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UN panel says Gaza blockade is collective punishment
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Palestinian protesters run for cover after Israeli soldiers opened fire during a massive demonstration near the Erez border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2011. (Getty Images)
CAIRO
- Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip is a violation of international law and amounts to collective punishment of the people of Gaza, a panel of UN experts has said. 

The panel of five independent UN human rights experts reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said on Tuesday in Geneva that the blockade had subjected Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law,” Reuters reported.

The UNHRC-mandated panel disagreed with an earlier UN report released on September 2 that ruled Israel’s naval blockade of the Strip both legal and appropriate. The Palmer Report on the Israeli attack of May 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists also ruled that Israeli Defense Forces had used “excessive” force but “did not violate the international law” and held both Israel and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla activists responsible for the violence. 

However, the UNHRC panel said the four-year Israeli blockade deprived 1.6 million Palestinians living in the coastal enclave of their fundamental human rights.

In a joint statement, the experts noted, “In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel's closure policy toward Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians.” 

A previous fact-finding mission appointed by the UNHRC to probe the Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre also concluded in a report in September that the Israeli blockade violates international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also said the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions.

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupier is bound to “ensure the food and medical supplies of the population” as well as “agree to relief schemes on behalf of the… population” and maintain “public health and hygiene.”

Richard Falk, who is a UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and one of the five UNHCR experts, said the Palmer report's conclusions were “aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law.” 

Another expert, Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said that about one-third of Gaza's arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli blockade.

He added at least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food. “People are forced to make unacceptable trade-offs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families,” Schutter stated. 

The other three experts were the UN special rapporteurs on physical and mental health, extreme poverty and human rights, and access to water and sanitation.

The Israelis have confined 1.6 million people in a 360-square-kilometer coastal territory and besieged them from three sides. They also coerced former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to do the same on the fourth side of the Gaza Strip, and the new Egyptian rulers have only partially amended this policy.

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