High unemployment; long blackouts, severe shortages of clean water, limited economic opportunities; a very young, educated population with immense potential, and a closure that undermines their chances of succeeding. This is life in Gaza today.
Many Israelis believe that with the implementation of the Disengagement Plan in 2005, Israel unburdened itself of Gaza and no longer bears responsibility for what happens there. The reality is that Israel still denies sea and air access to Gaza and controls all but one of its land border crossings, Rafah. Israel oversees coordination of entry of goods to Gaza and demands to know the purpose of the goods, who receives them and who pays for them. Israel decides what goods produced in Gaza can be sold outside the Strip, how much, when and where. Israel also decides how much electricity will be sold and supplied to the Strip, reducing supply at will. This is not disengagement; this is remote (but not too remote) control.
How did we get here?
On September 11, 2005, Israel removed its last remaining troops from inside the Strip. In 2007, after Hamas took control of the Strip, Israel’s Security Cabinet declared Gaza a “hostile entity” and severely tightened restrictions on movement for its residents. Entry of goods was reduced to the bare minimum required to stave off a humanitarian crisis; export of goods outside Gaza was fully banned; severe restrictions were imposed on the entry of fuel, and travel between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel, which was already limited, was even further restricted.
Over the years, a doctrine the military refers to as the “separation policy” was developed.
The idea is to sever Gaza from the West Bank, to obstruct contact between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, which were not only meant to make up the Palestinian state according to international resolutions and agreements, but also share the same language, culture, and economy, as well as family ties. Security officials have said that the purpose of the policy is to put pressure on Hamas and help the Palestinian Authority, but in practice, the separation policy has been used by Israel to advance political-demographic goals that cannot be justified on “security grounds:” Reducing the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank, weakening Palestinian institutions that would underpin a state, and advancing annexation at the expense of fundamental human rights. As a result of the policy, students from Gaza cannot study in West Bank universities, medical teams, academics, employees of civil society organizations, and technical experts cannot travel between the two parts of the territory, not even for meetings or training. Families split between Gaza and the West Bank cannot reunite except in the most exigent circumstances, such as a wedding, or a death or terminal illness in the family. Even then, only first-degree relatives are eligible to apply for a permit.
Some of the restrictions have been lifted or changed over the years (details below). The principle, however, remains the same, despite the fact that the restrictions have clearly failed to achieve their original goal of toppling Hamas or preventing rocket fire on Israeli communities. What the restrictions have done is unravel conditions on the ground to the point that, as a United Nations report predicted, Gaza would be unliveable by 2020. The already dire situation has been made worse since March 2020 and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Israel further tightened movement restrictions under the guise of averting the spread of the virus, meaning that even the few residents who were previously eligible to apply for permits are now denied travel. In May 2020, the Palestinian Authority stopped coordination with Israel in response to the Israeli government's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, resulting in additional economic shortfalls amidst a global financial crisis.