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OPT: Al-Mawasi, Gaza Strip - Impossible life in an isolated enclave

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Status Report
Researched and written by Shlomi Swisa
Edited by Yael Stein
Data coordination by Ronen Shnayderman
Fieldwork by Najib Abu Rokaya, Raslan Mahagna, Nabil Mekherez, 'Issam Shath
Translated by Zvi Shulman

Introduction

Al-Mawasi is a narrow strip of land along the Gaza coast, one kilometer wide and fourteen kilometers long. It borders Deir al-Balah to the north, and Rafah and Egypt to the south. The Gush Qatif settlements, containing approximately 5,300 settlers, lie east of it1. The area is divided into two sections, named after the adjacent cities: al-Mawasi - Khan Yunis in the north, and al-Mawasi - Rafah in the south. Al-Mawasi is rich in fresh water and contains the best farmland in the Gaza Strip. Approximately 5,000 people live in the community2.

Due to its proximity to the Gush Qatif settlements, the Oslo Accords gave al-Mawasi a different status from the rest of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for civil affairs and Israel for security affairs, as in Area B of the West Bank3.

The infrastructure in al-Mawasi is poorly developed. Only fifteen percent of the houses are connected to the Israeli electricity grid; the others are connected to two generators provided by the Palestinian Authority. These generators operate only in the evening in order to reduce expenditures and because of the difficulties entailed in transporting fuel for the generators into the area. Telephone hook-ups are rare. Following establishment of the Gush Qatif settlements, Israel built new roads in the area4, but they are intended solely for the settlers and the army5.

Since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada, the IDF has placed dozens of staffed checkpoints and hundreds of physical roadblocks that severely impede travel from one town or village to another. The army has also imposed a prolonged curfew in the West Bank and has allowed almost no Palestinians to enter Israel. In the Gaza Strip, the IDF has prohibited the residents from leaving the area to enter Israel except in special cases, and the exit to Egypt via Rafah crossing entails great difficulty. The army has periodically cut the Strip into three sections and prohibited movement from one section to another.

The IDF has placed additional restrictions on the movement of residents in al-Mawasi. Entry and exit is allowed only through one checkpoint and according to arbitrary criteria set by the army, which change from time to time. However, because of the long lines and the limited hours that the checkpoint is open, even Palestinians who meet the criteria cannot be sure that they will be able to cross.

This report describes the difficult conditions in which al-Mawasi's residents live, which have received almost no public attention. The extreme restrictions on movement affect almost every area of life and violate the residents' basic human rights, including the right to work, the right to education, and the right to obtain medical treatment.

B'Tselem faced numerous difficulties in preparing this report. Entry into al-Mawasi is restricted to local residents, with few exceptions. Only one of B'Tselem's fieldworkers was even able to enter al-Mawasi to take testimonies, and this was only after great difficulties. Unlike other areas in the Occupied Territories, many residents of al-Mawasi were hesitant to give testimonies to B'Tselem and requested to speak anonymously out of fear they would be harmed.

The report examines the restrictions on freedom of movement, their length, the extent to which they are reasonable in light of international law principles, and the repercussions of the restrictions on other human rights of the residents.

March 2003

Footnotes

1 See Israel's central Bureau of Statistics website, www.cbs.gov.il/shnaton/53st02_13pdf.

2 According to the 1997 census, al-Mawasi had 4,141 residents. The estimate of the current number of residents is based on the natural population growth in the area. See the Website of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics: www.pcbs.org/temp/pales/002tables_e.pdf.

3 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, signed in Cairo in 1994 (hereafter: the Gaza-Jericho Agreement), Annex 1, Art. 4(4); Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in Washington in 1995 (hereafter: the Interim Agreement), Annex I, Art. 6(4).

4 This information was provided to B'Tselem in a telephone conversation of 20 February 2003 with 'Abed al-Majid al-Istael, the supervisor of the generators.

5 This information was provided to B'Tselem by an official in al-Mawasi, whose name is on file at B'Tselem. See, also, Amira Hass, "Giving up on Ideology in Favor of Earning a Living," Ha'aretz, 24 November 1999.

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