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Human Rights Situation in Gaza

On 30 November 2011, the Institute of Law (IoL) at Birzeit University organised a legal encounter on the Human Rights Situation in Gaza on the occasion of the 63rd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Delivered by Mr. ‘Issam Younes, Director of the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, the encounter brought together a considerable number of lawyers and specialists. Nayef Bseiso, Legal Advisor and Board Member of the Palestinian Bar Association, also attended the legal encounter.

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Lina Al- Tounisi, Coordinator of the IoL Gaza Office, welcomed the speaker and audience and made a briefing note about the Birzeit Legal Encounters programme. Mrs. Al- Tounisi highlighted that the legal encounter was well-timed as it coincided with the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Mr. Younes identified the UDHR, stating that it is a primary international human rights document. Although it is not a legally binding instrument, the UDHR has gained an important position within the body of international law after it was adopted by the United Nations.

Highlighting adverse consequences, Mr. Younes elaborated on human rights violations committed by the Israeli occupying authorities. For example, the Israeli authorities have banned Shakespeare’s works because he wrote the Merchant of Venice play. They have also censored all publications that address the Jews throughout the Palestinian territory. The Israeli occupying authorities have prevented Palestinians from cultivating fruit-bearing trees and denied access to and from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In the past, many Gaza students were enrolled at universities in the West Bank, including Birzeit University. Due to the security situation created by Israel over the past years, a very limited number of Gazans currently study at the West Bank universities.

As the Israeli economy was still developing in the 1970s, the Israeli judicial authority allowed Gaza residents to access and work in Israel. The decision was annulled during the first Intifada (uprising). In Mr. Younes’ opinion, the 1993 Oslo Accords did not lay the foundations of statehood. On the contrary, the Oslo process has undermined interests and welfare of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the course of the second Intifada, which erupted in 2000, the Israeli military establishment imposed a severe siege on Gaza. In 2007, the siege was further tightened following the political division between the West Bank and Gaza. Culminating in the 2008-09 military offensive, the Palestinian economy in Gaza was completely paralysed.

Exploring a way out of the current situation in besieged Gaza, Mr. Younes asserted that Gaza is a political, not humanitarian case. Israel is implementing a systematic impoverishment and imposes restrictions on the transportation of basic materials, resulting in numerous predicaments. More than 25 professions depend on construction materials. Denying access to construction cargo effectively reduces employment opportunities, naturally leading to a rise in unemployment. Israel’s closure and siege policy has further brought poverty to a majority of the Gazan population. Consequently, 85% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian aid. The international community of nations should take action to lift the siege on Gaza. The current blockade is an outcome of double standards exercised by the international community. Israel’s security does not justify a siege on 1.5 million human beings in Gaza.

In a similar vein, Mr. Younes explained the systematic social alienation is designed to exclude Palestinians from political action. The current siege has forced Palestinians to meditate on their day-to-day distress and concerns, driving them to forget the just question of Palestine. Mr. Younes wondered how Gazans can think and innovate in the midst of their daily suffering?
In conclusion, Mr. Younes demanded that the international community take expedient action. Future indicators are hazardous under the siege imposed on Gaza. Public opinion, not governments, change policies. The Arab Spring is a historic moment for Palestinians. Therefore, the national conciliation effort should grab this decisive chance for the good and interest of Palestine.

In the ensuing discussion, lawyers made significant interventions and raised questions that reflected their awareness and interest in the topic. Mrs. at Tounisi expressed thanks and gratitude of both IoL and Birzeit University to the speaker and audience for their effective participation and debate in the legal encounter.
The legal encounter was organised in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.