On June 9, 2011, Member of Knesset Zahava Gal-On submitted a parliamentary question (Hebrew) to Defense Minister Ehud Barak regarding discrimination against women by the security establishment. The security establishment only allows “senior merchants” to travel from Gaza to the West Bank and Israel. Since women are more likely to be found working in the small business sector or in civil society organizations, the policy effectively discriminates against them. MK Gal-On asked why the military continues to employ a policy which discriminates against Palestinian women instead of one that promotes the advancement of Gaza’s women.
Some six months went by since the submission of the parliamentary question, six months during which businesswomen were still barred from traveling to the West Bank. Finally the question was answered by Minister Matan Vilnai. Mr. Vilnai, the minister of home front defense, isn’t the defense minister, but after a six-month delay, there’s no reason to be pedantic. His answer (Hebrew) is worthy of consideration:
On September 19, 2007, in Resolution B/34, ‘Israel’s (military and civilian) Policy vis-à-vis Gaza’, the Security Cabinet determined that the Gaza Strip was a “hostile entity” and that severe restrictions would be imposed in the civilian realm, including with respect to movement of people into and out of the Gaza Strip.
According to this resolution, which is based on security and political considerations, there is currently no entry of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the State of Israel other than in exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases. This position has been reviewed and approved by the Supreme Court on more than one occasion, including in its capacity as the High Court of Justice.
Vilnai is correct. In 2007, the Olmert government did decide to impose a closure on the Gaza Strip. It’s hard to forget those days: chocolate, toys, notebooks and other products were not permitted to enter the Gaza Strip and international condemnation of Israel soared, peaking with the infamous Gaza flotilla incident. The problem is that a few things have happened since 2007, most importantly, the decision to lift the civilian closure from the Gaza Strip.
This decision marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in Israel’s official rhetoric regarding the Gaza Strip. Both the government and the military have since repeatedly declared the intention to distinguish between the civilian population and militants, to promote economic development and to expand Israel’s policy beyond meeting Gaza’s basic humanitarian needs. Most of the restrictions on goods and raw materials entering the Gaza Strip have indeed been lifted.
Yet, as MK Gal-On’s parliamentary question implies, the change on the ground is trailing behind the change in rhetoric, and some significant elements of the civilian closure remain intact (as can be seen here, here and here). These elements still have a dramatic effect on Gaza’s ability to recover financially, and impacts the rights of Gaza residents to education, health and normal family life.
It’s odd that the home front defense minister chose to quote a resolution from which the current government has been trying to backpedal for over a year and a half. To keep him from being out of touch, we’ve collected some of the resolutions passed by the government of which he is a member, as well as recent statements made by security officials with respect to the civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip. It may help him provide a more up-to-date answer the next time he is presented with a parliamentary question. The statements follow in chronological order:
“Expand operations at the existing operating land crossings, thereby enabling the processing of a significantly greater volume of goods through the crossings and the expansion of economic activity” (Statement Following the Israeli Security Cabinet Meeting, June 20, 2010).
“The Cabinet’s decision removes the civilian closure on Gaza and tightens the security closure” (Netanyahu at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, June 21, 2010)
“The Security Cabinet this morning […] approved additional measures to expedite increased exports from the Gaza Strip”. (Security Cabinet Decision, December 8, 2010)
“[S]tability is important at all times, but it’s especially important now and the first set of steps that we’re taking are to continue the policy we’ve advanced to enable economic growth in the Palestinian areas.” (Benjamin Netanyahu, February 4, 2011)
“We are committed to creating a distinction between the population and the terrorists” (COGAT, April 10, 2011 (Hebrew)).
“The civil Policy [sic] towards the Gaza Strip deals with trade, export of agricultural goods, projects of infrastructure, education, health, water, electricity and the movement of people – all important to life in Gaza. These competent [sic] separate between the civil population and the terror organization. This isn’t just humanitarian activity and the transfer of patients, like everybody thinks”. (COGAT website, December 1, 2011)
“Professionals and experts exit the Gaza Strip on a daily basis, in order to participate in conventions and conferences.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, December 5, 2011)
“One of the toughest challenges the IDF and COGAT have to face is the ability to distinguish between the civilian population and the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.” (COGAT website, December 29, 2011 (Hebrew))
“‘There is [no] more humanitarian’, concluded the general officers and civilian coordinators in the Coordination and Liaison Administration in Gaza, ‘we have changed and moved to stability and economic stabilization […]’” (COGAT website, January 15, 2012)
“The Coordinator of Government Activities in Territories unit will continue to work through the Coordination and Liaison Administration at Erez, in order to facilitate the gradual increase in exports from the Gaza Strip, in accordance with the civil-economic policy committed to by the Israeli government, subject to ongoing security assessments”. (COGAT website, January 23, 2012)