March 18, 2020. Exit from Gaza through Erez Crossing is still limited mostly to medical patients and their companions. Yesterday, the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza delayed exit of patients seeking medical treatment that is unavailable in the Strip to check the necessity of their travel, as part of measures being taken to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Strip. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Palestinian residents of the West Bank, foreign nationals and individuals in other urgent, humanitarian circumstances may submit applications for exit permits to be considered by Israeli authorities. Entrance into the Strip is limited to residents of Gaza and foreign nationals, subject to special coordination.

Salah a-Din Gate. Photo by OCHA
Salah a-Din Gate. Photo by OCHA

Israel has limited movement through Erez since March 8, initially as part of measures implemented during the Jewish holiday of Purim. On March 10, restrictions were tightened further as part of measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

So far, cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Israel and the West Bank, but not in Gaza. Since Sunday, March 15, all people entering the Strip are being sent to quarantine facilities. Yesterday, March 17, 42 residents who returned to Gaza were sent to quarantine in a medical facility in Khan Yunis.

Travel through Rafah Crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, has been limited since the weekend to return of residents to the Strip and exit of urgent humanitarian cases. Residents of Gaza entering the Strip via Rafah are being sent to quarantine facilities set up near the crossing and in schools in the area. Salah A-Din Gate between Egypt and Gaza is also open for entrance of goods into the Strip. Sources in Gaza report that Egypt may close Rafah as soon as tomorrow to all entrance and exit. It’s unclear whether Salah A-Din will stay open.

Kerem Shalom Crossing, Gaza’s only commercial crossing for transit of goods, is operating as usual. Earlier this week Gisha published a new factsheet on Kerem Shalom detailing how the crossing operates, who runs it on either side of the crossing, and what goods pass through it, which is determined exclusively by Israel.

These challenging times highlight the importance, more acute than ever, of Kerem Shalom Crossing’s continued operations. The health of Gaza’s residents is also dependent on a functional economy and the flow of essential supplies. Gisha recalls that Israel’s comprehensive, ongoing control over substantial aspects of daily life in Gaza comes with a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights and living conditions of its residents, even in these times. Any decisions to limit access must be based on legitimate concerns for public health, also for Palestinian residents. Israel must allow humanitarian access under the widest possible interpretation of the term given the circumstances.