Israel upping the pressure on Gaza residents: Drastic drop in exits via Erez Crossing, particularly of traders

  • Exits of Palestinians from Gaza dropped by 40 percent in February compared to 2016
  • Number of exits by traders dropped by 60 percent compared to February last year
  • Two-thirds of Gaza’s traders blocked for travel by “security preclusions”

Thursday, March 16, 2017: New data received by Gisha indicates a troubling deterioration in the already dire access situation in Gaza: February saw the lowest number of exits through Erez Crossing since the end of Operation Protective Edge.*  Erez Crossing connects Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, and especially when Rafah is closed, also to the outside world. Only 7,301 exits were recorded at the crossing in February, a 40 percent drop compared to the monthly average number of exits in 2016 (12,150) and about half the exits recorded in February 2015 (14,155). This is part of a larger trend witnessed over several months: In January, the number of exits was 44 percent less than the number of exits in January 2015 and 30 percent less than the monthly average for 2016.

Of those very few people who meet Israel’s criteria to travel, the category which saw the largest drop was businesspeople or “traders.” In February, only 3,287 exits by traders were recorded, a drop of more than 50 percent compared to the monthly average in 2016 (6,637 exits), and about 60 percent compared to exits by traders last February, when the number of exits was 8,226.

Following the 2014 hostilities, Israel declared it would join efforts to rehabilitate Gaza’s economy and even lifted some restrictions on movement of people and goods to and from the Strip. There was hope for real change, including increased access. Senior political and security figures in Israel repeatedly said that improving Gaza’s economy and living conditions for its residents are in Israel’s interest. Similar statements were recently made again, following the release of the State Comptroller’s report, criticizing policy prior to Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli public also believes economic development in Gaza would lead to greater stability according to a recent public opinion poll commissioned by Gisha.

Yet, since late 2015, Israel has been further restricting Gaza residents’ already limited ability to travel, contrary to its own self-professed interests. We note with alarm that the number of people traveling through Erez today is approaching the number recorded just before Operation Protective Edge. Unemployment remains high at about 42 percent and severe restrictions continue to curtail the activities of Gaza’s main manufacturing and economically active sectors. The number of trader permits valid today stands at only 1,363, about a third of the 3,600 permits Israel approved in 2015 and a quarter of the quota Israel set and never filled. The striking number of security blocks applied to individuals seeking to travel for medical care and other humanitarian reasons, as well as for business purposes, raises serious concerns regarding potentially arbitrary and disproportionate decision-making in the application of those blocks.

Over the past year, Gisha has warned about the deteriorating access situation, and particularly harm caused to the economy including women in the workforce, as well as to Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and civil society organizations.

No explanations have been forthcoming, leading us to ask: Who is making these decisions and to what end? Rather than do everything possible to implement the conditions needed for all residents of the region to live in prosperity, Israel is, perversely and troublingly, acting in ways that could lead the area down a path to another unnecessary round of hostilities. 

* With the exception of October 2016, during which Erez Crossing was closed on several days due to the Jewish holidays (7,101 exits).