Gisha: Lifting the Gaza closure is not a zero sum game

As negotiations on a permanent ceasefire continue, Gisha reminds of the obligation to respect the rights of Gaza’s residents to freedom of movement. Israel can lift the closure of Gaza while still protecting its own security.

Thursday, August 7, 2014: As ceasefire negotiations took place and work on estimating the damage in the Gaza Strip began, Gisha called on Israel Thursday to end restrictions on civilian movement into and out of Gaza. It should do so not as a concession but as a way to meet its obligations to Palestinian residents of Gaza and facilitate the reconstruction and recovery they deserve and desperately need. Noting the importance that Israeli security officials have put on economic development in Gaza, Gisha Director Eitan Diamond said that lifting the closure of Gaza would also strengthen Gaza’s private sector, increase prosperity and well-being and thus ultimately enhance Israeli security as well.

It would be a mistake to think of lifting the closure of Gaza as a zero sum game“, said Diamond. “Ending restrictions on civilian movement is vital for promoting stability and economic security in Gaza and brings with it hope for greater stability and security in the region at large“. Diamond noted that promises to ease civilian travel restrictions following the last escalation in November 2012 had not been kept. “Learning the lessons of the past requires Israel to distinguish between militants and civilians as part of its commitment to international law and to its own security interests“, he said.

At least since June 2007, Israel has restricted movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza to a “humanitarian minimum” – enough for residents of Gaza to receive donations of food and essential items, but not enough for them to engage in the kind of economic activity that would foster prosperity, stability and growth. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters as well as its sole commercial crossing and its access to the West Bank. Israel is authorized, under the international law of occupation, to impose restrictions that are necessary for security, balanced by the needs and rights of Gaza residents. However, many of the restrictions on travel into and out of Gaza unnecessarily or disproportionately harm civilians and are therefore illegitimate. Specifically:

  • Israel has limited travel via Erez Crossing, to Israel and the West Bank, to “exceptional humanitarian cases”, mostly medical patients and their companions, senior merchants and family visits under urgent humanitarian circumstances. Travel through Erez is less than 1% of what it was in September 2000. Since June 13, travel is mostly limited to medical patients.
  • Since June 2007, Israel has banned transferring goods to Israel and the West Bank, where more than 85% of Gaza’s markets once were. Export to foreign countries is permitted but given that access to Gaza’s main markets is blocked, export stands at less than 2% of pre-2007 levels.
  • Since June 2007, Israel has mostly banned construction materials from entering via the Kerem Shalom crossing, with limited exceptions for international humanitarian projects, crippling a sector once responsible for 70,000 jobs. On the eve of the military operation, unemployment in Gaza stood at 45% and at 63% among young people. Even prior to the fighting, there was a shortage of more than 75,000 housing units and at least 239 schools in Gaza. The need for construction materials has skyrocketed in light of the extensive destruction – more than ten thousand homes, 170 factories and critical civilian infrastructure, including Gaza’s only power plant.

Israel does not allow residents of Gaza to operate a seaport or airport and it controls Gaza’s only commercial access point, Kerem Shalom Crossing. The underground tunnel trade for civilian goods from Egypt has been mostly halted during the past year. Also since last summer, travel via the Rafah Crossing with Egypt is just 16% of what it was prior to the regime change in Egypt. Given restrictions at Erez, Rafah Crossing provides an essential connection to the outside world, yet it cannot replace the need for access from Gaza to the West Bank and Israel.