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Published @ 09.00 hours GMT on 18th August 1997

CLOSURE UPDATE NO. 20

Report by the

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

on the impact of the Closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip

Israel has maintained its strict closure of the Palestinian territories, including those areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, since the afternoon of 30th July, following two, as yet unclaimed bombings in West Jerusalem. Although Israeli authorities have claimed that measures have been taken to ease what has been one of the tightest closures ever, the announced measures are minor, and severe restrictions remain in place on the freedom of movement for goods and people.

The closure mechanism has enabled Israel to maintain a strangle-hold over Palestinian life in the Palestinian territories. The sealing of borders and restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods to and from the Palestinian territories have been a policy of the Israeli occupying authorities, and constitutes the collective punishment of the 2.5 million Palestinian people who inhabit these areas, which is forbidden under international law. Israel has claimed that closure is necessary to ensure its security; but, as the repeated bomb attacks prove, and as experts argue, the closure is not effective for this purpose, and may in fact aggravate the security situation because of the suffering and hardship it causes.

Following the bombings on Wednesday 30th July, Israeli authorities announced a tightening of the closure; all the easing measures which had been gradually applied over the past few months were cancelled. The Gaza Strip and West Bank were completely sealed and a total ban was imposed on the freedom of movement of goods and persons between Israel and the Palestinian territories. For the first time border crossings with Egypt and Jordan were also closed and an internal closure was imposed between West Bank towns and cities, effectively cutting them off from each other and isolating Area A, which is under Palestinian jurisdiction, from the rest of the West Bank, classified as Areas B and C under the Oslo Agreements.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has observed the overall deterioration of the situation in the Palestinian territories under the closure mechanism and in particular the situation in the Gaza Strip. This Update documents the more recent effects of the closure on the human rights of the Palestinian people. We specifically report on the following: the closure of the Rafah Border Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt; minor easing measures applied at Karni and Erez Border Crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel; stagnation in the construction sector in Gaza; reprisal attacks against Palestinian imports at an Israeli port; the slight easing of the closure on the Gaza coast; Gaza labourers are still denied access to their work in Israel; continued restrictions on the freedom of movement; the case of a Gazan women and her children who are prevented from returning to their home in Gaza from the West Bank; US and Israel pressure the Palestinian National Authority to violate human rights.

1. The Closure Of The Rafah Border Crossing Between The Gaza Strip And Egypt

The Israeli authorities have sealed Rafah Border Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt since the afternoon of 30th July 1997. The movement of people across this border has been completely prevented and thousands have been prevented from leaving and entering Gaza. The section of Rafah Border Crossing for commercial traffic was also closed, preventing the importation of goods from Egypt between 30th July and 14th August.

Two hundred and seven people were trapped inside the Border Crossing when the closure was imposed. There are three elements to the Rafah Crossing: Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian. These people had completed the exit procedures at the Egyptian side, but upon their arrival at the Israeli part of the Border Crossing they were not allowed to pass and were trapped for two days between 30th July and 1st August.

Since 6th August the restrictions on Rafah have been gradually eased. People who were visiting Gaza and humanitarian cases such as medical patients in need of treatment not available in Gaza were allowed to cross the border into Egypt. Residents of the Gaza Strip who were visiting Egypt when the closure was imposed, were allowed to enter Gaza. On 31st August 700 Palestinians who reside in Gaza, arrived at Alarish Airport in Egypt on two flights from the United Arab Emirates. They were not allowed to enter Gaza through Rafah until 6th August.

The Rafah Border Crossing was re-opened on 8th August for all persons who are usually eligible to travel out of Gaza. The Palestinian Centre Fieldwork Unit reported overcrowding on the border crossing as the number of people needing to cross had accumulated over the week of complete closure and as a consequence of the lengthy procedures at the border. For example, only one bus which has the capacity to carry 26 passengers, is permitted to move between the Israeli and the Egyptian sections of the border. This passage takes between 30 minutes and one hour, even though the distance is only 200 metres.

Palestinian Centre Fieldworkers report that the commercial section of the Rafah Border remained closed until 12:00 noon on 14th August when it was reopened only to allow food imports from Egypt.

2. Minor Easing Measures Applied At Karni And Erez Border Crossings

Karni (Al Montar) and Erez Border Crossings (Beit Hanoun) between Israel and the Gaza Strip are the points at which commercial goods are imported and exported. Israel had previously given guarantees that Karni, which was constructed specifically for commercial imports and exports, would remain open to commercial traffic even during closures. However from 30th July to 4th August Karni Crossing was closed. Erez Border Crossing was completely closed until 3rd August when only basic food items were permitted to be imported to Gaza.

On the morning of 31st July, the Israeli authorities announced that Karni Crossing would be re-opened only for the importation of goods to the Gaza Strip from Israel. Despite the Palestinian authorities’ rejection of this and their demand for both imports and exports to be permitted, Karni was closed to both imports and exports. On 5th August Karni was reopened only for the importation of basic food items which were reported to be in short supply in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli authorities have subsequently tried to export Israeli fruits to Gaza. However, the Palestinian authorities refused to accept these unless the export of Gaza vegetables to Israel was permitted. The re-opening of Karni on 12th August witnessed the export of Gaza vegetables and the import of Israeli fruits. Israel continues to prevent the export of other products from the Gaza Strip.

By 14th August, Erez Border Crossing was still sealed off to Gazan exports. Erez was completely sealed on 30th July for exports and imports, but since 3rd August, imports of basic food items were allowed.

The Gaza commercial transportation sector has suffered as a result of the closure of Erez and Karni Border Crossings. This sector exists solely to transport imports and exports into and out of Gaza and between Gaza land ports and distribution points inside the Gaza Strip. Around 250 trucks work at Karni Checkpoint. At Erez there are 300 trucks, some of which are permitted to transport goods across Israeli territory between Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Gaza. When there is a strict closure these trucks and their drivers lie redundant.According to sources at the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Commerce, on 12th August the Israeli authorities announced that they would allow 95 Palestinian vehicles to enter Israeli territory in order to go to Ashdod Sea Port and Israeli mills to bring flour to Gaza. A list of names of drivers and their vehicle specifications was passed by the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Commerce to the Israeli authorities so that permits could be issued for them to leave Gaza. Upon their arrival at Erez checkpoint they were kept waiting for hours before being informed that they could not cross the border into Israel. The only reason given for this by the Israeli authorities was an order from a high authority.

3. Stagnation in the Gaza Construction Sector

The construction sector in the Gaza Strip stagnates as a result of closures which prevent the import of necessary construction materials such as cement, steel and gravel. The ban on imports of construction materials causes paralysis in private building projects and public infrastructure projects of the Palestinian Authority. The shortage in cement and gravel causes the 18 factories in Gaza, which produce concrete, to close.According to the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Gaza imports of such basic materials before 30th July were estimated as follows:

Material

Quantity (tonnes daily)

cement

3,000

steel

600

gravel

15,000

Source: Palestinian Authority Ministry of Economy and Commerce

The tile-making industry which employs around 2,500 Palestinian workers depends upon imports of such raw materials in the production of their products, and is thus forced to cease production both because of a shortage and because their product cannot be exported.

The following table shows the quantity of Gaza tiles exported through Karni during the four months prior to the closure:

Period

Quantity Of Exports (in msq)

April 1997

41,100

May 1997

57,517

June 1997

66,255

July 1997

65,280

 

Source: Karni Border Authority

4. Reprisal Attacks Against Palestinian Goods at an Israeli port

A shipment of sunflower oil imported by Palestinian merchant Mr. Muhsin Shehadah from Gaza was deliberately damaged by Israeli security authorities at the Ashdod Sea Port in Israel. Mr. Shehadah had contracted with a French company to purchase 64,500 gallons of sunflower oil valued at around US$350.000, which was to be imported to Ashdod Port. Part of the shipment had arrived at the port and it had already undergone the routine security check by Israeli security forces. However as news of the suicide bombings began to break on 30th July, apparently, security personnel deliberately damaged the shipment, in the knowledge that it belonged to a Palestinian merchant.

Ten days later on 10th August, this part of the shipment, estimated at 19,000 gallons arrived in Gaza through Karni Border Crossing. Mr. Shehadah only then discovered that the containers, which were supposed to be holding a total of 8,000 gallons, were so badly damaged that the oil had leaked and they were completely empty. Other containers were also damaged and less than 30% of the remainder of the shipment had not been damaged. He estimates the total damage at between US$70,000 and $80,000.

Mr. Shehadah informed the Palestinian Centre that the insurance agent had estimated that his insurance would cover only the containers which had totally lost all their contents as a result of the damage (a total of 8,000 gallons); and not for losses resulting from the partially damaged containers, leaving Mr. Shehadah with considerable losses to cover himself.

Imports which are being held in Israeli ports because their Palestinian owners are not permitted to collect them, are accumulating. Palestinian merchants suffer great losses as a result of the extra fees incurred for the cost of storing the goods in ports. One company called Turkish -Palestinian Company, estimated its losses as a result of these extra fees for its imports of cement at US$15,000 per week.

5. The Closure Of The Gaza Coast Is Slightly Eased

On Wednesday 30th July, Israeli gunboats obstructed the access of Palestinian fishing boats to the Gaza coast. Palestinian fishermen were informed that the coast would be closed and the Israeli marine forces ordered them to return to the mainland. The Israeli authorities forced them out of the sea without giving them a chance to retrieve their equipment, which included nets, which are now lost. Daily losses when the fishermen are not permitted to fish are estimated at US$30,000.

Around 4,000 people work in the fishing industry, including 2,500 fishermen. There are 816 Palestinian fishing vessels, and annual income generated from this industry is US$3,000,000.

Although on 7th August the closure of the coast was partially lifted, Gazan fishermen were only permitted to fish within an area which stretches out from the Gazan coastline to six nautical miles.

6. Gaza Labourers Are Still Denied Access To Their Work In Israel

Since 30th July Palestinians have been denied access to their places of work in Israel. Palestinians were prevented from entering the Erez Industrial Zone until 3rd August when 2,560 Palestinians consisting of labourers and merchants were permitted to enter the Zone.

Income generated by Palestinian labourers working in Israel has evolved into a crucial source of income for Gaza. However as a result of the repeated closures imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip, the number of Palestinian workers from Gaza permitted to work in Israel has fallen from over 100,000 to 25,291. Thousands of Palestinians from Gaza are denied access to what in most cases is the only source of income for each family. Twenty seven years of Israel’s direct occupation has devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, while Palestinians who live there were used by Israel as a cheap source of labour and Gaza’s consumer market were an open market for Israeli goods.

As a result of the fall in Palestinians from Gaza who are permitted to go to work in Israel, the Gaza unemployment rate has jumped to 57%. When the closure is tightened and cross-border movement is prevented, the unemployment rate increases to 68%. Thousands of workers demonstrated with their trade unions at Erez Border Crossing on 13th August in protest at the deterioration in their living conditions caused by the closure.

7. Continued Restrictions On The Freedom Of Movement

Israeli authorities continue to restrict Palestinian freedom of movement between the Palestinian autonomous areas and to and from the Palestinian territories. Palestinians from Gaza were also not permitted to cross Jordanian or Egyptian borders. Most recent information obtained from the Palestinian Ministries of Interior and Civil Affairs suggests the following:

i. Hundreds of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who possessed valid travel permits, have been trapped in the West Bank since the closure was imposed on 30th July. The Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs submitted a list of 54 Palestinian from Gaza who were trapped in the West Bank in order to co-ordinate their return to Gaza with the Israeli authorities. According to Ministry sources, the Israeli authorities promised to discuss this issue on 11th August. However there have not yet been any developments and the Ministry is now preparing an updated list.

ii. On 6th August Israeli authorities allowed six buses, carrying 200 Palestinians from the West Bank, who had been trapped in Gaza when the closure was imposed, to return to the West Bank.

iii. Border crossings between Jordan and Israel are now open, but Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are still not permitted to cross them.

iv. Minor easing measures were applied for travel by Palestinians from Gaza via Ben Gurion Airport. Sources from the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior state that 31 applications for permits were submitted to the Israeli authorities on 6th August for Palestinians who needed to leave the region via Ben Gurion airport. Twenty four applications were accepted. A further 18 applications were submitted on 11th August; as of Thursday 14th August, no answer was given by the Israeli side. The Ministry observed that applications by young Palestinians who are not precluded from applying, were being delayed.

8. The Case Of A Gazan Women And Her Children Who Are Prevented From Returning To Their Home In Gaza From The West Bank

Mrs. Khitam Abdul Qadar Abu Mikhadi is a teacher in UNRWA schools in Gaza; she is also married and is the mother of 10 children. She was granted a travel permit by the Israeli authorities which was valid until 5th August 1997, and so she left the Gaza Strip with three of her children on 30th July 1997 for a family visit to Qalqilya in the West Bank. The Israeli authorities announced the tightening of the closure after Mrs. Abu Mikhadi had already left Gaza. Since then she has been trapped in Ramallah and has been prevented from returning to Gaza, where seven of her children and her husband await her return to Gaza.

The case of Mrs. Abu Mikhadi is not exceptional, rather it is an example of the type of predicament faced by Palestinians as a result of the ruthless restrictions imposed on their freedom of movement by the Israeli authorities.

9. US And Israel Urge The Palestinian National Authority To Violate Human Rights

The strict closures imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Palestinian territories constitute collective punishment which is prohibited by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a Party.

The effect of the closure is a severe deterioration in the already poor economic, social and political situation in the Palestinian territories, including the Palestinian autonomous areas. Israel’s provocative policies against the Palestinian people, for example its settlement building and expansion on Palestinian land, have further aggravated the state of affairs. However, the active intervention, which the international community is responsible for taking against Israel’s illegal and contemptuous policies, has not come. Instead the United States Government has lent support to the Israeli Government.

In what must be seen as policies reflecting contempt for international law, including internationally accepted principles of human rights, is that the Government of Israel, with the support of the US has conditioned the easing of the closure, which is in itself an illegal policy, violative of international legal norms, upon the Palestinian Authority carrying out a massive arrest campaign in order to undermine and uproot the infrastructure of Islamic groups, including civil Islamic institutions and Islamic activists, in the areas under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. Such an operation would undermine the rule of law and the development of civil, democratic society in the autonomous areas, at a time when opposition groups are involved in the democratic process. Moreover, the pressure to take draconian measures against these groups is exerted even though it remains uncertain who carried out the bombings.

The Palestinian Centre expresses its concern at this policy and believes that it will not only involve severe violation of human rights, but will also bring about an escalation in violence in the region. The Palestinian Centre emphasises the following:

i. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights acknowledges the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to its obligations under the agreements signed with Israel and to the rule of law. However it is of deep concern that United States-supported Israeli policies seek to goad the Palestinian Authority to violate international standards of human rights and to undermine the development of the rule of law in the autonomous areas.

ii. The Palestinian Centre completely rejects the correlation made by the Governments of Israel and the United States between the ceasing of the collective punishment of closure which is a breach of international legal norms, and the perpetration of another breach, in which the Palestinian Authority is forced to carry out a massive arrest campaign against Islamic opposition groups, and to undermine its own democratic and rule of law structures.

iii. The Palestinian Centre reiterates its rejection of Israel’s claims that strict closures are imposed for security reasons. It is believed that this method of collective punishment will never achieve security for the State of Israel for the following reasons:

a. Previous suicide bomb attacks against Israeli targets have been carried out while so-called security closures have been in place on the Palestinian territories.

b. Each month hundreds of students and labourers from the Palestinian territories are arrested by Israeli authorities for being inside Israel without valid travel permits.

If these people have been able to infiltrate Israeli borders and checkpoints for innocuous reasons, it is unrealistic to believe that a person intent on exploding himself in Israel would be deterred.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights demands that the Government of Israel immediately cease its policy of closure and that the real causes of the deterioration in Israeli security be focused on by it and the international community including the United States. These include Israel’s provocative policies against the Palestinian people including its policy of settlement development and expansion in the Palestinian territories, which has already lead to a deadlock in the negotiations between the two sides.

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