August 4, 2021. On Thursday, July 29, COGAT announced a series of changes to Israel’s policy on movement of people and goods between Israel and Gaza and on expansion of the fishing zone, while noting that these changes are not permanent and that they are “conditional upon maintaining the stable security situation in the area.” This short list of ‘easings’ to the blanket “coronavirus closure” that was imposed on Gaza in March 2020 is far from meeting the needs of Gaza residents and its economy.
Since March 2020, Israel has blocked nearly all entrance and exit of people via Erez Crossing under the guise of preventing the spread of coronavirus. Following Gisha’s demand, COGAT published (Hebrew) its current, reduced criteria for exit and entrance to the Strip via Erez Crossing. According to the criteria, requests for permits to exit from Gaza will be accepted in the following circumstances:
- Exit for medical treatment
- Requests of Palestinians registered in the population registry as West Bank residents, and who live or are currently in Gaza, to return to the West Bank
- Exit abroad for foreign citizens
- Exit to Israel or the West Bank to attend the funeral of a first-degree relative
- Exit to Israel the West Bank to visit a critically ill first-degree relative
- Exit to Israel or the West Bank for an appointment at a foreign embassy/representation
The document also states that requests for entry from Israel to Gaza will be permitted for visits to a critically ill first-degree family member, attending the funeral of a first-degree family member, requests of Gaza residents to return to the Strip from abroad, and split families (families where one member is an Israeli citizen and resides in Israel).
In addition, according to Gisha’s sources, Israel will allow a daily quota of up to 50 traders to enter Israel, a small fraction of the quota of 5,820 traders in place on the eve of the coronavirus closure.
On Friday, July 30, Israel permitted the entry of approximately 500 cars via Erez Crossing that had been stuck on the Israeli side of the crossing since its closing on May 11, 2021. Despite the entry of these cars, Israel continues to prevent the coordination of entry of additional cars, despite the vast shortage in the Strip.
Kerem Shalom Crossing
Israel continues to prevent entrance of goods, including construction materials that are especially needed after the damage caused in the latest attack on the Strip. According to the Association of Palestinian Information Technology Companies (PITA), a large amount of communications equipment, worth around 15-20 million dollars, is also stuck in Israel and the West Bank. The blanket prohibition on the entrance of communications equipment to the Gaza Strip directly harms the communications and information technology sector in Gaza, sectors that rely on it, and the civilian population in the Strip as a whole, which is being unjustly punished by a strategy predicated on denying their basic needs.
In an urgent letter sent to the Minister of Defense, the Attorney General, and COGAT, Gisha called on them to immediately end the ban on the entrance of communications equipment into the Gaza Strip, and to allow entry, without further delay, equipment waiting in Israel and the West Bank. In the letter, Adv. Muna Haddad on behalf of Gisha emphasized, “this blanket prohibition is unreasonable and disproportionate. In these circumstances, this amounts to illegal collective punishment and a violation of the duty to protect the well-being of Gaza residents and facilitate normal life in the Strip.”
In recent days, although there have been a few “easings” announced with regard to the operations of Kerem Shalom Crossing, these are not enough to meet the needs or rights of Gaza residents. COGAT also noted that as of August 1, Israel would allow entry of additional goods, including electrical products, and goods needed for the fishing and agriculture sectors. Israel also began to allow exit of scrap metal for the first time since May 10.
According to Nizar Ayash, the head of the Fishermen’s Union in Gaza, on July 30, Israel notified of an expansion of the fishing zone to 12 nautical miles after it had been set at six nautical miles.
Israel continues to abuse its control over the crossings and fishing zone to apply pressure as part of its continued negotiations with Hamas. The ongoing movement and access restrictions it is enforcing constitute illegal collective punishment of Gaza’s entire population, which is unacceptable. Gisha calls on Israel to fulfill its legal and moral obligations to allow residents access to all that is needed to facilitate normal life and rebuild the Strip. In particular, Israel must immediately enable access to materials and equipment needed to repair basic civilian infrastructure.