On 17 July 2018, Israeli authorities announced the full closure of the ‘Kerem Shalom’ Crossing point in southeast the Gaza Strip. This measure blocks the entry of fuel and cooking gas supplies, allowing only medicines and food items to pass into Gaza after approvals of shipments one-by-one. The Crossing is the only point where exports from and import to Gaza are allowed to move. The Israeli authorities have also reduced the fishing zone to three nautical miles, down from six, only days after they had reduced it from nine nautical miles. When and if fishermen sail around this limit, they are more vulnerable to attack by Israeli naval forces. Israeli government claims the measures come as a response to fires caused by incendiary kites flown from the Gaza Strip.
Mr Raed Fattouh, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Coordination of Goods (PCCG), spoke to Al Mezan about the escalating restrictions. He stated that on Monday, 16 July 2018, Israeli authorities formally informed him of their decision to ban the entry of all kinds of goods into Gaza through the ‘Kerem Shalom’ Crossing, except for medicines. Two hours later, Fattouh was informed of a slight change in the Israeli measures that would allow food to be entered into Gaza. Nevertheless, starting on 17 July 2018, raw materials and all products and goods, including fuel and cooking gas, are not be allowed into Gaza.
On average, 300 tons of cooking gas, 500,000 liter of gasoline, and 200,000 liters of diesel are imported into Gaza daily through this crossing. Limiting the entry of fuel directly undermines the living conditions of the population of the Gaza Strip. In light of the ongoing electricity crisis—blackouts lasting for over 20 hours a day—, Al Mezan expresses its deep concern about the implications of this recent restriction imposed by Israeli authorities. Should the new restrictions continue for a few more days, hospitals could face serious challenges to function due to lack of fuel—leaving the entry of medicines to Gaza with little meaning. A range of other actors, e.g. humanitarian and relief agencies whose work is heavily dependent on fuel and imported materials, are likely to face severe challenges to their ability to continue their work, let alone families whose basic needs now are hardly making ends meet.
Under the new restrictions, the paralysis of Gaza’s economy will grow to worse levels with a particularly negative impact on the commercial and industrial sectors, which are already almost collapsed. The restrictions entail a full ban on the entry of construction materials, with serious consequences on the living conditions of thousands of displaced families due to the destruction of their homes during Israeli forces military attacks in 2014 and before. The slow reconstruction of Gaza is expected to halt should the new restrictions persist.
The freezing of exports and lack of effective access to land and fishing grounds will lead to graver economic losses, resulting in higher rates of poverty (now at 53%), extreme poverty (now at 33.7%), and unemployment (at 49.1% in the first quarter of 2018). This decline in the living conditions effectively translates into a serious denial of basic rights, such as adequate housing, health and standard of living, among other rights.
Al Mezan implores the inaction of international community concerning the aggravating closure and blockade Israel has been imposing on the Gaza Strip for over 11 years. As a form of collective punishment, the closure is illegal under international law. It poses insurmountable threats to the life, wellbeing and dignity of the civilian population in Gaza, who have already been suffering from compounding rights deficits. The new measures will only exacerbate this situation and harm many people for alleged sins they did not commit.
Al Mezan condemns these restrictions on free movement and access and calls international community to act without delay to bring the closure of Gaza to an end. Al Mezan also stresses that the fragile situation in Gaza must not be dealt with by adding further collective punishment measures, but through full respect of human rights and international law, including in situations of hostilities, and allowing for effective development and a political engagement that promotes human rights standards.