Council of Europe condemns Gaza siege as ‘collective punishment’

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report on Tuesday outlining the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip and reiterating its support for lifting the decade-long siege of the territory, which it called “collective punishment” imposed on Palestinians in contravention of international law.

The assembly highlighted the “deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza,” as 71 percent of the coastal enclave’s residents are Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which established the state of Israel, and 43 percent of the total population is unemployed.

The report referenced the lack of access to clean drinking water in the besieged territory, with Palestinians in Gaza only able to access water between five and eight hours a day due to crippling power shortages.

In addition, the assembly blamed the vast destruction caused by Israel’s 2014 offensive on the Gaza Strip for exacerbating hardship in the small Palestinian territory, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, more than 12,500 homes were completely destroyed, and at least 100,000 Palestinians were displaced.

The report went on to detail several aspects of the blockade that have strained the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the lack of free movement of people and goods, the depleting energy and water supply, the “unjustified” harassment and killing of Palestinian fishermen on the coast, and the use of “excessive and intentional force without justification against Palestinian civilians in the buffer zone, including against farmers, journalists, medical crews and peaceful protesters,” which it said was “blatantly counter to human rights principles and the international law.”

It also highlighted the “deliberate fatal shooting of individuals who posed no imminent danger to life,” saying it amounted to “an appalling pattern of apparently systematic unlawful killings.”

“The lifting of the blockade of Gaza is a vital precondition for the resolution of the humanitarian crisis and should be supported by the international community through the provision of security conditions necessary for the free movement of people and goods,” the report read, adding that a “new international conference” should be initiated to ensure the reconstruction of the enclave.

“The nine-year blockade of Gaza by both Israel and Egypt has subjected its population to collective punishment in contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law,” the report added.

The assembly reiterated its “constant position” that a two-state solution to the prolonged Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the “cessation of new [Israeli] settlements and the extension of old ones” in the occupied Palestinian territory was the only option that could “create the necessary framework for the normalization of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the promotion of Palestinian state-building.”

The report also urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s preliminary investigation into potential war crimes committed in Gaza, which was launched in January 2015.

It also urged European countries to back a “future official examination by the ICC” if the ongoing preliminary investigation revealed war crimes were indeed committed.

The destruction from three Israeli offensives over the past eight years, including damage to the enclave’s water, sanitation, energy, and medical infrastructure, coupled with slow reconstruction due to the blockade, led the UN to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

“The blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel, which entered its tenth year in June 2016, must be lifted,” the council’s report said. “The blockade has subjected the Palestinians living in Gaza to collective punishment in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Ending the blockade would be the only way to ensure Palestinians in Gaza have access to “basic and inalienable human rights,” the report concluded.