This Tuesday (April 30), the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) will convene in Brussels to discuss the dire situation in the Gaza Strip. In the past year, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has been further exacerbated by cuts to US aid, sanctions imposed by the Palestinian Authority, and ongoing and severe restrictions on movement imposed by Israel. Sweeping restrictions on movement of people and goods to and from the Strip tightened by Israel to the point of closure in 2007 have all but destroyed the economy and caused grave harm to the civilian population.
In early April, Israel implemented a partial expansion of the fishing zone it enforces to 15 nautical miles (nm), and was reportedly planning to implement further “easings” of the closure. Given Israel’s ongoing and comprehensive control over movement of people and goods to and from the Strip, and the substantive impact of this control on the lives of Gaza residents, Israel’s responsibility for protecting fundamental human rights far surpasses the strictly “humanitarian” framework through which Israel presents its role and the scope of its involvement in Gaza.
In previous AHLC meetings, Israel pledged to facilitate projects related to civilian infrastructure and humanitarian needs in Gaza, which are being funded exclusively by international donors. While many of the projects have stalled for various reasons, Israel has refrained from taking simple steps that would have an immediate and direct effect on the well-being of residents of Gaza and the Gaza economy. What is missing isn’t funding or projects, but rather political will and respect for basic rights.
Before complicated, long-term projects are implemented, there are measures that could be taken immediately to shift course and promote economic activity. The following are just some examples:
- Removing restrictions on the types of goods that can be marketed from Gaza in the West Bank and Israel, including agricultural produce and products like processed foods.
- Allowing goods to be transported in hand luggage and enabling exit of commercial mail.
- Lifting sweeping restrictions on movement of people: Enabling access to family, and allowing students, small-scale traders, entrepreneurs and professionals to travel for business, trade, and education.
- Ending the practice of conducting aerial spraying of herbicides near Gaza’s perimeter fence.
- Allowing entrance of items for reconstruction and industry, subject only to individual security inspections.
Gisha emphasizes that the need for humanitarian aid is a symptom of failed politics. Aid cannot substitute sustainable long-term solutions, including an end to the occupation. Sustainable change in Gaza will only be possible when Israel and the international community recognize Israel’s legal and moral obligations toward the civilian population living under its control, and counter its efforts to isolate Gaza from the West Bank and Israel, particularly relevant now with the prospect of the formal annexation of the West Bank.