Separating land, separating people

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For the past two and a half decades, Israel has increasingly restricted movement between Gaza and the West Bank down to its current level, where separation is the rule and access is the rare exception. The restrictions have devastated civilian life in both Gaza and the West Bank, separating families, restricting access to educational opportunities and health services and de-developing the Palestinian economy.

While security considerations have played a role in the imposition of restrictions, as of 2015 many, many restrictions cannot be justified by security needs, but rather serve political goals or reflect a parsimonious view of Israel’s obligations toward Palestinian civilians.

This position paper will analyze what Israel calls the “separation policy” in the context of Israeli control over the Palestinian territory, including Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and in light of the applicable principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).

In Part One we describe the policy governing Gaza-West Bank access and situate it in the context of Israeli restrictions on movement throughout the Palestinian territory.

In Part Two we analyze the travel restrictions in light of Israel’s obligations, under the law of occupation, to facilitate normal civilian life in the Palestinian territory, including analysis of the security and political goals that Israel has articulated as justifying the restrictions.

We argue that the sweeping restrictions violate Israel’s obligation to ensure public life in the Palestinian territory and to preserve the ability of the Palestinian people to realize their sovereignty at the conclusion of the occupation.

In Part Three we assess the policy under international human rights law. We argue that irrespective of whether or not Gaza and the West Bank constitute a state, the individual human right to freedom of movement applies to Palestinians wishing to travel between the two parts of the territory, which have been recognized by Israel and the international community as a single territorial unit. We further argue that the restrictions violate Israel’s obligations to allow Palestinians freely to pursue joint economic, social and cultural development, which constitute the basis for the enjoyment of human rights.

We conclude with a series of recommendations for bringing Israel’s policy into greater conformity with its international obligations and with its own strategic interests in facilitating normal life for Palestinian civilians, as has been recently recognized by senior Israeli security officials.

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