On Monday, 10 May 2021, Israeli authorities shut down the only two functioning crossings in and out of the Gaza Strip (Erez and Kerem Shalom) and prohibited access to Palestinian waters for all naval activity, including fishing. The restrictions come in concert with an intense series of airstrikes launched by Israeli air forces that have impacted civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza in particular.
Both measures—long entrenched in Israel’s punitive policy towards Gaza’s civilian population—should they continue, would mean that Gaza’s uninhabitability will starkly escalate. Notably, their implementation coincides with a new surge of COVID-19 infections in Gaza, where the combined medical demand from victims of Israeli violence and those of COVID-19 will push Gaza’s healthcare system further to the brink of collapse.
The closing of Erez crossing has particular implications on the lives of medical patients—in particular cancer and other critically ill patients—who, due to the protracted de-development of Gaza’s healthcare sector, are forced to seek adequate care in hospitals in the West Bank and Israel. In practical terms, the closing of Erez means that these patients now face an imminent risk of losing their lives.
Israel is further compounding the violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law as the Occupying Power: in addition to the recent and repeated escalation of violence and the enforcement of total-closure measures, Israel has officially rejected the request of human rights organizations, including Al Mezan, to fulfil its legal obligations as the Occupying Power and provide COVID-19 vaccines to the occupied Palestinian population.
Al Mezan expresses its serious concern at Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza that entails relentless and escalating breaches of the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality, and humanity. This enhanced form of collective punishment will further deprive over two million Palestinians of access to sufficient electricity, as it coincides with the shutdown of a generator at Gaza’s sole power plant due to lack of fuel. This reduced access to electricity leaves hospitals at lower functional capacity, homes with less access to safe and drinkable water necessary both for human consumption and for combating COVID-19, and the environment at a greater risk of being polluted with untreated water.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to take swift and concrete action to bring to an end Israel’s increased restrictions on Gaza’s civilian population—while urgently working for a complete and unconditional lifting of the illegal closure—and to provide the protected population with urgently needed relief. Al Mezan reiterates its longstanding assessment that the cost of the international community’s efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violations, having a deterrent effect to future violations, would be lower than the cost of dealing with the aftermath of Israel’s multiple forms of violence on Gaza.