UN expert calls for immediate lifting of Israeli blockade of Gaza

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

23 June 2011 – A United Nations human rights expert on the occupied Palestinian territories today called on Israel to lift its Gaza blockade “entirely and immediately.”

Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, commenting two days after Israel announced it would allow the UN to bring in material for school and housing construction, said the blockade is “a deliberate policy of collective punishment which is legally indefensible and morally reprehensible.”

“It is aimed at denying Palestinians humanity and a life with dignity,” he said. “The blockade of Gaza must be lifted entirely and immediately.”

Mr. Falk said: “This grim overall reality persists despite the recent positive gesture from Israel to the effect that it would allow the entry of some construction material in the Gaza Strip.”

On Tuesday, the Israeli Government approved the delivery of $100 million in building materials for 1,200 homes and 18 schools in UN-run projects in Gaza. Yesterday Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, called the announcement a “significant step.”

Referring to the recent media reports of widespread health problems in Gaza, Mr. Falk said the situation of health care there is “as nothing short of catastrophic.”

Mr. Falk said Gaza’s health ministry has reported that the Strip’s medical supplies and equipment have reached emergency levels.

Of the 480 medications on the essential drug list, 178 (37 per cent) are reported to be at zero stock levels and more than 190 types of medicine in stock are either expired or close to their expiry date, Mr. Falk said.

Citing reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), he said a severe shortage of vital drugs is having a critical impact on the continued delivery of health care.

“Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation under international humanitarian law to restore and maintain public order and civil life, including public welfare for the civilian population,” he said. “This encompasses, among other things, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, health and the material conditions of life.”

“Israel’s absolute closure of Gaza, however, not only denies the whole of Gaza’s civilian population the possibility of a normal life, but also collectively punishes them for acts for which they bear no responsibility.”

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007. In June 2010, Israel started allowing in more civilian goods while still restricting access to concrete, iron and other materials that the UN has said are needed to repair the damage caused by the 2008-2009 offensive Israel said it launched to halt rocket and other attacks.

Mr. Falk, who serves in an unpaid and independent capacity, reports to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.


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