Thank you Madam President, thank you to the Council.
Good morning, my name is Tania Hary, and I’m the executive director of Gisha. We are an Israeli human rights organization that promotes freedom of movement and other rights which are dependent on it, especially in Gaza. Gisha means access in Hebrew.
Gisha was founded in 2005 in response to Israel’s removal of its settlements and military installations from the Gaza Strip because we knew that Israel’s occupation there wasn’t ending. Eighteen years later, Israel’s control persists, particularly over movement and access, over the Palestinian population registry, determining where people can live, over Gaza’s electricity supply, its communications networks, its air and sea spaces.
I’m here today, just a week and a half since a ceasefire agreement was reached after yet another escalation in the region.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have returned to normal, diplomats have moved on and are dealing with other priorities. Gaza has also returned to normal, but for Gaza, normal means Israeli drones buzzing overhead at all hours; and the familiar cycle of destruction, reconstruction, mourning and trauma.
Between the wars, when Gaza is out of the headlines and fewer people are paying attention, the ongoing warfare of movement restrictions continue.
Members of this council regularly call to lift those movement restrictions, calls which are vital, and must continue. But what do systemic movement restrictions look like on the ground? What does closure really mean?
Closure means that you are likely to wait for weeks and even months to get a permit to go from Gaza to Jerusalem to reach life-saving medical treatment. In 2022, one-third of patients’ permit applications and 62% of companions’ permit applications were delayed or denied. One-quarter of patients exited the Strip without a companion, including hundreds of children without their parents.
Closure means that if your mother in the West Bank is sick, you have to prove to the Israeli military that she’s at risk of death in order to hope to get a permit that will only be valid 3-5 days at most.
It means that if you want to start a company, most likely all the equipment, machinery, and raw materials you’d need are considered by Israel to be dual-use. Getting these items can take months or even years, and sometimes it’s impossible.
In these and hundreds of other ways, Israel’s decisions continue to have a deep impact on every aspect of life in Gaza. This level of control creates responsibility.
This was the 6th major Israel military attack in Gaza, among hundreds of smaller campaigns, over the past 15 years. Our former minister of defense referred to this as “mowing the lawn.” Officials say things like “we have no choice but to manage the situation” because “there is no solution.” True leadership would work tirelessly to create hope instead of surrendering to perpetual occupation, recurrent military attacks, rocket fire from Gaza, and other travesties.
Like in previous rounds, Israeli officials said they were protecting Israeli citizens from rocket fire. I am one of those citizens. I don’t wish the reality of rocket fire on anyone. The question should be – how do we break this cycle?
Today, 2.2 million people live in the Gaza Strip. Half of them are children and nearly 70% are under 30.
Young people in Gaza know no other reality than closure and war. Most of the population has never been out of the Strip. Unemployment is 46%, among young people it is 68%.
Some 80% of children in Gaza are said to suffer from emotional distress. Children and their parents in Gaza all know the names of the six children killed in the latest military campaign. The wounds that can’t be seen – the trauma, hopelessness, and helplessness – are the hardest to heal.
How can this situation possibly contribute to security? Real, sustainable security and deterrence aren’t created by force, they are created by hope.
The closure is part of what Israel calls the Separation Policy. Movement between Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank is barred other than in exceptional circumstances. Israel faces legitimate security challenges but movement restrictions aren’t in place for security needs alone. They drive political goals to pressure the population and maintain control over the West Bank. Most importantly, Israel’s narrow interpretation of its obligations towards Palestinians creates a crisis of accountability.
Settlements and the separation policy are two sides of the same coin – the same push towards annexation of the West Bank. Isolating Gaza, or the Gaza Bantustan, as the Palestinian human rights organization Al Mezan coined it, fragments Palestinians and reinforces the disastrous Palestinian political division.
Access via Egypt is more possible than in previous years, but Egypt does not connect Gaza to the West Bank and Israel. It’s as if New York City were cut off from the rest of the state and the states around it, for decades.
More movement is also possible via Erez, the pedestrian crossing between Gaza and Israel, but for one category only: Palestinian day laborers. More than 140,000 people applied for a 20,000 permit-quota, before registration was closed. Less than 1% of demand in Gaza is being met with these permits.
Women in Gaza are not included in this 1%. Their needs for professional access continue to go unacknowledged in Israel’s criteria for permits. An agenda that prioritizes women, peace and security must take into account the impact of the closure on the specific needs of women.
Gisha represents a minority view in Israel, but we are part of a vibrant civil society in Israel and in Palestine under increasing threat.
Our allies and potential allies are being silenced by false accusations of antisemitism, which undermine the necessary fight against real, and dangerous forms of antisemitism growing around the world.
This is a critical time for your leadership and courage, as extremism in our region is feeding on incitement, poverty, and oppression.
What gives me hope are the many young people in Gaza who dare to dream of a better future and know they deserve it, despite the leaders who are failing them. People around the world also realize that the struggle for freedom and dignity can’t be suppressed forever, not with the highest walls or the strongest armies.
I’d like to end with four recommendations: First, let the hopes of Gaza’s young people guide you as you consider bold actions which your governments might take. There is no reason not to facilitate the freedom of movement that women and young people need to fulfill their dreams.
Two, protect the space for humanitarian and human rights work in Israel and Palestine. In a situation of rising extremism, civil society is critical.
Three, recall the crisis of accountability. As a matter of routine, Palestinians are punished for actions beyond their control. The international community has a particularly important role to play in bringing the closure to an end – a persistent and pernicious injustice and form of collective punishment.
Finally, please don’t let another military assault put Gaza and Palestine back on the agenda, put it there because you know it’s the right thing to do.
click here to watch the full speech.