Gisha’s statement on the occasion of the Palestinian government’s gathering in Gaza: Freedom of movement is non-negotiable

Crowds awaiting the arrival of PM Hamdallah, on the Palestinian side of Erez Crossing.

October 1, 2017.  Representatives of the Palestinian government from the West Bank and Gaza are convening this week to discuss the parameters of a possible reconciliation agreement, which many hope could lead to the opening of Rafah Crossing and generally improve access to alleviate the hardships of daily life for Gaza’s two million residents.

The right to freedom of movement is non-negotiable and must not be conditioned on political progress. More than 10 years of closure imposed by Israel are 10 years too many, in which families have been divided, economic activity impaired and infrastructure brought to the brink of collapse. The social, commercial, business and cultural life of the Gaza Strip depends on the connection of its residents with the West Bank, and, to a large extent, also with Israel.

The ongoing closure of Rafah has also prevented travel abroad for students and those seeking professional opportunities, medical treatment and family reunification. At any given time, tens of thousands Gaza residents are on waiting lists to travel through the crossing.

The basic rights of two million Palestinians in Gaza depend on access. It is by now abundantly clear that all parties have used their leverage over access as a means of exerting political pressure, and that legitimate security concerns are not the primary or even the most important factor preventing movement for Gaza residents. It is absolutely outrageous and incomprehensible that the lives of so many civilians would be thwarted and put at risk for so long because of political disputes.

As the occupying power, Israel has a distinct responsibility towards residents of the Strip. Israeli officials also regularly acknowledge that security for Israel means well-being in Gaza. Despite some changes to the closure policy over the years, particularly as regards movement of goods, the permit regime governing travel of people to and from the Strip is more stringent than ever. Fewer people are managing to obtain permits and cross through Erez, Gaza’s only gateway to the West Bank and Israel, as well as an important gateway to the outside world when Rafah is closed, and more people are being blocked for travel.

Movement restrictions must be reversed, not today or tomorrow as a matter of political expediency, but now, as a matter of great urgency, and to correct 10-plus-years of moral failure.