Today members of Israel’s 22nd parliament, the Knesset, were sworn in. The Israeli parliamentary system has been more or less paralyzed for several months, and whether or not the possibility of a third election materializes, there are pressing matters to be addressed. The one matter that is of utmost urgency but most likely to be neglected is the question of Israel’s policy toward two million Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip.
Residents of Gaza are barred from direct participation in Israeli politics, but their lives are profoundly and directly impacted by Israel. Israel continues to control countless aspects of life in the Strip. Family life, education, livelihoods, the quality of health care, to name a few, are all bound by the arbitrary constraints of a permit regime enforced by Israel. Israel decides which goods can enter or exit Gaza, when, and how much. It also controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters.
The substantive control over life in Gaza comes with moral and legal responsibilities to safeguard the basic human rights of those affected by that control. But far from fulfilling these responsibilities, Israel enforces a closure designed to minimize movement and without regard for the host of rights that are dependent on movement. Many of the sweeping restrictions on movement, including on movement from Gaza to the West Bank, are politically motivated, and have nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Statements made recently by Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding annexation of parts of the West Bank clearly indicate as much.
The newly elected members of Knesset have considerable power in their hands. They should use it to demand an immediate change in Israeli policy, one that will not only improve the situation in Gaza, but also contribute to stability in the region as a whole. They must push the Israeli government to lift sweeping restrictions on movement and enable access to family, healthcare, for cultural and academic pursuits, and for business and trade. All it requires is political will and basic respect for human rights.