September 1, 2021. This morning, following changes implemented in recent weeks to Israel’s policy vis-à-vis access and movement to and from Gaza, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced a number of additional steps, as follows:
- The “fishing zone” enforced by Israel in Gaza’s sea space was expanded to a maximal distance of 15 nautical miles in certain areas of the zone. The last time Israel allowed fishermen to access the sea at this distance was on April 26, 2021.
- The quota of trader permit holders has been expanded to 7,000 for the first time since Israel imposed the “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing in March 2020. Before March 2020, about 6,000 people in Gaza held valid trader permits.
- The additional restrictions imposed by Israel at Kerem Shalom Crossing since the military offensive in May 2021 have been reversed, including the ban on entry of construction materials. The commercial crossing has now returned to operate under the restrictions enforced until May.
- Israel is due to increase the quantity of water it sells to Gaza by an additional five million cubic meters.
August 30, 2021. Since May, Israel has enforced a series of additional restrictions at Gaza’s crossings, including a ban on the entry of construction materials and other necessary equipment that has prevented reconstruction in the Strip, as well as reconstruction, maintenance and development of critical civilian infrastructure. These measures have caused severe harm to residents of Gaza, in violation of Israel’s legal obligations.
Over the past weeks, Israel began implementing changes to its policy on movement of people and goods to and from Gaza, restoring the situation at the crossings to more or less the situation prior to the May hostilities, with a few minor differences, as detailed below. In addition, Egypt reopened its border with Gaza for travel and transit of goods.
On August 26, Egypt allowed only the return of 600 Gaza residents who had been stranded outside the Strip unable to return to their homes. The same day, the interior ministry in Gaza announced that Rafah Crossing would resume operations starting August 29 after being closed by Egypt on August 23. In recent months, a monthly average of some 14,000 entries and exits was recorded at the crossing.
Even when it is open, Rafah Crossing does not connect Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, meaning that it cannot answer residents’ needs for travel. Only people who meet Egypt’s criteria may travel through Rafah, subject to preregistration: Gaza residents with foreign residency or passports, patients with referrals for medical treatment in Egypt, and holders of visas for third countries.
On August 29, Salah a-Din gate was also reopened by Egypt after being closed since August 23, allowing in 150 truckloads of fuel and construction materials to Gaza. This morning, August 30, about five truckloads of scrap metal were allowed to exit the Strip to Egypt. This is the first time since 2007 that Egypt has permitted goods from Gaza to cross over into its territory.
In August, Israel enabled exit of traders from Gaza, subject to a quota set by Israel, for the first time since imposing the “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing in March 2020. In recent days, Israel expanded the quota of traders allowed to be outside the Strip at any one time to 2,000. Until March 2020, about 6,000 residents of the Strip held valid trader permits, a large portion of them workers exiting for day labor in Israel. According to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, no new trader permits have been issued recently; there are currently about 1,800 residents of Gaza with valid and recognized trader permits, despite the expansion of the quota.
According to sources in Gaza, Israel has also decided to restore the marketing of gold from Gaza in Israel and enable gold traders to travel via Erez on four days a week, with each trader carrying up to four kilograms of gold each week, a greater quantity than previously. Before imposing the “coronavirus closure” at Erez, only a small number of gold traders were only allowed travel and only twice a week.
A document (Hebrew) published recently by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories details the narrow criteria residents of Gaza must meet in order to be eligible for travel via Erez Crossing.
On August 27, the Palestinian committee for coordinating transit of goods in Gaza was notified by Israel that entry of goods for Gaza’s private sector and for international projects would be restored. According to various media reports, Israel enabled entry of construction materials for Gaza’s private sector today for the first time since May 11, including cement, gravel, marble, plasterboard, ceramic tiles and steel bars, some of the items following prior approval via the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). Some entry of construction materials for international projects had been restored by Israel on August 19.
On August 17, more than three months after banning it altogether, Israel allowed entry of some communication equipment into Gaza for private use, while critical communications infrastructure continued to be blocked.
It is important to recall that even before May, the sweeping movement and access restrictions enforced by Israel constituted illegal collective punishment, leading to immense harm to Gaza’s economy and the everyday lives of its two million residents, half of them children. The removal of the additional restrictions enforced since May and the opening of Erez Crossing to movement of a small number of traders for the first time since March 2020 are crucial but insufficient, especially given the scope of the damage in Gaza, as well as Israel’s legal and moral obligations towards residents of the Strip.
Israel must allow immediate access to all that is needed nor only for reconstruction but also for normal life, and allow travel of people subject only to relevant considerations.