The lifting of travel restrictions anywhere, and all the more so when it comes to the Gaza Strip, is good news for us at Gisha. The statement made by the new Egyptian Foreign Minister last week was interpreted in Israel to indicate an intention to fully open the Rafah Crossing. If it proves true, this would significantly ease the closure by allowing Palestinians and others to enter and exit the Gaza Strip, and maybe even import and export goods in the future (and all that above ground, no less!).
It could also be good news for Israel, whose obligations, deriving from its control over movement of people and goods, would be reduced, commensurate with the reduction in the extent of its control. However, as long as Israel continues controlling the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip, its airspace and most of its land borders, its population registry and its tax system, Israel will continue to bear substantial, although not exclusive, responsibility under international humanitarian law for the maintenance of regular and free movement (subject to individual security inspections) into and out of the Gaza Strip. In addition to an obligation to allow people and goods to cross between Gaza and foreign countries, Israel continues to bear almost full responsibility for passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which has been restricted since 1991 and which the opening of Rafah Crossing would not resolve.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are recognized, including by Israel, as a single territorial unit, which, despite four years of tight closure, still shares one economy, one education system, one healthcare system and countless familial and social ties. Furthermore, if the reconciliation agreement signed yesterday between Fatah and Hamas is implemented, there will soon be a single internal government for both areas.
We at Gisha believe that this moment is an opportunity for the Government of Israel to initiate cooperation with the PA, Egypt and international parties over operation of the border crossings. Such arrangements should guarantee freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under reasonable conditions, while addressing Israel’s security interests recognized by international law. This will enable Israel to realize the declarations that it, and its prime minister, have made repeatedly since June 2010, namely that the “civilian” closure of Gaza must be lifted and restrictions should apply only to the transfer of weapons and war materiel.