Closing Early

Erez Crossing operated in a very limited capacity yesterday – a day before a scheduled two-day closure

Erez Crossing. Photo by Gisha.

May 1, 2017. Erez Crossing operated in a very limited capacity yesterday, April 30. The military authorities only notified the Palestinian Civilian Affairs Committee about plans to reduce activity on Sunday last Thursday. Yesterday, only medical patients on their way to receive hospital treatment, foreign nationals and Palestinian citizens of Israel were allowed to exit Gaza through Erez. Entry into Gaza was allowed as per usual, for those holding a permit. The Israeli authorities declared Gaza would be under closure, starting from Saturday night. The announcement, made during the year we mark a decade of closure on Gaza, pertains to a complete closure – on the movement of both people and goods.

The operating hours schedule released by the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) for April and May only notes that the crossing will be closed on Monday and Tuesday of this week (Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively): with the exception of ambulances and humanitarian cases on Monday, and only ambulances on Tuesday. Sunday (yesterday) was not mentioned in the schedule, and Erez was due to be open as usual for permit holders. For some unknown reason, the closure of Erez began on Sunday – an ordinary work day in Israel and, naturally, also in Gaza. The late notice disrupted the plans of permit-holders who prepared to cross on Sunday.

One example of this disruption is a story we heard from Maher al-Najjar, an engineer and project manager with the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility. Al-Najjar had planned to travel through Erez to Jordan and from there to Barcelona in order to attend a workshop organized by Action Against Hunger (ACF) and the Barcelona municipality. The workshop is about rainwater re-use and salinity management, highly critical issues for an area suffering from an acute water shortage, such as Gaza. All of the required permits had been obtained, the flights had been booked and paid for, and some of the workshop participants had already arrived in Barcelona. But on Friday, three days before his planned trip, al-Najjar found out that Erez Crossing would be closed on Sunday. “If they had let us know a week earlier, I could have made arrangements to get to the workshop. I could have left earlier and stayed in Amman. But now, there is just no way to make it,” he told Gisha’s field coordinator.

The unbearable ease with which the little freedom of movement still available to a small fraction of Gaza’s residents can be taken away is alarming and infuriating. This unannounced closure comes on top of the increasingly standardized tradition of shutting down the crossings on Jewish holidays, as if no festivity in Israel is complete without denying the freedom of movement of millions.