The document pictured here isn’t current. We received it, along with a pile of other documents, in response to an application we made under the Freedom of Information Act. This particular document is from 2013 and it dryly records the order to close Kerem Shalom Crossing and restrict travel through Erez Crossing. Why? It doesn’t say. It just says that movement was restricted “due to rocket fire”.
“Due to rocket fire” is the phrase of choice used to explain the closure of Gaza’s crossings with Israel. The recent, additional restrictions imposed on Kerem Shalom were similarly explained. The restrictions imposed on Erez Crossing over the past three weeks, however, were not explained at all. No reference was made to a specific security threat to the crossings and it goes without saying that nothing at all was said about how the closure might harm Palestinians living in Gaza.
And so, three weeks after three Israeli youths were abducted and murdered in the West Bank, Erez Crossing is still open only to medical patients and foreign citizens, and, in the last few days, also to a few traders who were permitted to cross. Before these latest and additional restrictions, a few dozen Palestinians traveled through Erez every day to visit relatives. They received permits because even under the strict travel criteria, they were considered “exceptional humanitarian cases”: meaning they had a first degree relative who was terminally ill, or had passed away, or one who was getting married. Now, most of them can’t travel “due to rocket fire”.
The Government of Israel believes it should limit travel to the minimum necessary. We have a different approach and believe the maximum possible should be allowed: that people and goods must be free to move subject to individual security screenings, rather than to criteria that allow only a select few, defined as “exceptional humanitarian cases”, to travel. When Israel’s Defense Ministry refuses to let even the exceptions to the exceptions travel, it should, at the very least, explain why not. Is Erez Crossing under a concrete security threat? If so, why can medical patients and traders exit? Is this a punitive measure, meant to “send Hamas a message” (Hebrew), as someone in the military once said? And if it is, how does that jive with what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once said (Hebrew) about how the “civilian closure undermines the security closure”? Is there another reason for the travel restrictions? We can’t say. This is the ninth time movement through the crossings has been further restricted following escalations in violence in the region. In the meantime, the Defense Ministry didn’t even bother to release its stock phrase this time – “due to rocket fire”.