Siege on Gaza gravely harms civilians and prevents reconstruction after Operation Cast Lead

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One year after Operation Cast Lead, B'Tselem is today (27 December) launching a public campaign demanding that Israel lift its siege on the Gaza Strip. This is necessary in order to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip from the destruction wrought by the hostilities. As part of the campaign, the organization is releasing a new animated short film, by Alon Simone. The film shows how goods that are forbidden entry into Gaza from Israel enter from Egypt through tunnels, a process that enriches Hamas, which collects taxes on the goods. Through the film, B'Tselem hopes to demonstrate the absurdity of the Israeli siege policy: while seeking to topple the Hamas government, Israel is gravely harming Gaza's million and a half residents, and is achieving the opposite outcome.

In June 2007, after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel closed all the crossings between it and the Gaza Strip. Rafah Crossing, controlled by Egypt, remains closed most of the time, in part due to indirect pressure by Israel and the United States on Egypt. Since then, Israel has almost totally forbidden the export of goods and has limited imports to what it classifies as "humanitarian goods." The siege has led to economic collapse, isolating one and a half million Gazans from the outside world and reducing most of them to poverty and a life of unemployment, extremism and hopelessness. 80 percent of the population is now living under the poverty line; 1.1 million rely on aid from international organizations to survive. Some 20,000 Gazans are still homeless, their houses having been destroyed or severely damaged during Operation Cast Lead, and they are unable to rebuild them because Israel forbids building materials to enter Gaza, a prohibition that prevents the rehabilitation of the entire Strip.

Not only is the siege unlawful and immoral, it is also utter folly. Two and a half years after it began, not only has Israel's siege not eroded the status of the Hamas government, it has even achieved the opposite effect. One reason is that Palestinians have built hundreds of tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt, which they use to smuggle in goods, as well as to flood Gaza with weapons. The media and international agencies have extensively documented the way in which the Hamas government controls the tunnel economy and collects taxes on the goods passing through them.

Israel has the right and the duty to protect its citizens from attacks coming from Gaza, yet it is not allowed to exploit its control of the crossings to collectively punish one and a half million persons