A year ago today, May 10, 2021, Israel launched its large-scale military assault on the Gaza Strip; 261 people in Gaza were killed in the war, 67 of them children, and 13 people were killed in Israel, including two children. Everyday life in Gaza was extremely difficult even before the May 2021 air strikes that damaged essential civilian infrastructure, toppled residential towers and businesses, and displaced thousands. Countless people lost family members and homes and are still grappling with the physical and mental toll as well as the damage to their property, with fear of another war constantly looming and no signs of improvement in sight.
For several months after the assault ended on May 21, 2021, Israel imposed even more stringent restrictions than usual on access to essential goods and blocked travel even in the rare cases it deems humanitarian. Over the course of June 2021, it gradually began allowing cancer patients to travel to receive life-saving treatment in hospitals in the West Bank and in Israel, and restored the entry of fuel for Gaza’s power plant and the exit of Gaza-grown produce for sale outside the Strip. It was not until late August 2021 that Israel allowed construction materials for Gaza’s private sector to enter the Strip for the first time since the assault and reinstated a limited quota of exit permits for traders and day laborers for the first time since imposing the “coronavirus closure” at Erez Crossing in March 2020. Access to the Israeli-imposed fishing zone in Gaza’s territorial waters was not restored in full until September 2021.
Every small change in Israel’s policy on the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza, as well as access to the sea, has a direct impact on living conditions in the Strip and on the fundamental rights of its residents. The gradual and partial removal of sweeping access restrictions by Israel over the past year has not come close to compensating for the immense damage caused in May. Moreover, it is a severe violation of Israel’s legal obligation to protect human rights and refrain from harming Gaza’s civilian population, including during hostilities and thereafter.
To this day, a year on, there are goods still being held up by Israel, including thousands of items needed to repair and maintain Gaza’s water and sewage infrastructure; Israel frequently closes Erez Crossing to exit of traders and workers following events over which they have no control, and imposes arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions on movement of goods that hinder basic economic activity, let alone development.
In the meantime, other disasters around the world have caught the attention of the international community. Funding sources for reconstruction in Gaza are dwindling, and infrastructure development projects are continually confronted by the obstacles of Israel’s permit regime. The ongoing conflict between the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank pushes Palestinian residents’ needs to the sidelines. Most of the rubble left in the wake of the May assault has been cleared, and a slow trickle of rebuilding has begun, but reconstruction is stalled. International donors hesitate to invest resources into repairing the damage given the possibility that another Israeli assault could reverse their efforts.
Like the governments before it, the current Israeli government, the so-called “change government,” is continuing the same, destructive policy of collective punishment against Palestinians living under its occupation. Again and again, minor expansions to arbitrary quotas on movement of goods and people are presented as “gestures” or “easings”, as if Israel has no obligation to allow far more.
Fifteen years of suffocating closure on the Strip have proven beyond a doubt that this “carrot and stick” approach by Israel has not only failed to achieve its goals, but also imposes a deliberate, unjust and entirely avoidable disaster on Gaza, all in the name of preserving Israel’s control of the occupied territory while brazenly avoiding any and all responsibility for Palestinians’ lives and human rights.