July 8, 2020. The combination of movement restrictions implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, the halt in coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, and Israel’s refusal to process permit applications by Gaza residents other than urgent medical cases, are reflected in a 98.5% drop in the number of exits from the Strip via Erez Crossing over the course of June, compared to the monthly average in 2019 (about 15,000 exits). The Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, the PA-run body responsible for channeling permit applications by Gaza residents to Israeli authorities, stopped accepting permit applications in May at the instruction of the Palestinian government in Ramallah, which came in response to Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
Most of the 218 exits from Erez Crossing were of medical patients seeking life-saving treatment in Israel and the West Bank and their companions. A small number of exits and entries by foreign nationals and Palestinian citizens of Israel were recorded in June, as well as only 17 exits for “other purposes” (other than medical treatment), including 12 exits for the purpose of travel abroad via Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. Most of the 254 entries into Gaza via Erez in June were patients and their companions returning from treatment.
There were no entries into Gaza from Jordan via Allenby Bridge/Erez Crossing in June, nor were there exits from Gaza to Egypt via Rafah Crossing. Only 14 entries into Gaza via Rafah were recorded throughout the month.
Since March 15, all people entering Gaza whether via Erez or Rafah crossings are sent to government-run isolation facilities for 21 days at the instruction of the local Hamas authorities. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, there are six isolation facilities where 285 individuals are currently quarantined. To date, Gaza has had 72 verified cases of COVID-19; 57 patients recovered, and one died of the disease. As of July 5, a total of 12,810 coronavirus tests were conducted in Gaza.
While Israeli authorities did state that they would allow patients in need of life-saving treatment that is not available in Gaza to submit permit applications directly (Hebrew), residents who need to travel for all other medical, humanitarian and additional needs still have no way of submitting applications for consideration. Before Erez was closed in early March, almost 6,000 Gaza residents held valid “trader permits,” many of them people who had exited to work in Israel as laborers. The economic repercussions caused by the fact that they can no longer exit is already apparent in the Strip. Traders from Gaza report that they face difficulties maintaining business ties with clients and suppliers in Israel and the West Bank, and thousands of laborers have lost their sources of income.
All parties, including Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, must protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, including the fundamental right to freedom of movement. Given Israel’s ultimate control over travel via Erez, it has a responsibility to protect the rights of Gaza residents, including to travel for needs beyond just critical medical treatment, while taking necessary precautions to stop the spread of the pandemic.