospital in Gaza City on 6 April 2017 (AFP)
It's worth noting that it's not only from Gaza that Palestinians are denied freedom of movement. Earlier this month, Omar Barghouti, who lives in Israel and is one of the founders of the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli occupation, was denied the right to visit his cancer-stricken mother in Jordan.
Israel's refusal to allow a prominent Palestinian figure, who has a demonstrable lifetime track record of non-violent activism, undercuts Israeli claims that travel bans have little to do with security and everything to do with meting out collective and inhumane punishment to the Palestinian people, writ large.
A new report published by the human rights group Gisha – Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement shows that 2017 was the worst year for the movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza since Israel's attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, reducing the number of exit permits by 51 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Much of Gaza's critical infrastructure was destroyed during Israel's 2014 siege
The report shows that Israel allowed fewer than 6,000 monthly exits in 2017 compared with the more than 14,000 allowed the previous year.
The authors of the report also identified a list of policies that were carried out by Israeli authorities to prevent or restrict freedom of Palestinian movement through the Erez crossing.
These new restrictive measures were "introduced with little or no justification provided as to their purpose and, it appears, no consideration of the impact they would have on the lives of Gaza's residents".
Targeting the health sector
These measures include "significant extension of the processing times of permit applications, leaving thousands of permit applications pending with no response; a new directive prohibiting Palestinians from exiting Gaza with electronic devices, toiletries and food; freezing travel to the American Consulate; mandatory shuttle services to Allenby Bridge Crossing; "security blocks" blocking travel for medical patients, traders, and humanitarian workers; increase in the frequency and severity of "security interviews" at Erez; trader permits cancelled as new approvals declined; travel for Friday prayers in Jerusalem remaining blocked, and; recipients of permits for travel abroad increasingly made to sign a commitment not to return for a year."
It's not only inexcusable for Israel to impose any kind of restriction of movement, but to deliberately target Gaza's health sector by cutting power to the Strip, and then to deny those in need of humanitarian care from obtaining it - constitutes a crime against humanity by any definition.
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"The magnitude, the deliberateness, the violations of international humanitarian law, the impact on the health, lives, and survival, and the overall conditions warrant the characterisation of a crime against humanity," says Richard Falk, a former UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Palestinian children in Gaza suffer from acute anaemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Children need thousands of hearing aids.
"Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Palestinians in Gaza. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people ... Over 50 percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live," wrote Falk in 2008.
When I referred to Falk's findings from a decade ago, Dr Naim said things have become "much worse", pointing to the fact that much of Gaza's critical infrastructure was destroyed during Israel's 2014 assault, noting that 20,000 tons of explosive ordinance was dropped on the Strip by Israeli jets and artillery, and that unemployment and poverty have skyrocketed since.
Breaking the Palestinians' will
Israel's restriction on Palestinian movement is also preventing Gaza from building a functioning civil society as human rights workers, social workers, health workers, educators, engineers, etc are denied opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills in other countries.
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It also runs afoul of Israel's "obligations to respect the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including their right to freedom of movement, which includes, with some limitations, a right to enter and leave one’s country and to choose one’s place of residence within it," according to Human Rights Watch.
In fact, Palestinians in Gaza may visit their families in the occupied West Bank only if he or she can prove their relative is "dead, dying, or getting married", which constitutes another violation of not only international law but also the Oslo Accords that stipulate the Palestinian territories – East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank – constitute one unified territorial entity. Israel has made movement between the territories all but impossible for Palestinians.
Given that nearly a third of Palestinians in Gaza have relatives in either the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Israel, one can see how needlessly cruel Israel's brutal policies of occupation truly are.
Of course, Israel tries to justify its near total freeze of Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza with concerns for its security, but this has always been a rhetorical fig leaf for Israel's sustained effort to break the will of the Palestinian people.
Israel’s intent has always been to strangle Palestinian political, social, and civil life in the hope that those it occupies will come to the realisation that resistance is futile.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America (2013), Koran Curious (2011), and he is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A Palestinian man looks through the gates of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in the southern Gaza Strip on 16 December 2017 (AFP)