Five years have passed since the start of Operation Protective Edge, the deadliest, most destructive Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. In less than two months, 2,202 residents of Gaza were killed, including at least 1,391 people who took no part in hostilities, 526 of them children. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and six Israeli and foreign citizens were killed, including one child. About 11,000 housing units in Gaza were completely destroyed, and 160,000 more were damaged, resulting in tens of thousands of people in Gaza losing their homes. And yet, over the last year, the possibility of another war between Israel and Gaza appeared as imminent as ever.
Not nearly enough has changed in the past five years. Gaza’s unemployment rate remains one of the world’s highest. Its civilian infrastructure constantly teeters on the verge of collapse. Nearly two million people are routinely denied their basic right to freedom of movement, severely impairing family and other social ties, livelihoods, access to medical care, and overall quality of life.
The closure on Gaza has failed to achieve its official goals; meanwhile Gaza’s civilian population bears the brunt of the sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel. For years Israel has adhered almost unwaveringly to a logic of closure and separation of Gaza that has done nothing to boost the security of Israelis, while evading its obligations under international law to protect the fundamental rights of Palestinians living under its control, including Gaza residents.
Human rights are non-negotiable and must not be treated as bargaining chips. Israel’s “separation policy,” a policy of minimizing movement between Gaza and the West Bank, must be brought to an end. People and goods must be allowed to move freely between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, subject only to individual security screenings. Construction materials and other necessary inputs for building and maintaining civilian infrastructure and developing industry must be allowed to enter Gaza consistently.
Real change in Gaza depends on the political will and cooperation of all regional actors – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the de facto authorities in Gaza, Egypt, and the international community. The way to move beyond the cycle of violence and bloodshed must be grounded in greater protection for basic human rights.