Caught in the middle: movement restrictions imposed on Gaza residents
Since last Tuesday afternoon, the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel has been closed, blocking most goods from entering or leaving Gaza. Until this morning, it was Israel who kept the crossing closed. As of today, the Hamas regime in Gaza is preventing its reopening.
In addition, since last Tuesday, Israel tightened restrictions it imposes on travel by Gaza residents to Israel and the West Bank via Erez Crossing, relaxing them only today. At the same time, the Hamas regime has declared its intention to implement an order, beginning this Thursday, requiring residents of Gaza to request and receive permission from Hamas before traveling to Israel or the West Bank - in addition to permission they must receive from Israel. Only medical patients are to be exempted.
Unfortunately, both the Israeli and Hamas governments are restricting movement and preventing residents of Gaza from traveling freely and engaging in commerce – in violation of their basic rights.
On Tuesday of last week, a rocket was fired toward Ashkelon from the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel closed Gaza's commercial crossing and tightened restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between Israel and Gaza. Indiscriminate or intentional fire at a civilian population violates international humanitarian law and may be considered a war crime. According to the same principle, the connection Israeli officials have drawn between violence by militants and travel restrictions against civilians make it clear that the restrictions are not meant to protect against a security threat but rather constitute collective punishment of Gaza’s residents.
Gisha’s position is that Israel’s control over the vast majority of access routes into and out of Gaza – by sea, land and air - gives rise to obligations on its part to allow Gaza’s residents to maintain normal lives which includes transferring goods and routine travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Imposing access restrictions that are not necessary for concrete security purposes, do not distinguish between civilians and individuals involved in hostilities and disproportionately harm civilian life is a breach of the obligations Israel owes towards residents of Gaza under international law.
In recent years, the Israeli government has partially eased the closure on Gaza. This change, which mainly involved removing most of the restrictions on bringing goods into Gaza, was accompanied by statements by top government and security officials, expressing commitment to the principle of distinguishing between militants and civilians. Last November, during Operation Pillar of Defense, official spokespersons for the army and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly pointed out that the crossings continued to operate even during the fighting and rocket fire from Gaza.
This is a critical moment in which it is still possible to prevent the tightening of Israeli restrictions on travel into and out of Gaza and to ensure that the Hamas regime does not restrict residents' freedom of movement. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights expressed concern last week at the new travel regulations announced by the government in Gaza. In parallel, Gisha's Executive Director, Sari Bashi, wrote a letter to the Minister of Defense urging him to avoid using collective punishment against Gaza’s residents. In addition, in the last few days, Gisha has publicized excerpts from statements made by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories over the past two years which clearly state that distinguishing between militants and civilians lies at the heart of Israel's policy toward Gaza.
We should remember that it is Palestinian residents who are harmed by restrictions imposed by Israel and the Hamas regime: farmers whose produce is spoiling while waiting to be exported; merchants whose livelihood is affected; and ordinary people whose travel has been blocked.