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October 3, 2018

Israel is violating international law by imposing a siege on Gaza for the last 11 years - says lawyer

Scott Stockdale

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Most North Americans probably don't know - or care for that matter - that the two million people in Gaza - a strip of land 20 miles long and three or four miles wide - live in what Jonathan Kuttab, a leading human rights lawyer in Israel and Palestine characterized as an open-air prison.

Speaking at the Islamic Society of York Region recently, as part of a Canada-wide tour campaigning for Palestinian human rights, Dr. Kuttab explained what he means by “open-air prison”.

“For the last 11 years, Gaza has lived under siege and nobody in the world seems to care. Israel controls what goes in and what goes out. They control products such as school books and pencils as well as building materials and food.

“When an Israeli official was asked: 'Are you trying to starve these people?' he replied: 'No, just keep them on a strict diet.' They've calculated how many calories the people need to be just over the edge of starvation and then they calculate how many food trucks to let in.”

When we read in the western press that the people of Gaza are building tunnels to smuggle weapons and, there is some documented evidence supporting this scenario, Dr. Kuttab said the tunnels are primarily to obtain life-sustaining supplies.

Fuel is but one of the life-sustaining supplies that the people of Gaza are short of, according to Dr. Kuttab, who was born in West Jerusalem, but after the Six Day War, his family moved to the United States.

“Fuel is necessary for the sewage treatment plant. It's not working, so 95 per cent of the water in Gaza is not potable: it's not fit for human consumption.”

He added that electricity is only on for four hours a day, which of course the sewage treatment plant, as well as most of the other parts of the infrastructure in Gaza – or anywhere else in the world for that matter – require to operate.

After practising with a Wall Street law firm for several years, Dr. Kuttab decided to try to help the suffering people of his homeland. He returned home to co-found the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, Al-Haq (lawyers and others who assist with human rights issues), and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners.

Stressing nonviolence throughout his presentation, Dr. Kuttab said, like all people living in intolerable conditions, the people of Gaza had to respond. Anyone who pays attention to news from the region in world media knows should not be surprised by the result.

“We will just march to the borders. One day 60 people were killed. So far, 190 unarmed people have been killed and ten to 15,000 people have been wounded, including children, journalists, and medical staff.”

In liberal democracies such as Canada, that continuously champion human rights and the rule of law, Canada's silence is deafening, like that of most other countries throughout the world, who have chosen to ignore this situation. And due to their silence, Dr. Kuttab said we are all guilty of complicity in a crime.

“The siege is illegal under International Law.”

Although the UN Charter gives the UN Security Council the power to impose sanctions on countries that violate international law, Dr. Kuttab said the United States has vetoed 37 UN Security Council motions to sanction Israel for violating international law, by imposing a siege on Gaza for the last 11 years.

However, he added that this is no excuse for other countries such as Canada to do nothing.

“Individual countries can impose sanctions. Canada already has sanctions against 11 countries.”

Moreover, even if the countries themselves choose to do nothing, Dr. Kuttab said individuals can impose sanctions.

“Unions, churches, mosques and students can impose sanctions. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement started to encourage ordinary people to boycott against those who violate human rights.”

Most North Americans would probably be surprised to find that violations of human rights are far more extensive than they ever imagined, in no small part because this is seldom, if ever, reported in the mainstream media. Dr. Kuttab is part of the “Lift the Siege of Gaza Campaign” which opposes flagrant violations of human rights of the people of Gaza.

“All people in Gaza are under military law. They can be arrested anywhere, any time. They (Israeli military forces) take children in the middle of the night and interrogate and torture them, with no lawyer or parents present, until they sign a confession in Hebrew: a language they don't understand. If they don't sign a confession, they are put in administrative detention. There are 550 people in administrative detention now: they are facing no charges but their detention can be renewed every six months, indefinitely.”

In response to Israeli treatment of Palestinian children, Palestinian human rights activists have started a campaign entitled “No Way to Treat a Child”. Dr. Kuttab said this treatment has to stop: this evil treatment of human beings. But in order to stop this treatment, people must continue to pressure their political leaders in western democracies.

“All of this will not happen until we make it clear to our political leaders. So far, they've issued messages of care but are doing nothing.”

He said the UN has said that by 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable, but the people of Gaza can't wait that long for change.

“People can't live in these conditions. This siege must be lifted.”

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