Second week of Ramadan: Gaza residents denied exit from the Strip

Ramadan in Gaza, 2017. Photo by Gisha

Ramadan in Gaza, 2017. Photo by Gisha

May 13, 2019. A week after the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, it has become apparent that Israel has no intention of allowing residents of Gaza to mark Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr by visiting family and the holy sites.

In 2015, Israel began allowing a small quota of Gaza residents to travel to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, subject to age restrictions. In December 2016 Israel discontinued exits for Friday prayers, on the grounds that some people who received them had not returned to Gaza “on time.” In the years that followed, Israel allowed a much smaller number of Gaza residents, mostly staff of international organizations, to travel for religious worship during Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. The number of worshippers who were granted permits to exit Gaza dropped from 11,214 in 2015, to only 600 in 2017 and 2018. Israel repeatedly presents its “holiday measures” as gestures of goodwill, as opposed to minimal obligations toward civilian population living under its control.

Three weeks ago (April 22), the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) posted a list of “civil measures that will be taken to ease restrictions” imposed by Israel, ostensibly intended to honor the Muslim population during Ramadan. The list, posted on COGAT’s website in Arabic and English, made no distinction between West Bank and Gaza residents, making it unclear whether any of the measures would be made available to residents of the Strip. A week ago, COGAT published an update to the document where it lists all criteria set by Israel for movement of Palestinians to and from Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and abroad, called the “Unclassified Status of Authorizations.” There too, COGAT makes no mention of Gaza residents in the context of its measures for Ramadan.

Over the years, COGAT has published its “holiday measures” for Ramadan at the very last minute, sometimes only after the holiday had begun or already ended. In the beginning of May, Gisha sent two urgent letters(Hebrew) to COGAT, asking that it clarify (Hebrew) immediately whether the measures it published include residents of Gaza, or not. It was only yesterday that we received a laconic response, according to which the updates “Status of Authorizations” document had been published for general use on COGAT’s website.

For three years, Israel has outright denied Gaza residents access to the holy sites and to family outside the Strip on Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr. Gisha calls on Israel to allow Gaza residents to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of movement and religious freedom.