On Saturday evening (April 23, 2022), the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that, following rockets fired from Gaza over the weekend, Israel would block exit of workers and traders from Gaza to Israel via Erez Crossing. On Sunday and Monday (April 24-25), Israel only allowed cases it deems “humanitarian” to travel via Erez, barring the few Palestinians in Gaza granted “trader” or “financial needs” permits from entering Israel for work. The decision harms the livelihood of some 12,000 Palestinians in Gaza with valid permits to exit Gaza for work-related purposes and their families, as well as the Strip’s economy as a whole.

In late March 2022, COGAT announced that Israel would expand the arbitrary quota for exit from Gaza for work in Israel to 20,000 permits. On March 10, Israel had expanded the quota to 12,000 permits, up from a 10,000-permit quota set in October 2021. As part of the recent permit quota expansions, Israel has also acknowledged, for the first time since officially banning access by workers from Gaza into Israel in 2006, that many of the permits it issues are held and used by laborers, rather than traders. The 20,000 permit-quota has not been filled: As of April 14, there were approximately 11,900 people in Gaza with valid permits to enter Israel for work.

According to media reports, Israeli officials framed the decision to shut down the pedestrian crossing Erez to movement of traders and workers as an attempt to pressure Hamas by deliberately harming the Strip’s economy. In short, Israel is, yet again, abusing its control over movement to and from Gaza as a means of punishing civilians for actions over which they have no control. The decision is a stark example of Israel’s ongoing policy of closure and economic warfare against Gaza, constituting illegal collective punishment.

The sweeping restrictions Israel routinely enforces on travel and movement of goods to and from Gaza, as well as its frequent closing of Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings as a means of collective punishment, severely undermine Gaza’s economy. In 2006, Israel banned the entry of workers from Gaza into its territory. After Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014, it introduced a small quota of “trader” permits for Gaza residents. Prior to March 2020, when Israel tightened the “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing, which it continued to enforce until the summer of 2021, the quota for “trader” permits for Gaza residents was 7,000, and it was estimated that approximately 80 percent of permit holders were in fact working in Israel as laborers.

According to estimates published in media reports (Hebrew), workers from Gaza currently earn between 300-500 ILS per day; the 12,000 workers with valid permits bring up to 5 million ILS into Gaza’s economy per day. At the same time, a lack of enforcement against breaches by employers in Israel leaves workers from Gaza exposed to exploitation and abuse of labor rights.

Yesterday, COGAT announced that as of today (April 26), Israel would again allow laborers and traders to pass through Erez Crossing, conditioning this “on the maintenance of a stable security situation in the area.”

Israel is legally obligated to protect the basic right of Palestinians in Gaza to freedom of movement, including access to work. Freedom of movement must not be used as a bargaining chip or as a tool of pressure and punishment at the expense of human rights.