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“Blockade of Gaza denies Palestinians humanity and dignity,” says UN Special Rapporteur

GENEVA (23 June 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, expressed deep concern over the human rights situation confronting 1.7 million people of Gaza and described it as “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. The blockade of Gaza must be lifted entirely and immediately.”

“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,” he said in reference to this week’s announcement by the Israeli Government approving the delivery of US$100 million in building materials for 1,200 homes and 18 schools in UN-run projects in Gaza.

Referring to the recent reports confirming that the Gaza’s health crisis is growing dire day by day, Mr. Falk described the situation of healthcare “as nothing short of catastrophic” that continues to violate the right of Palestinians to the highest attainable standard of health guaranteed under human rights law.

Ministry of Health in Gaza recently warned that the Strip is at emergency level of medical supplies and equipment. Of the 480 medications on the essential drug list, 178 (37%) are reported to be at zero stock levels and that more than 190 types of medicine in stock are either expired or are close to their expiry date. The World Health Organization warns that this severe shortage of vital drugs, which has increased steadily since 2007, is now deemed critical for the continued delivery of healthcare.

The shortage of medicine in Gaza followed the election of Hamas in 2006 when the Israeli-imposed blockade prevented and delayed vital medical aid from entering the territory. During the 23-day Israeli offensive against Gaza in 2008-2009, Israel destroyed its hospitals, clinics and medical storage facilities, doing severe damage to the Gaza healthcare system.

Recent reports also indicate that 95% of the water used for drinking and washing is unsafe for human consumption.

“Another devastating yet direct result of the Israeli blockade is the high rate of unemployment in Gaza,” explained the Special Rapporteur. A new report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) puts unemployment in the second half of 2010 in Gaza at 45.2 per cent, one of the highest in the world, and the poverty rate above 60 per cent. “It is appalling that 300,000 Gazans seek to survive on less than $1 per day, deprived of their basic human rights and a life in dignity. UNRWA report aptly concludes that the Israeli blockade ‘deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.’ To this end, the deliberate policy of humiliation and degradation is only aimed at punishing the entire civilian population trapped in the Gaza Strip,” stated Mr. Falk.

“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 stressed. “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,” the Special Rapporteur said.

In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/ps/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Nikki Siahpoush (Tel.: + 41 22 928 9430 / email: nsiahpoush@ohchr.org) or write to sropt@ohchr.org.

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