Amnesty International issued a statement urging Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, stating that the siege is a form of collective punishment against 1.4 million Palestinians.Commenting on Israel’s Thursday decision to “ease restrictions on Gaza” by allowing more “civilian goods,” Amnesty said that this decision makes it clear that Israel has no intention to lift the blockade and end its collective punishment against the Palestinians who live there.

It said that 4 out of 5 Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on international aid. Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated that any step that helps in reducing the crisis in the Gaza Strip is welcomed, and added that Israel “must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade.”

He added that the Israeli announcement spoke of allowing goods into Gaza but did not mention anything about allowing exports.

“Raw materials and the movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza, and pushed its population into unemployment, poverty and dependency on aid agencies for survival. These problems will not be solved while the blockade continues.”

Israel did not specify what goods will not be allowed into Gaza, and did not mention anything about freedom of movement, a right under the international law.

Amnesty said that the siege on Gaza is making it very difficult for the people to receive urgently needed medical treatment, while patients cannot leave Gaza for medical treatment elsewhere.

Amnesty added that Israel justifies its blockade as a necessary step to prevent attacks from Gaza, as a response to the continued holding of the captured prisoner-of-war, corporal Gilad Shalit, in addition to placing pressure on the Hamas government.

The international organization also strongly denounced what it called “the firing of indiscriminate weapons by Palestinian armed groups into southern Israel as a violation of international law’, and added that Israel’s siege is affecting the civilians in the coastal region not the armed group in particular.

Malcolm Smart said the that restriction on the movement of the people and goods, into or out of Gaza, should be “proportionate and non-discriminatory”

Smart added that Israel may need to monitor the crossings leading to Gaza for security purposes, but should not target the whole population.

Background by Amnesty:

The Gaza Strip, along with East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, was occupied by Israel in 1967. Israel has imposed increasingly severe restrictions on Palestinian movement into and out of Gaza since the early 1990s, including on their movement to other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This contradicts the principle, accepted by international community, that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip comprise one territorial unit and violates the occupying power’s duty to ensure the welfare of the occupied population, as stipulated under Articles 27 and 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Despite the withdrawal of Israeli settlers living illegally in Gaza in 2005 (the process referred to by Israel as “disengagement”) the Israeli authorities have retained control of Gaza’s airspace, its land border with Israel and its territorial waters – as shown by its recent military action against the humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza in which nine international activists were killed.

After Hamas took control in Gaza in June 2007, the existing Israeli policy of closure was tightened to a blockade restricting the entry of food, fuel, and other basic goods. Movement of medical cases in and out of the area became restricted and delayed.

Gazan families are not allowed to visit relatives in Israeli jails. This situation was made worse by the general closure of the Rafah crossing (Gaza’s single crossing point with Egypt) to daily use by the Egyptian authorities. After 2007 Rafah was opened only intermittently to allow some occasional movement.

Following Israel’s military action on 31 May 2010 against the aid flotilla in international waters outside Gaza, the Egyptian authorities announced they were opening the Rafah crossing point ‘indefinitely’. However, Egypt has yet to permit fully free passage of Palestinians into its territory, allowing entry only to Palestinians with specially obtained permits.

As the occupying power, Israel bears the foremost responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.