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

Al-Mawasi, Gaza Strip - "I reached the Tufakh checkpoint in an ambulance while on my way to Mubarak Hospital [in Khan Yunis] to give birth. When we got to the checkpoint so that we could leave al-Mawasi, the soldiers refused to let the ambulance through. My condition deteriorated. We waited for hours, and were allowed to pass only after we managed to coordinate matters with many officials. On my way home after giving birth, I was not allowed to pass because I was too young. I am waiting here in the wind and cold, which affects my health and the health of my baby daughter... . If I do get through, I will have to return in a couple of days to have my daughter immunized. Al-Mawasi does not have a gynecologist, obstetrician, or even a midwife."
From the testimony of Sabah Kamel a-Najar, 25, married with seven children, resident of al-Mawasi
The report discusses the harsh daily existence of the residents of al-Mawasi, which has received scant public attention. Al-Mawasi is a narrow strip of coastal land one kilometer wide and fourteen kilometers long. Gush Qatif settlements lie to its east. The area is rich in water and the 5,000 residents derive their income primarily from farming and fishing.

Since the founding of the Gush Qatif settlements, the IDF has restricted the movement of al-Mawasi's residents. The restrictions have grown increasingly severe during the al-Aqsa intifada, effectively imprisoning the Palestinians in their community. The army changes the criteria for allowing the residents to move to and from the nearby cities, Khan Yunis and Rafah, without informing the residents. At times, the army completely prohibits movement in or out of al-Mawasi. When this happens, dozens of residents of al-Mawasi find themselves stuck in Khan Yunis without food, a change of clothes, or a place to spend the night, and they have to rely on the kindness of relatives and friends to meet these needs.

The restrictions on freedom of movement, themselves an infringement of human rights, have also resulted in the violation of other human rights. With regard to the right to work and earn a living, the IDF's restrictions have reduced the movement of goods from al-Mawasi to Khan Yunis by 90% in comparison with the pre-Intifada period, creating a huge loss of income for the farmers, who have been forced to throw away much of their produce or simply let it rot.

The restrictions also infringe on the right to education. They severely hamper the educational system in al-Mawasi, primarily by making it impossible for teachers to reach the schools for days at a time. The IDF has also restricted the entry of electronic equipment and computers to the schools, and only allow other school supplies to enter in limited quantities. In terms of health, the restrictions have created a shortage of medicine, and there have been cases in which women have given birth while waiting at the checkpoint and patients have been late for surgery after being delayed at the crossing points.

The widespread restrictions on the freedom of movement and their extensive and harsh consequences on the Palestinian residents of al-Mawasi constitute collective punishment. Collective punishment is prohibited by international humanitarian law, with which Israel has promised to comply.

In response to a query by B'Tselem, the IDF Spokesperson's Office did not mention any security incidents or dangers directly related to al-Mawasi's residents. Rather, the reply stated that the measures were taken following warnings the army had received. However, it appears that the IDF's arbitrary restrictions result from the proximity to the settlements and the army's continuing control over security matters in the area, which is not the case in the rest of the Gaza Strip.

In conclusion, B'Tselem demands that the IDF change its policy regarding movement in al-Mawasi. The army must allow residents of al-Mawasi to conduct their lives in a normal manner, to move about freely without fear, to receive proper medical treatment, to work and to market their produce, and to educate their children.