May 16, 2017. The number of exits by Palestinians through Erez Crossing during April was only 4,677, a drop of 23 percent compared to the low number recorded the previous month (only 6,078 exits), and a drop of 62 percent compared to the average monthly number of exits in 2016.
The number of exits is the lowest since Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. Movement through Erez this April was similar to that recorded in June 2014 (4,503 exits), the month prior to the operation, when Israel severely restricted travel following the abduction of three Israeli citizens in the West Bank, leading to a 30 percent drop in exits compared to the first five months of 2014.
Several factors contributed to the sharp decline in April: Erez Crossing was closed or operated at reduced hours during the Passover holiday, and; movement was limited due to restrictions imposed by Hamas at the checkpoint inside Gaza, en route to the crossing, from late March until the end of the first week of April.
Even without these disruptions, the low number of exits is irregular and of concern. It points to an escalation of the trend Gisha has been recording for some time, toward the gradual tightening of the closure and further reduction in the already limited options for Palestinian travel in and out of Gaza. By way of comparison, in April 2016 (when the crossing operated at reduced hours during Passover as well) a total of 13,137 exits were recorded, almost three times the number recorded in April 2017.
Of the few people who meet Israel’s limited criteria for travel (Hebrew), the categories that saw the most drastic drop were medical patients and their companions and merchants. The number of exits by patients and companions in April stood at 1,975, a 17 percent drop compared to March 2017, and 22 percent less than the 2016 monthly average.
In the category of merchants and businesspeople, only 1,273 exits were recorded in April, a 46 percent drop compared to the 2,475 exits in March 2017 and 81 percent less than the 2016 monthly average. The number of merchants exiting Gaza has been decreasing consistently since last December. Where merchant exits used to account for more than half of all exits of Palestinians from Gaza, they only accounted for a quarter of the exits in April. At the beginning of May there were only 927 valid merchant permits held by residents of Gaza: 760 ordinary merchant permits and 167 BMG permits (held by senior businesspeople). In comparison, in January 2016 there were approximately 3,500 valid permits.
The inability to travel, particularly by merchants, translates into damage to the Palestinian economy, particularly in Gaza, and stands in opposition to statements made by senior Israeli officials since 2014 about the need for economic growth in the Strip. Rather than finding ways to enable development by allowing Palestinians from Gaza to take advantage of opportunities to study, conduct business and expand trade and industry, Israel’s policy makes these options an increasing rarity, especially with the alarming rise of “security blocks.” Anyone seeking to travel from Gaza undergoes an individual security screening. An entire society cannot be placed under such sweeping restrictions and denied movement, particularly as it results in harm to the lives of so many.