Hello everyone, and thank you, MK Aida Touma-Suleiman and MK Mossi Raz, for hosting this important conference. My name is Noa Galili, and I am representing Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization dedicated to defending Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, particularly Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
Ever since the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, in the summer of 2005, many Israelis assume that with it, Israel washed its hands of the Gaza Strip and is no longer responsible for what happens there. Though Israel did remove its settlements and withdraw its military installations, it continues to deny sea and air access to Gaza and wields effective control over all the land crossings into the Strip, with the exception of Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt. The depth of Israel’s control over life in Gaza is almost absolute. Israel decides who may enter and exit the Strip and in which circumstances. Israel also takes the liberty to determine what goods and products, including food and medicine, can transit into or out of Gaza. This is not disengagement. This is remote, or relatively remote, control.
For more than 14 years, Gaza has been under a near-hermetic closure. Fourteen years, during which four large-scale military operations and several smaller-scale ones have taken thousands of lives, injured tens of thousands, and caused tremendous destruction.
Today I would like to share our analysis of the situation in the Strip, which reflects the difficult reality experienced by Gaza’s two million residents, most of them children who were born and raised in the shadows of the closure and in forced isolation from the rest of the world.
Over the years of closure, Israel developed and implemented the “separation policy,” designed to forcibly split between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, Gaza and the West Bank. Still in place today, the separation policy is a ‘divide and conquer’ regime, which has harmed, and continues to harm, Palestinian lives. The policy tears families apart and limits access to healthcare, employment, education, and more. In the early years of the policy, Israel tried to justify the separation between Palestinians living in the two areas as a security interest. By now, it is abundantly clear that the policy is motivated by extraneous considerations, mostly political and demographic in nature.
Palestinian residents of Area C, but also in Areas A and B in the West Bank and Area G – as Gisha calls Gaza in this context – face an uncertain future, not only in light of the on-again-off-again talk of formal annexation, but first and foremost as a result of the separation and fragmentation Israel forces on Palestinians; a separation that enables de facto annexation.
A report published recently by Gisha examines how Gaza’s prolonged isolation has served Israel in advancing annexation in the West Bank, at the expense of the basic human rights of Palestinians living under its control. The plan to formalize the de-facto annexation of parts of the West Bank gives urgency to the need to inspect the deliberate separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, and the mechanisms deployed by the Israeli authorities to prevent Palestinian travel and interconnectivity between the two parts of the territory. It is important to keep in mind that Gaza and the West Bank have been recognized as one entity in international resolutions and previous agreements, and that they share the same language, culture, and economy, as well as extensive family ties.
Israel’s modes of control over each of the areas, and the residency status and extent of the rights it grants to Palestinians living in them, express an overarching goal that has defined the state’s practices over the years: A desire for maximum land with minimum Palestinians.
I would like to briefly share with you the story of the Hemo family. The mother, Kawthar, was born in the West Bank, and because Israel does not allow family unification in the West Bank, she had to move to Gaza to live with her husband, a resident of the Strip. In 2017, as the situation in Gaza deteriorated, Kawthar and her husband had to make a heart-wrenching decision; Kawthar and their five children would move to the West Bank to look for a better future. The father, who would not be able to join them under Israel’s separation policy, would be left behind in Gaza.
Kawthar filed an application to move to the West Bank with her five children, but Israel only approved permits for four of them. According to Israel’s demands, the youngest, Adam, then just three years old, would have to remain in Gaza. The reason given by Israel was that the young child was registered as a resident of Gaza in the Palestinian population registry, which Israel still controls, despite the Oslo Accords. The mother and his four older siblings, on the other hand, were registered as West Bank residents.
The legal acrobatics employed by Israel to evade its responsibility toward Gaza residents, and much of the world’s inaction vis-à-vis the prolonged internment of a civilian population, not to mention repeated military operations amidst dense population centers, should be a considered as a warning for what could happen in Palestinian cantons of the West Bank.
Combined with settlement expansion in the West Bank, the separation policy is Israel’s strategy of fragmenting Palestinian society and undermining Palestinian self-determination. As it has shown time and time again, Israel uses its ongoing control over movement and access as a means of applying pressure, amounting to illegal collective punishment, failing to strike a reasonable balance between its actual security needs and its obligation to protect and respect the rights of Palestinians living under its control. Even with no political solution to the conflict in sight, Israel has an obligation to protect the basic human rights of Palestinians, including to freedom of movement.