Tuesday, March 26, 2019: Following Israel’s decision yesterday (Monday) to close the crossings between Gaza and Israel and implement a sweeping ban on all access to the “fishing zone” off Gaza’s coast, Gisha sent an urgent letter (Hebrew) to Israel’s defense minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Brig. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun. In the letter, Gisha demands that these measures of collective punishment be reversed immediately.

Early yesterday morning, COGAT closed Erez Crossing to exit of people from Gaza, other than humanitarian exceptions. Israeli citizens in Gaza were blocked from entering Israel and returning to their homes. In addition, COGAT closed Kerem Shalom Crossing to all movement of goods and imposed a sweeping prohibition on access to the “fishing zone” off Gaza’s coast. Today the crossings continued to be closed: Kerem Shalom was closed to all movement of goods, including fuel; Erez was closed to exits by Palestinians, other than patients seeking urgent medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, Israeli citizens and foreign passport holders, subject to special coordination.

The closure of the crossings has dire consequences for the civilian population in the Strip. The two million residents of Gaza are routinely subjected to severe restrictions on movement of people and goods enforced by Israel. They rely on the crossings controlled by Israel for access to basic and humanitarian supplies and to medical treatment, education, livelihoods and family. Gaza farmers are concerned that their produce, slated to be marketed in Israel and the West Bank, will rot or have to be destroyed, or at best, be sold on the local market in Gaza at a loss. Every day in which the crossings are closed and access to Gaza’s sea is denied entails irreversible damage to livelihoods, including of traders and fishermen, severely disrupting already meager industry and commerce in the Strip.

According to the Agriculture Ministry in Gaza, the closure of Kerem Shalom yesterday prevented the sale of 400 tons of agricultural produce estimated at a value of 400,000 USD.  Also blocked were three truckloads of textiles and other products destined for sale in Israel. The owner of a Gaza textile factory employing 750 people, Nabil Al Bawab, told Gisha that the closing of Kerem Shalom paralyzed the entire textile sector, which had only recently begun to recover from the prolonged, punitive closing of the crossing by Israel last year. The sudden, forced standstill undermines business relationships by creating uncertainty regarding future orders, including demand from Israeli companies, which usually increases before the upcoming Jewish Passover holiday.

The indiscriminate firing of rockets on civilian population centers is a breach of international law. It cannot serve as justification for the imposition of punitive measures against the Strip’s civilian population. In Gisha’s letter, director of Gisha’s legal department, Adv. Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz, and Adv. Muna Haddad emphasize that closing the crossings and blocking access to Gaza’s territorial waters constitute illegal collective punishment against the civilian population of the Strip and are in violation of international law, as well as run counter to Israeli High Court rulings and Israel’s prior commitments.

To read the letter (Hebrew), click here.