The ceasefire – An opportunity to sever the link between hostilities and civilian movement and access
November 2012. Following the cessation of hostilities in the context of the Israeli military operation “Pillar of Defense”, attention has turned to what might now become of the closure of Gaza. The terms of the ceasefire agreed to by Israel and the Hamas authorities in Gaza include agreement to negotiate easing movement restrictions, although it remains to be seen what will actually change.
Gisha’s position is that neither the Israeli government nor the Hamas regime has the right to trade in the fundamental freedoms of the civilian population in Gaza. While some aspects of the closure were lifted in June 2010, sweeping restrictions on movement of people and goods remain in place, including those that are not essential to meeting concrete security objectives and are therefore illegitimate under international humanitarian law. While we praise the recent agreement, in the context of the ceasefire, to ease restrictions on fishing off Gaza's coast and on access to agricultural lands near the Gaza border fence, we caution that these and other easings that we hope to see should not be subject to the other terms of the ceasefire, namely an absence of hostilities. For too long, Israeli governments have used movement restrictions on the civilian population of Gaza as a means of applying pressure on the Hamas regime, in violation of international law and, according to Israeli security experts and government officials, in ways that undermined the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and the stated goal of weakening Hamas.
More than two years ago, following the flotilla incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli television’s Channel 1 that the “civilian closure” on Gaza, which he had inherited from his predecessor had undermined the “security closure” and therefore he decided to lift it. The closure has been partially lifted, but principle aspects of the closure – including the restriction on Gaza residents’ ability to exercise their right to engage in the family, business, education, health and cultural ties they have with the West Bank – have remained almost entirely unchanged. The negotiations present the Government of Israel with a historic opportunity to rid itself of restrictions on movement that are not essential for security and to formulate a new, more just and more effective policy that would enjoy greater legitimacy.
In this position paper we detail the restrictions on movement currently imposed by the Israeli authorities on residents of Gaza and what it would take to remove them and respect Gaza residents’ right to freedom of movement.