By Amir Rotem
In Israel’s utopia, a collection of disjointed, decentralized Palestinian communities are hidden from view behind a high concrete wall. They can be prosperous, or not, as long as they’re out of sight. Even if the Palestinian reconciliation process ultimately brings an end to fragmentation and leads to the establishment of an administration that effectively serves the needs of its people, the future of millions of Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea depends on the goodwill of Egypt, the international community, and above all, Israel. The persistent reality in which almost every single action taken by Palestinian civilians requires Israel’s approval defeats all hope of normal life to begin with. Anyone taking the slightest interest in the situation can see clearly what is vitally needed, and it doesn’t involve extensive political maneuvering or taking security risks. All it takes is political will and the recognition that with control comes responsibility.
Israel’s political/security community is divided into two camps – those who think Palestinian reconciliation is good for Israel, and those who think it isn’t. There lacks a third, more reasonable camp calling on Israel to focus its attention on what can be done to improve living conditions for Gaza’s residents because it aligns with the general consensus of the political/security establishment, but first and foremost, because it’s the right thing to do. After all, regardless of how the negotiations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority progress, families that are split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can do nothing but yearn for each other’s company, professionals and business-people cannot travel to meetings, students cannot complete their studies, patients are denied access to the best treatment available to them, and people from all walks of life can only dream of leaving the Strip – unlike us, here in Israel, the state that thwarts these possibilities for Gaza’s residents, and not necessarily for reasons related to security.
Residents of Gaza need Israel’s approval to bring anything into or out of the Strip. Two million residents depend on one single commercial gateway, Kerem Shalom Crossing, located farthest south along Gaza’s border with Israel; they need Israeli (and Jordanian) approval in order to travel abroad via Israel, the West Bank, Allenby Bridge border crossing, and Amman airport. Two million people with only two outlets: Rafah Crossing into Egypt and Erez Crossing into Israel. Few are allowed to use them, on occasion, with no certainty as to if and when this permission will be given. Palestinian reconciliation cannot in and of itself move a single crate of supplies into the Gaza Strip or export goods out of it, nor can it get a single student from Gaza to a classroom in a West Bank university; not without endorsement from Israel and Egypt.
Since the closure on Gaza was imposed in the summer of 2007, and up until the fall of 2014, any Israeli official or military commander knew for a fact that not a single truck would be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Then came the deadly destruction of Operation Protective Edge, in the wake of which, this sweeping prohibition, initially touted as an essential component of Israel’s security paradigm, was removed with virtual ease. Nowadays, trucks carrying goods exit Gaza through Kerem Shalom and make their way to the West Bank almost daily. The sky has not fallen. Israel’s national security has not been compromised. The clout of Israel’s military deterrence has not diminished. The only thing that happened is that someone made a decision to adjust Israel’s policy. Instead of playing the part of a neutral observer commenting on political developments outside of its control, Israel should acknowledge the large degree of control it wields over civilian life in the Palestinian territory and make further decisions that benefit lives in the region as a whole.
This article was published in Haaretz- Hebrew online edition. The author is the director of the public department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.