Gaza’s crossings return to normal operations; access to “fishing zone” restored

The Palestinian side of Erez Crossing. Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

February 27, 2020. This morning, after three days in which Israel closed Erez Crossing to exit from Gaza other than by medical patients and their companions, foreign nationals and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and two days of closing Kerem Shalom Crossing to movement of goods other than entrance of fuel, medicine and humanitarian aid into Gaza, the crossings returned to normal operations.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, the closing of Kerem Shalom prevented the exit of 44 truckloads of Gaza-grown produce, with an estimated value of 500,000 USD. Traders in the Strip told Gisha that the financial losses caused by the crossing’s two-day closure are already apparent. The repeated closures of the crossings, on top of routine restrictions on exit of people and goods imposed by Israel, impede economic activity and undermine business relationships Gaza traders have worked hard to establish with their clients in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.

After two days of banning all access to Gaza’s sea, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced yesterday that the “fishing zone” would be restored to its previous demarcation, allowing fishermen to sail up to a distance of 15 nautical miles in a southern section of the Strip.

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February 26, 2019. Erez Crossing is closed today, for the third consecutive day, to exit from Gaza other than medical patients and their companions, foreign nationals, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Movement into the Strip from Israel is allowed. Kerem Shalom Crossing is also closed today to transfer of goods in both directions other than entrance of fuel, medicine, and humanitarian aid into the Strip. Israel continues to ban all access to the sea.

The last time Israel closed Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings was in November 2019. Israel routinely restricts access to Gaza’s sea space. It has imposed punitive reductions to the “fishing zone” it enforces in the Strip’s territorial waters twice since the beginning of 2020.

Yesterday Gisha sent an urgent letter (Hebrew) to Israel’s defense minister, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and the attorney general, demanding that they reverse the decision to close Gaza’s crossings and bar access to sea, immediately.

Gisha emphasizes that deliberate or indiscriminate fire on civilian population centers is a breach of international law, as is the implementation of collective punishment. Israel has an obligation to allow the continued provision of necessities to residents of Gaza and to protect their fundamental right to freedom of movement. We call on Israel to open the crossings and enable access to sea.

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February 25, 2019. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced yesterday evening (February 24) that Gaza’s crossings with Israel, Erez and Kerem Shalom, are closed “until further notice.” The decision was framed as a response to rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel. Today Erez Crossing was closed to exit from Gaza other than medical patients and their companions, foreign nationals, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Movement into the Strip from Israel was allowed.

Kerem Shalom Crossing, which operated yesterday as usual, was also closed today to transfer of goods in both directions other than entrance of fuel, medicine and humanitarian aid into the Strip. Israel also banned all access to the sea.

The last time Israel closed Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings was in November 2019. Israel routinely restricts access to Gaza’s sea space. It has imposed punitive reductions to the “fishing zone” it enforces in the Strip’s territorial waters twice since the beginning of 2020.

Deliberate or indiscriminate fire towards civilian population centers contravenes international law and is a war crime. Israel has an obligation to protect Gaza residents’ ability to exercise their basic right to freedom of movement, and at the very least, enable travel for humanitarian reasons. Barring concrete security needs, there is no justification for closing the crossings and prohibiting access to the sea. We call on Israel to keep Gaza’s civilian population out of the line of fire, respect their basic rights, and refrain from measures constituting illegal collective punishment.

Today Gisha sent an urgent letter (Hebrew) to Israel’s defense minister, COGAT, and the attorney general, demanding that they reverse the decision to close Gaza’s crossings and bar access to sea, immediately.

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February 24, 2020. For a few hours this morning, Erez Crossing was closed completely to exits from the Gaza Strip. People with valid travel permits who arrived at Erez to exit the Strip were turned away by Israeli officials. Only movement into the Strip from Israel was allowed. No official announcement was made about the decision to close the crossing. In the afternoon, Israel began allowing patients seeking life-saving medical treatment outside the Strip, and their companions, to exit Gaza through the crossing. Kerem Shalom Crossing operated as usual.

The last time Israel closed Erez Crossing “for security reasons” was on November 12, 2019, following its assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al Ata.

In January 2020, Erez Crossing operated on a total of 26 days, during which a total of 25,617 exits by Palestinians were recorded, a 15 percent increase compared to December 2019. More than 21,000 of the exits recorded in January were by holders of “trader” permits, most of them exiting for day labor in Israel. About 3,000 of the exits in January were by medical patients and their companions; only about 1,500 exits were by people who meet all other criteria of Palestinians eligible for travel according to Israel’s directives.

Deliberate or indiscriminate fire towards civilian population centers contravenes international law and is a war crime. Israel has an obligation to protect Gaza residents’ ability to exercise their basic right to freedom of movement, and at the very least, enable travel for humanitarian reasons. Barring concrete security needs, there is no justification for closing the crossing.