In recent months, Israel has made several changes to the restrictive regime it enforces on the Gaza Strip, resulting in some slight increases in the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza. As it has done many times in the past, Israel frames these changes as “easings” of restrictions implemented as part of its “economy for security” policy. In practice, however, the changes are more token measures than substantive changes to the closure policy. While movement has increased somewhat, the changes fall far short of meeting Gaza’s needs. Israel continues to enforce sweeping restrictions that harm Gaza’s residents and to ignore its legal obligation to protect their rights.

Erez Crossing

This month, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) posted an update to the Status of Authorizations Document, which details Israel’s policy on Palestinians’ travel between Gaza, Israel, the West Bank and abroad. The updated document introduces a new criterion for Gaza residents, “financial needs” permits, subject to a quota of 10,000. The document specifies that only married individuals over the age of 25 are eligible for the new permit.

As previously reported by Gisha, in recent years, many Gaza residents who held “trader” permits, ostensibly introduced by Israel to allow businesspeople to exit Gaza in order to develop and maintain trade in Israel and the West Bank, were in fact working in Israel as day laborers. Just prior to March 2020, when Israel imposed the “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing, trader permits were subject to a quota of 7,000, and it was estimated that approximately 80 percent of permit holders were working in Israel as laborers. With the addition of the “financial needs” criterion, COGAT changed the trader permit quota to 1,500. The quota for “BMG permits,” intended for senior businesspeople from Gaza, is 500.

Over the course of August 2021, Israel resumed allowing limited exit by “traders” for the first time since imposing the “coronavirus closure.” In recent months, as Israel made modest increases to the permit quotas for work-related permits, the number of individuals exiting Erez has increased. In January, some 23,500 exits of “traders” were recorded at Erez Crossing, compared to a monthly average of 5,000 exits in 2021.

We recall that the symbolic expansion of quotas for permits to exit Gaza for work-related purposes is not enough to jumpstart Gaza’s economy, still suffering an unemployment rate of 44.7% (Arabic), nor does it compensate for the profound harm Israel’s closure inflicts on Gaza residents. Changing the name of the permits does not change the fact that Palestinians entering Israel for day labor, from both Gaza and the West Bank, are inherently vulnerable to exploitation and rights abuses. It is also important to remember that the sweeping restrictions Israel continues to enforce on Palestinian travel still prevent the vast majority of Gaza’s residents from even submitting an application for a permit.

Screenshot from Israel's Status of Authorizations document: The work-related criteria for entering Israel from Gaza
Screenshot from Israel’s Status of Authorizations document: The work-related criteria for entering Israel from Gaza

In recent months, in what has been framed as a “confidence-building gesture” extended to the Palestinian Authority, Israel allowed some 13,500 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to register in the Palestinian population registry. It is, of course, Israel itself that has, for years, prevented thousands of Palestinians from registering or changing their registered addresses. Countless Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank remain statusless.

According to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza, by January 5, 2022, Israel had approved registration or change of address of roughly 3,400 Palestinians living in Gaza. Gisha is assisting many individuals whose status requests were approved but who still face difficulties exercising their right to freedom of movement due to Israeli bureaucracy.

Kerem Shalom Crossing

In late January, white cement and steel sheets were unofficially removed from Israel’s list of “dual-use materials” requiring special coordination to enter Gaza. Since September 2021, steel rebar has also been entering Gaza without the special coordination needed for dual-use items, meaning basic construction materials, including gray and white cement, steel bars, and gravel, have been entering Gaza relatively freely in the past few months. However, sources in Gaza say reconstruction efforts following the destruction caused by Israel’s bombings in May 2021, as well as from previous attacks, remains delayed. This is due in part to restrictions Israel continues to impose on the entry of thousands of items required for rebuilding and delays in responses to applications for coordination to bring goods into Gaza.

Officials with the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) told Gisha that since the May 2021 hostilities, Israel has been stalling in processing applications to bring in thousands of items needed for the routine maintenance of Gaza’s water and sewage systems and for repairing damage sustained to civilian infrastructure in May. There is a dire shortage of thousands of essential spare parts and other items, including valves, filters, pumps, pipes, electro-mechanical equipment, electric cables, replacement parts for service vehicles and parts for computers and computerization systems used for inspection, oversight, data collection and operation.

In January, Israel allowed the sale of Gaza-grown cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes in its territory for the “Shmita” year, when, according to Jewish law, farmland is meant to lay fallow. Until now, only tomatoes and eggplants from Gaza had been cleared for sale in Israel. Actual outgoing shipments of the newly cleared produce depend on demand from a small number of produce suppliers in Israel. According to a trader from Gaza who spoke to Gisha, demand from the Israeli market has been extremely low so far, and the rising cost of vegetables in Gaza’s local markets creates further challenges. “These days, vegetable prices in Gaza have gone up due to the low temperatures, which delay ripening, especially eggplant, pepper and tomato. This means we can’t sell to Israeli suppliers for the same price,” he said.

In January, about 80 truckloads of agricultural goods exited Gaza to Israel, including 34.5 truckloads of the newly cleared produce. Israel continues to require tomato stems be removed prior to shipping out of Gaza, an added demand that creates difficulties for Gaza farmers and threatens to reduce their products’ shelf-life. Gisha has heard that Israel has also begun requiring sweet potatoes from Gaza be washed prior to shipment to Israel and the West Bank.