MAP joins call for end of collective punishment of Gaza

This month, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory Prof. Michael Lynk released his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Prof. Lynk focuses on the policies of Israel that constitute the collective punishment of the Palestinian population entailing “serious violations against Palestinians including the right to life, freedom of movement, health, adequate shelter and adequate standard of living.”

Foremost in his report is the impact of Israel’s 13-year closure of Gaza, which collectively punishes Gaza’s 2 million people, and which worsens the socio-economic determinants of health such as food, water and poverty. Also, Gaza’s health care system “has been brought close to collapse by the closure and escalating conflicts, notwithstanding the dedication of its professionals.” Prof Lynk also highlights restrictions placed by Israel on travel permits for patients, with more than a third of applications unsuccessful between January and May 2020. He concludes:

“Collective punishment is a tool of control and domination that is antithetical to the modern rule of law. It defies the foundational legal principle that only the guilty should incur penalties for their actions, after having been found responsible through a fair process. Prohibitions of collective punishment are found in virtually all legal systems across the globe. The deeds of a few cannot, under any circumstances, justify the punishment of the innocent, even in a conflict zone, even under occupation, even during times of popular discontent and security challenges.”

Coinciding with the report’s release, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) joined a panel of Palestinian and international human rights experts from Adalah, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Al Haq, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, for a virtual HRC side-event on the collective punishment of all people in Gaza.

MAP was represented by Neil Sammonds, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, who described how Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza has caused the de-development of healthcare there, including through the denial of exit permits for health workers seeking professional development outside Gaza, in turn contributing to a lack of essential specialties locally and the need for  the high rate of external patient referrals through Israel’s Byzantine permit regime.

Neil highlighted repeated attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian health workers in Gaza, carried out with and fuelled by a lack of genuine investigations as required under international law, and resultant chronic impunity for perpetrators. These issues are explored in MAP’s recent joint report with Al Mezan and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Chronic Impunity: Gaza’s Health Sector Under Repeated Attack.

Grounding the discussion in the real-life impacts of these policies and violations, Neil described two troubling cases known to MAP. First, he shared the story of Abeer Abu Jayyab, a 46-year-old woman from Gaza with breast cancer who led a MAP-funded peer support group for other sufferers. Abeer, described by colleagues as “one of the loveliest and most resilient women” and “a flame of vitality, energy and positivity”, required Herceptin treatment for her disease which was unavailable locally in Gaza.  She applied for a travel permit to make the journey from Gaza to Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, but the Israeli authorities rejected her requests for “security reasons” and she was forced to miss her appointments in February, March and April 2017. The cancer spread to her lungs and brain, weakening her sight and movement. Abeer died on 8 June 2017 leaving behind her children – the youngest five years old - and husband.

Neil also described the case of Hiba Swailam, a woman from Gaza who gave birth to premature triplets in Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem but was forced to leave her children in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and return to Gaza when her permit expired. Two of the triplets died in subsequent weeks, unable to be comforted and loved by their distant mother. The third, baby Shahd, was only reunited with her mother several months later.

These issues raised by Neil were also highlighted in depth in the Gaza 2020: Lift the Closure! online resource compiled by MAP, Al Haq, Al Mezan and PCHR, which you can read here.

You can watch the side event in full below:

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