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Wall on Gaza Violates International Law

The collusion between Egypt and the U.S. to build a wall separating Egypt from Gaza not only threatens Gazans' health and quality of life, already severely deteriorated by the de facto Israeli blockade, it is a serious violation of international law.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Egypt is installing an underground metal wall 70-100 feet deep along the border strip where Palestinians have dug a maze-like set of tunnels to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The construction of the wall, carried out with the collaboration of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, has been denied by the Egyptian government.

Although Israel claims that the tunnels are used to supply militants of Hamas with explosives and arms, the main function of the tunnels is for the transfer of food and medicines to the severely deprived Palestinian population in Gaza. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has gone as far as barring the import of flour and other basic food into the coastal enclave.

According to the Disengagement Plan of April 2004, the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlements and stationed troops in Gaza was carried out with the stated purpose of removing the "basis for claiming that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory." However, as Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization has stated, "Israel remains the occupying power in the Gaza Strip because of it stated policy and its practices."

According to the Revised Disengagement Plan of June 6, 2004, "Israel will guard the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, continue to control Gaza air space, and continue to patrol the sea off the Gaza Coast." Because Israel still controls Gaza's borders including sea and airspace, it controls movements of goods and people as well as the civilian population registry and tax system. As a consequence, Gaza's civilian population is entitled to the status of protected persons under Article 4 of the Geneva Convention.

Rule 20 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law states that Israel is under the legal obligation to take all feasible precautions before launching an attack in order to avoid harming civilians, such as the obligation to give advanced warning to the population before attacking populated areas, conditions that were not fulfilled during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza as is clearly demonstrated in the United Nations Report on Gaza.

In addition, Israel is obligated to respect the customary principles of military necessity, distinction and proportionality when carrying out military operations in the Gaza Strip, while at the same time it has a concurrent obligation to treat the occupied population humanely. The obligation to treat protected persons humanely according to a principle of customary international law applies in "all circumstances" and "at all times."

UN agencies still consider that between half and two-thirds of Gazans are "food insecure," meaning that they live in hunger or fear starvation. According to estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) one third of children under five and women of childbearing age are anemic. The WHO also says that Israel's blockade of Gaza has lead to a general "worsening of the health conditions of the population" and to an "accelerated degeneration" of Gaza's health system.

Israel's restrictions of fuel and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip, as well as the prolonged closures of border crossings for people and goods, including humanitarian aid, constitute collective punishment, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unlawful and disproportionate reprisals violate international humanitarian law and can not be considered means of self-defense.

Despite current policy, the spirit of the Gazan people can be rekindled, like a fire after a storm. As Ann Wright, a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and former U.S. diplomat recently stated, "Just as the steel walls of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the base of the levees of New Orleans were unable to contain Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' underground steel walls that will attempt to build an underground cage of Gaza will not be able to contain the survival spirit of the people of Gaza."

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