Fifty aid groups and UN offices on Thursday signed a joint statement [press release, PDF] urging Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder], calling it a violation of international law. Among the signatories are Amnesty International, the World Health Organization and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official websites]. The joint statement follows a call on Wednesday by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos [official profile] to end the blockade [JURIST report], which she argued deprives Gaza residents of basic humanitarian needs. Israel maintains a fence along its border with the Gaza Strip, restricting the flow of goods and people through heavily-guarded border-crossings. The petition is a short statement voicing disapproval of the Gaza blockade. It reads:
For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: "end the blockade now."Israel maintains that the Gaza blockade is necessary to protect itself from Hamas [CFR backgrounder], which controls the Gaza Strip. A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] said on Thursday that Ban supports the lifting of the blockade and a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian opposition groups.
Israel's policy in the Gaza Strip has been a subject of controversy. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in February urged Israel [JURIST report] to change its policies that forbid Palestinians from traveling through and living in Gaza and the West Bank. The report describes the policy that causes separation within Palestinian families since some are trapped inside Israel while their family members are forbidden from entering. Israel was also criticized by HRW for never disclosing its rationale for imposing the restrictions on travel and residency. In January, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill [JURIST report] that imposes harsher penalties on illegal migrants in Israel, as well as on Israelis who help illegal migrants. The bill amends the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954, broadening the law to include not only individuals suspected of terrorism, but all illegal migrants. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights for the West Bank and Gaza Strip Richard Falk called for better guidelines on the treatment of Palestinian youth [JURIST report] arrested by the Israeli military