New Gisha report reveals: Separation policy harms the work of civil society organizations in Gaza

Split Apart – A new report by Gisha again demonstrates that the impact of the separation policy is to split apart Palestinian society in Gaza and the West Bank. Access restrictions, which prevent travel between the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – as well as abroad, stifle the potential of civil society to meet the needs of the beneficiaries it serves as well as reinforce and even amplify the geographic and political divide in the Palestinian territory.

In a place experiencing such vast need and as the drums of war beat faintly in the distance, those attempting to improve lives and promote social change are unable to do their work. Despite declarations by senior Israeli security and political figures that Israel seeks not to punish civilians and sees an interest in promoting development and thus stability in Gaza, access policy on the ground continues to demonstrate the opposite.

The study is based on a series of focus groups with 32 representatives of the third sector, including women’s organizations, culture and development organizations, human rights organizations and humanitarian organizations that provide health and mental health services, particularly to people with special needs. They spoke to us about the difficulties access restrictions present, the heavy toll of the factional split on Palestinian society and the unfulfilled potential of their work and of Palestinian civil society in general.

The main issues affecting civil society:

  • Many Gaza organizations have counterparts, or branches, in the West Bank. Travel restrictions make it very difficult to promote shared goals and effect change. Staff and volunteers are not allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank for courses, conferences and meetings with experts. Travel in the other direction – from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip is next to impossible.
  • Because of the prolonged closure of Rafah Crossing, the possibility of meeting abroad or traveling for seminars and professional meetings is nearly nonexistent.
  • Almost all the participants said that after the last round of hostilities, staff members who are qualified to treat residents are in need of treatment themselves after suffering personal losses and experiencing tangible danger. The narrow Gaza exit criteria prevent them from traveling from Gaza for retreats or to receive emotional and professional support from outside.

It is hard to see what benefits are reaped from weakening this critical sector, which only contributes to   increasing despair among society. The two main recommendations of the report are:

  1. Israel must cancel the separation policy and allow travel between Gaza and the West Bank, subject to individual security checks. Absent imminent solutions to the conflict and the internal Palestinian rift, this presents the only viable chance for improving the Palestinian economy and advancing well-being in Palestinian society, both key to a more stable future in the region.
  1. Israel must recognize the legitimate needs of civil society organizations to travel across the Palestinian territory and abroad and grant travel permits accordingly.

The report was launched this morning (April 20) in the Gaza Strip, in the presence of representatives from civil society organizations that contributed to this research.

For the full report click here.