Despite Israel's claim that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is "stable" and that it is transferring an adequate supply of food, medicines and equipment into the Strip, Amnesty International claims in its 2010 report that the blockade, imposed in June 2007, "continued to cut off almost 1.5million Palestinians from the rest of the world, isolating them in Gaza’s cramped confines, and greatly limiting the import of essential goods and supplies.
"This gratuitous exacerbation of the privations already suffered by the inhabitants of Gaza seriously hampered their access to health care and education and destroyed industries and livelihoods. Imposed ostensibly to deter rocket-firing into Israel by Palestinian armed groups, the blockade was nothing less than an outrage – the imposition of collective punishment on the entire population of Gaza," said the report.
"All too predictably, it hit hardest on the most vulnerable – children, the elderly, the homeless and the sick, including those in need of medical treatment outside Gaza – not the armed militants responsible for rocket firing," Amnesty claimed.
Gazans line up to receive humanitarian aid from UN (Photo: AP)
"Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages left four in five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law," according to the human rights group.
As for the IDF's 22-day military offensive in Gaza, which ended on January 18, Amnesty said Israeli forces "carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians, targeted and killed medical staff, used Palestinian civilians as 'human shields', and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over densely populated residential areas.
"Israeli forces attacked hospitals, medical staff and ambulances as well as humanitarian facilities, including UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) buildings. At least 15 of the 27 hospitals in Gaza were damaged, some extensively; around 30 ambulances were hit and 16 health workers were killed. Amnesty International found no evidence that Hamas or armed militants used hospitals as hiding places or to carry out attacks, and the Israeli authorities did not provide evidence to substantiate such allegations," the report said.
"Hundreds of civilians were killed by Israeli attacks using long-range high-precision munitions fired from combat aircraft, helicopters and drones, or from tanks stationed several kilometers from their target. Victims were not caught in the crossfire or when shielding militants, but killed in their homes while sleeping, carrying out daily tasks or playing. Some civilians, including children, were shot at close range when posing no threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while rescuing the wounded, leading to several deaths," according to Amnesty.
Destruction in Beit Lahiya during IDF op (Archive photo: AP)
The human rights group said Operation Cast Lead pushed the humanitarian crisis to "catastrophic levels." The group said that after the offensive concluded, the blockade "hampered or prevented reconstruction efforts. As a result, there was a further deterioration of water and sanitation services; more power cuts, causing severe problems in the summer heat and for public and health institutions; greater overcrowding in schools; more challenges for an already overstretched health system struggling with damaged facilities and higher demand; and little or no chance of economic recovery."
Amnesty also leveled harsh criticism at Israel's policy in the West Bank, saying "the security barrier which separates many Palestinians from their land, jobs and relatives, combined with long curfews, around 600 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other closure obstacles, continued to disrupt the ability of Palestinians to access basic services, including educational and health facilities."
West Bank security barrier (Photo: AP)
The report claimed that Israel continued to deny Palestinians in the West Bank "fair access to adequate, safe water supplies, hindering social and economic development and posing threats to health, in violation of its responsibilities as the occupying power."
Amnesty's report also said Israeli forces continued to "forcibly evict Palestinians, demolish their homes and expropriate their land in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while allowing Israeli settlements to expand on illegally confiscated Palestinian land."
"Throughout the year, Israeli forces used excessive and, at times, lethal force against Palestinian
civilians. Allegations of ill-treatment against Palestinian detainees continued and were rarely investigated. Hundreds were administratively detained without charge; others were serving sentences imposed after unfair military trials. Israeli soldiers and settlers who committed serious human rights abuses against Palestinians enjoyed virtual impunity," the report said.
The report also criticized Hamas, saying that during Operation Cast Lead its forces and militias in the Gaza Strip "continued to fire indiscriminate rockets and mortars into Israel, and within Gaza they abducted political opponents and former detainees alleged to have 'collaborated' with the Israeli intelligence services; some were summarily killed, others were beaten or shot in the legs.
"Throughout the year, Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank and Hamas security forces and militias in Gaza arbitrarily detained hundreds of members or sympathizers of rival factions without charge or trial and often tortured and otherwise ill-treated them. Security agencies under the PA in the West Bank and the de facto administration in Gaza used excessive force when confronting armed rivals, causing a number of civilian deaths. The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza continued to clamp down on freedom of expression. Military courts in the West Bank and Gaza sentenced 17 people to death; no executions were carried out," the report said.
The report mentioned Gilad Shalit in one brief paragraph, which said Hamas "continued to deny the captured Israeli soldier access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or visits from his family."