Is ‘total’ Gaza blockade a collective punishment against Palestinians?

Israel announces a blockade on the Gaza Strip, meaning more than 2 million people will suffer for the acts of a few.

Palestinians evacuate the area following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City
Palestinians evacuate after an Israeli air strike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City on October 9, 2023 [Mahmud Hams/AFP]

Israel has announced a total blockade of the Gaza Strip two days after fighters from the Hamas group carried out deadly attacks inside Israel, killing at least 800 people and taking dozens captive.

“We are putting a complete siege on Gaza. … No electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a video statement on Monday, justifying the move by describing Palestinians as “beastly people”.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,000 injured in Israeli strikes that have targeted residential buildings and offices in the enclave – home to 2.3 million people.

The decision to cut electricity, water and fuel supplies to Gaza, which has already been under an Israeli siege for 16 years, has been condemned by the United Nations as a collective punishment.

Fears of a ground invasion of Gaza are growing after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was “at war” in the wake of the worst attacks in decades.

(Al Jazeera)

Intense bombardments in Gaza

More than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced and thousands have taken shelter in UN schools as Israeli attacks intensify, forcing Palestinians to flee their homes.

Buildings, mosques and offices have been targeted as Netanyahu promised “mighty vengeance” for the deadly attacks that has sent shockwaves across Israel.

Harrowing images from inside Gaza have emerged with 19 members of a family killed when an air strike on Sunday hit their residential building. More than 60 percent of Gaza’s population are refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their homes currently in Israel. 

Isn’t Gaza already under a blockade?

Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza since 2007, a year after Hamas was democratically elected into power. The voting came nearly two years after Israeli troops and settlers withdrew from the enclave.

The blockade gives Israel control of Gaza’s borders, and Egypt has stepped in to enforce the western border.

Israel has stated it has blocked the borders to protect its citizens from Hamas, but the act of collective punishment violates the Geneva Conventions and has long been considered illegal by groups including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

INTERACTIVE Gaza 15 years of living under blockade-OCT9-2023
(Al Jazeera)

“Collective punishment has been clearly forbidden under international humanitarian law through Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. No exceptions are permitted,” Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, stated in his 2020 report.

The report further said: “Israel’s collective punishment policy” of Gaza has created a “completely collapsed economy, devastated infrastructure and a barely functioning social service system”.

“While Israel’s justification for imposing the closure on Gaza was to contain Hamas and ensure Israel’s security, the actual impact of the closure has been the destruction of Gaza’s economy, causing immeasurable suffering to its two million inhabitants.”

Is this the first time Israel has used collective punishment against Gaza?

Israel has been accused of using collective punishment before and creating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It’s a strategy often used by Israel when dealing with Palestinians, effectively punishing the masses for the actions of a few.

Lynk, however, has stated: “Only the guilty can be punished for their acts, and only after a fair process. The innocent can never be made to be punished for the deeds of others.”

What forms of collective punishment has Israel used in the past?

Apart from border controls, Israel has demolished homes, imposed curfews, created roadblocks, confiscated personal property, destroyed agricultural land and water systems.

The effects of its 16-year blockade has created unemployment rates of more than 45 percent, one of the highest in the world. Only 13 hours of electricity per day have been available to residents in Gaza in 2023, according to the UN. Palestinians in Gaza also have poor access to clean water and no functioning airports.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies