November 22, 2012. As the ceasefire agreement takes force, Israel has an opportunity to finally end the civilian closure of Gaza and enter into regional arrangements that will allow residents of Gaza the freedom of movement to which they have a right, while protecting the security to which residents of Israel are entitled. Today, the Israeli government maintains three restrictions on Gaza’s land crossings that must be removed to protect the rights of Palestinians to reach family members and access educational and economic opportunities, subject to individual security checks:
1. Entrance of construction materials for the private sector in Gaza is banned. Israel claims the restrictions are necessary to prevent the Hamas regime from building bunkers. Each month, an estimated average of 3,600 truckloads of construction materials for the private and governmental sector enter Gaza via underground tunnels, compared with just 1,100 truckloads via the crossings with Israel. The materials entering via Israel must be pre-approved for international organizations, causing burdensome and expensive delays.
2. Israel prevents goods from Gaza from reaching their markets in Israel and the West Bank. Although tiny quantities of export abroad transit via Israeli ports, Israel prevents farmers and manufacturers in Gaza from selling their goods to their traditional customers in Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the ban imposed in June 2007, more than 85% of goods leaving Gaza were sold in Israel and the West Bank. Today, Israel conducts security checks of goods transiting via Israel to markets abroad (18 truckloads per month on average, just 2% of pre-June 2007 levels) but does not allow those goods to remain in Israel or the West Bank.
3. The Israeli government restricts travel between Gaza and the West Bank to “exceptional humanitarian cases”, mostly medical patients, their companions, and senior (male) merchants buying goods from Israel and the West Bank. Each month, Israel allows 4,000 entrances of Palestinians via Erez Crossing, compared with more than half a million in September 2000. Israeli officials say the restrictions are part of the “separation policy“, which restricts travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even where no individual security claims are raised. The ban separates children from their parents, prevents students from studying, blocks economic opportunities and exacerbates the fragmentation of Palestinian society.
Opening Rafah Crossing for goods, while important, is not responsive to the need to allow access between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel. Currently, most of the markets for goods from Gaza are in Israel and the West Bank, and the relatively low cost of living in Egypt would make it difficult for Gaza’s export – mostly low-cost, labor intensive items like furniture, textiles and produce – to be competitive. Rafah does not provide a solution for travel between Gaza and the West Bank, especially as Israel’s military does not allow Gaza residents to enter the West Bank via Egypt and Jordan.
More than 47% of civilian goods entering Gaza – enter via the tunnels. Any change in access arrangements would need to take into account the high volume of civilian truckloads entering Gaza via the tunnels: an estimated 4,100 truckloads per month (primarily construction materials but also small quantities of snack foods, spare parts, and others), compared with 4,700 truckloads per month via Kerem Shalom. In addition, most of Gaza’s fuel is piped in via the tunnels. Since 2007, Israel has closed three of Gaza’s four goods crossings, leaving just the limited capacity of Kerem Shalom. If all of Gaza’s incoming and outgoing goods are to be transferred above ground, arrangements must be made to meet demand. Most civilian goods transiting via the tunnels are goods banned by the Israeli government: more than 80% of civilian tunnel volume is construction materials.
According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: “Now is the time for Israel to do what is just, mutually beneficial, and should have been done long ago: remove all restrictions not necessary for security”.
For a fact sheet on the current state of the closure of Gaza, click here.
For a datasheet summarizing the changes in the closure in the past five years, click here.