58 Norwegian organizations and political parties have demanded their country’s foreign ministry to put pressure on Israel to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip in particular.
Last Tuesday, representatives of the organizations convened at the ministry of foreign affairs in Oslo to hand over a letter in this regard to foreign minister Ine Eriksen Soreide.
“In response to the global pandemic, governments across the world are implementing emergency measures to protect the health of their citizens and stabilize their economies. For people in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, the Covid-19 outbreak has critical economic and humanitarian implications,” their letter read.
“As a population under occupation and siege, the Palestinians are a high risk group, both at the mercy of the pandemic and disproportionate measure from the occupying power.”
“Israel confirmed their first case of Covid-19 on February 21st. Following this, the UN and humanitarian organizations reported that Israeli authorities demolished 69 buildings in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Amongst the demolished infrastructure were seven water, hygiene and sanitation structures. A third of the damaged or confiscated buildings were funded by international aid to the Palestinians.”
“The UN body OCHA also reports an increase in attacks by Israeli settlers and incidents of disproportionate use of violence by Israeli soldiers. This is happening at the same time as Israel’s government plans to annex large areas of the West Ban. These are serious, political measures, violating international humanitarian law and increasing the vulnerability of Palestinians.”
“Overcrowded areas and refugees camps in the West Bank and Gaza are especially vulnerable to the pandemic. For the two million people living in Gaza, the situation is catastrophic. 13 years of siege and military operations in 2009, 2012 and 2014 have made Gaza uninhabitable. In an area the size of Hamar municipality (Norwegian town), Palestinians [in Gaza] are living with a weak public health sector, extreme poverty, high levels of unemployment, dysfunctional infrastructure, aid-dependency and terrible conditions to grow up in for children and youth.”
“Under these critical circumstances, it is impossible for the Palestinian health sector to handle the pandemic. Health care in Gaza has been on the brink of collapse even before they received the first Covid-19 patients and has for many years struggled to meet the needs of the population due to the critical lack of medicine, equipment and training. Restrictions set by the Israeli siege seriously impede the import of goods, trade, and economic activity as well as stable access to electricity and fuel.”
“The siege, which limits freedom of movement by land, sea and air, is a clear violation of human rights, and, as the UN has declared several times, a clear breach of Israel’s commitments to international law. We want to emphasize the importance of ensuring that the international community has access to the necessary information about what is happening in Palestine and the consequences of the siege [on Gaza].”
“Our own government has spoken about the centrality of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Norwegian foreign policy. From this follows a duty to act. Norway has a clear responsibility as chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) for Palestine since 1993. We, the signatories below, believe that ending the siege is long overdue.”
“We urge the minister of foreign affairs to take an initiative at the UN and in other international bodies in order to stop the collective punishment of the Palestinians, an action that, according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, is considered a war crime,” their letter concluded.
The initiative of making such appeal to Norway’s foreign ministry came from the Norwegian People’s Aid, the Trade Union, Defense of International Law and Ships to Gaza Norway, which was also endorsed by other organizations and some political parties.
The Gaza Strip was occupied by the Israeli occupation state in 1967 and today is home to over two million Palestinians. Israel withdrew in 2005, but imposed a tight blockade after the Hamas Movement won the elections in the Palestinian territories the following year. Israel has carried out three major military offensives and responses against the impoverished coastal enclave since.