Hamas authorities reverse restrictions on access to Erez; sharp drop in permits for businesspeople

Erez Crossing. Photo: Gisha.

Erez Crossing. Photo: Gisha.

April 9, 2017. The Hamas-controlled checkpoint known as 4-4 has been reopened to all permit-holders. Movement through the checkpoint has been restricted for two weeks, further hindering residents of Gaza, whose movement is already severely limited under the closure imposed by Israel. According to the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, the travel restrictions were removed last Thursday (April 6) afternoon; the prohibition against fishermen going out to sea has been lifted as well.

Meanwhile, information collected by the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza indicates another sharp decline in the number of valid merchant permits held by Palestinian residents of Gaza: the number of valid permits on April 1 was only 771, as opposed to the 1,173 permits which were valid in the previous month; a 34 percent drop. The number of permits held by senior businesspeople (BMGs), a smaller category, has also been reduced and was recorded as 168 on April 1, compared to 190 valid permits in early March; a 12 percent decrease.

In comparison to late 2015, there was a massive, overall decline of 74 percent in the number of valid permits for both categories of trader permits: there are currently 939 valid permits, compared to roughly 3,600 valid permits at the end of 2015. We recall that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), in theory, allocates a quota of up to 5,000 merchant permits, which has never been reached.

This sharp decline reflects a wider trend of reduction in the number of exit permits granted by Israel to residents of Gaza, which was extremely limited to begin with, and indicates a further tightening of the decade-long closure. As recently reported (Hebrew), the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), in cooperation with the units of the Israeli Ministry of Defense responsible for Erez Crossing, is obstructing access even to the most acute of humanitarian cases. The conduct of these agencies has impeded any chance of economic development in Gaza and resulted in an extensive deterioration in the living conditions of residents of the Strip. The reduction in exit permits also strongly contradicts Israel’s self-professed policy, which recognizes that Gaza’s reconstruction promotes Israel’s security interests.

Israel’s extensive control over so many aspects of civilian life in Gaza imposes an obligation to do far more than the bare humanitarian minimum it seems to be aiming for; by virtue of its control, Israel must take responsibility for allowing normal civilian life in the Strip.