The rights of Gaza’s civilian population must be protected

June 14, 2020. Countries around the world are implementing plans to mitigate the economic repercussions of measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 knowing that continued lockdown causes financial hardship that itself risks lives. In the Gaza Strip, there is no plan to end the lockdown in sight, and residents there are at the whim of several actors, chief among them Israel, who are disregarding their needs and rights.

In late May, the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that it was halting security coordination with Israel in response to the Israeli government’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Coordination for transit of goods through Kerem Shalom has continued for now, but coordination on permits for pedestrians through Erez Crossing has stopped. Travel through Erez, which had already ground to a virtual standstill in early March due to measures taken to curb the pandemic, is now being further obstructed, including for patients in need of life-saving medical treatment unavailable in Gaza.

Well before the pandemic lockdown was implemented at Erez and Rafah Crossings, the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza was grim, and the man-made crisis well- documented to have resulted in large part from sweeping restrictions on movement to and from Gaza under Israel’s policy of closure. Israel’s ongoing control over countless aspects of life in Gaza places on it a responsibility to safeguard the rights and basic living conditions of its civilian population.

The further tightening of the closure on Gaza to curb the pandemic has taken its toll on a job market already plagued by extremely high unemployment rates. According to a United Nations report released in June, in the last two months, industrial activity in Gaza has declined significantly, with some 35% of companies shutting down, sending home 13,000 workers. More than 10,000 jobs in the restaurant and tourism sector have been temporarily lost, and it is estimated that about half of the people employed in Gaza’s ICT sector have lost their jobs. These are added to roughly 5,000 people who had been working in agriculture and construction inside Israel.

1. All parties, including Israel, the de facto Hamas government, and the PA must protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, including the fundamental right to freedom of movement. The basic rights of Gaza’s civilian population must not be exploited by any party for political gain. 

2. Israel must identify an immediate solution to meet the urgent needs of Gaza’s residents for movement, especially patients in need of life-saving treatment, and must maintain operations at Kerem Shalom Crossing allowing for uninterrupted supply of goods to and from the Strip. 

3. Israel must prepare, publish and implement an exit strategy from the pandemic lockdown at Erez Crossing that includes the removal of restrictions on movement of people and goods that preceded the pandemic, and meets the needs of Gaza’s residents to health and safety, while safeguarding their human rights. Returning to the status quo ante is not an option.