Published @ 18.00 hours GMT on April 3rd 1996
CLOSURE UPDATE NO.5
Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on the total closure imposed by Israel on the Occupied Territories
This is the fifth in a series of weekly updates published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, documenting the effects of the ongoing total closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip.
For the fifth consecutive week, since February 25th 1996, Israel has maintained the total closure of the Occupied Territories, including those areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, imprisoning three million Palestinians within small areas of land. This systematic policy of closure constitutes the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
The facts contained in this report undermine Israeli claims that the closure has been eased and which have encouraged the idea in the international media that the situation for the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip has been ameliorated. In fact many of the oppressive elements of the closure remain in place. Israel has begun to allow very limited amounts of foodstuffs to be imported to Gaza. However the free-flow of even these is prevented because all goods and commercial vehicles going in and out are subject to very strict security arrangements; living conditions for Gazans continue to deteriorate because of continuing economic hardship, stagnation of local production sectors, and the high rate of unemployment; 22,000 Palestinian workers, who formerly worked in Israel before the closure, are still prevented from reaching their places of work in Israel. Restrictions on the freedom of movement in and out of the Gaza Strip, and between areas under Palestinian jurisdiction, are maintained; consequently hundreds of Gazan students who attend West Bank universities are deprived of their right to an education; many Gazan patients are denied access to proper medical treatment which can only be found outside Gaza, and there is a shortage of medical supplies because Israel restricts their import; the 3,500 Palestinian prisoners who remain in Israeli prisons cannot receive visits from their families.
The information contained in this Update has been provided by the staff of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, who have monitored and documented daily, the devastating effects of the total closure for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
This Update is based on an Arabic version, and where there are inconsistencies the Arabic version should be considered the original.
1. RESTRICTIONS ON COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY CONTINUE
Israel claims that it has taken measures to ease the closure so that commercial activity can be resumed in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Closure Monitoring Team has closely examined the movement of goods across the borders in the light of this claim, maintaining direct contact with Palestinian officials at the borders in so doing. The results of their examinations and information from these sources suggest that Israeli claims are an exaggeration. The easing-measures which have been taken only allow the import of amounts which are below the minimum requirements of basic foodstuffs; and the amount of goods Israel allows to be exported is not sufficient to sustain the various production sectors. In addition renewed commercial activity has to be conducted within time-consuming security arrangements which further obstruct commercial activity and damage produce.
i. Obstacles to Agricultural Exports
Israel has allowed limited amounts of Gazan agricultural produce to be exported to and via Israel. The following table shows the amounts which Israel has allowed to be exported from Gaza between March 24th and 31st 1996:
VEGETABLES (in tonnes)
CITRUS (in tonnes)
Egypt, via Rafah
Israeli ports via Erez
Israeli ports via Erez
Israeli ports via Erez
For period March 24th - 31st 1996:
TOTAL CITRUS EXPORTS: 1,200 tonnes
TOTAL VEGETABLE EXPORTS: 661 tonnes
In regular conditions Gaza exports at this time of the year are estimated at:
DAILY VEGETABLE EXPORTS: 1,500 tonnes
DAILY CITRUS EXPORTS: 500 tonnes
The following table shows amounts of vegetables that have been exported this season up to the end of March 1996, compared with exports for this period in 1995:
EXPORTS TO ISRAEL
EXPORTS TO WEST BANK
EXPORTS TO ISRAEL
EXPORTS TO THE WEST BANK
Source: Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture
Thus agricultural exports for this year are down by 10,766 tonnes. This is particularly depressing as the Ministry of Agriculture had identified an increase in agricultural production this year, and increased exports were expected:
Even though the Karni Outlet was designed purely to facilitate commercial transactions, the strict security procedures which have been imposed by Israel are not designed with the appropriate treatment of commercial goods in mind, and agricultural produce is often damaged. The security procedures leave Palestinian vehicles waiting for long hours, and sometimes days, in order to transfer their cargo onto Israeli vehicles.
At Erez Checkpoint Palestinian vehicles transporting export produce are also subject to strict security checks; according to new arrangements an Israeli soldier must accompany each vehicle to its destination. This is in addition to the procedure already in existence, which requires commercial vehicles to travel in convoy under an Israeli security escort.
On March 23rd 25 Palestinian vehicles carrying 400 tonnes of citrus for export to Jordan went through the security processes at Erez Checkpoint and were allowed to continue on to Jordan, with Israeli soldiers on-board. On their return on March 27th, and after passing through additional security checks at checkpoints near Jericho, they were prevented from returning to Gaza on the pretext that there were not enough soldiers to accompany them back to Erez Checkpoint. Until the afternoon of April 1st the drivers and their trucks were still waiting at the checkpoint near Jericho.
ii. Stagnation in the construction sector
The Palestinian Ministry of Trade and Industry estimates Gazan daily consumption of cement at 3,000 tonnes. Between the 25th and 31st March 1996, only 6,096 tonnes of cement were allowed into Gaza. There is also a shortage of gravel. Gravel is usually imported from the West Bank, and can only be brought in via the Sofa Border Crossing in the south east of Gaza. Israel closed the Sofa Border on February 25th; it was re-opened on March 27th, and between this date and April 2nd, 20 vehicles a day were being allowed into Gaza, with an estimated daily import of 1,000 tonnes.
As a result of these shortages the crisis in the construction sector continues and thousands of Palestinian workers in this sector are left redundant.
2. OPPRESSIVE ISRAELI MEASURES AGAINST GAZAN STUDENTS WHO ATTEND WEST BANK UNIVERSITIES
27 years of occupation have resulted in the existence of only very basic educational facilities in the Gaza Strip. Therefore 1,218 Gazan students travel to educational establishments in the West Bank. Since the total closure, imposed by Israel on the Occupied Territories since the 25th February, Israel has prevented around 500 of these students from traveling to the West Bank in order to resume their studies, after they returned to their families in Gaza for the Ramadan Feast on 20th February. Since Israeli Defence Force re-deployment from West Bank cities in late 1995, Israeli security forces have raided the villages of Birzeit, Abu Qush and Abu Shkhaidem, over which the Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy. During these raids West Bank and Gazan students were subjected to ill-treatment and detention.
The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, signed in September 1995, (The Cairo Agreement), classifies the divided areas of the Occupied Territories as follows:
Area B areas - still under Israeli security jurisdiction, but following limited Israeli re-deployment, they are now under Palestinian Authority civil jurisdiction (Birzeit University and any student residences around Ramallah are in this area);
Area A areas - there has been re-deployment of Israel Defence Force units and these areas are under only Palestinian jurisdiction.
Following the last suicide bomb on March 4th the Palestinian Authority advised Gazan students in Area B areas that it would be in their best interests to go to Area A areas, which meant many of them leaving their residences and prevented access for them to Birzeit University.
On March 12th an Israeli military order was issued, ordering all Gaza students, who were in the West Bank when the closure was imposed, to return to Gaza. The order included the students who were in areas under Palestinian jurisdiction in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority did not respond or object to the military order and the students remained in the West Bank Ramallah area.
On March 25th Israel lifted the closure inside the West Bank, which separated West Bank towns and villages from each other. Gazan students were thus physically able to travel to university and their places of residence in Birzeit, Abu Qush and Abu Shkhaidem. But the Israeli military orders were still in effect, leaving the students in an unstable predicament.
In the early morning of March 28th Israeli security forces launched a search and arrest campaign in the villages around Birzeit university where many students of the university were staying. Birzeit University sources estimate that around 370 persons were detained; of these 280 were students. The student detainees were reportedly beaten and then taken to a nearby military installation, and then to the Israeli military camp in Betounia near Ramallah, where they were interrogated by Israeli General Security Services. At 2:30 a.m. on March 29th, 32 of the detained students from Gaza were transferred to the Gaza Strip. 16 students remain in detention, 5 of whom are from Gaza.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns these oppressive measures against Gazan and Birzeit students by Israel. Depriving Gazan students of their right to an education violates internationally accepted standards of human rights law.
The Palestinian Centre calls on the international community and human rights organisations to exert pressure on the Government of Israel to secure:
i. an end to the measures which prevent Gazan students from attending West Bank universities;
ii the canceling of the military order which orders Gazan students to leave the West Bank and return to Gaza;
iii. Gazan students must be allowed to return to their educational institutions in the West Bank immediately;
iv. all students who were arrested in the last campaign must be guaranteed their basic human rights, including protection against torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, they should be guaranteed due process and either charged and brought before a court without delay, or they should be released immediately.
3. DETERIORATING HEALTH CONDITIONS
The Gaza Strip has a dearth of medical facilities as a result of 27 years of Israeli occupation; thus for tertiary medical treatment patients must travel to hospitals in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt or Jordan. For such travel, permits must be obtained from Israel via the Joint Liaison Committee (of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority). These permits are only issued by Israel after meticulous administrative security checks; and both patients and vehicles are exposed to a strict physical security check at Erez checkpoint on their departure from Gaza.
i. Israel restricts Gazan patients from obtaining vital medical treatment
Israel continues to deprive many Palestinian patients from receiving proper medical treatment in hospitals outside Gaza. Israels efforts to obstruct as far as possible the exit from Gaza of even the most urgent medical cases has resulted in fatalities.
Between February 25th when the closure was imposed, and March 27th, 200 urgent medical cases have been submitted to the Israeli side of the Joint Liaison Committee for permits to travel out of the Gaza Strip; from these the Israeli authorities have granted only 73 permits for patients to travel to Israeli hospitals or to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.
On March 27th Israeli soldiers at Erez Checkpoint prevented several patients from crossing the checkpoint despite the fact that they were in possession of the appropriate permits.
On March 31st Israeli authorities informed the Palestinian side of the Liaison Committee that only very urgent medical cases should be submitted for permits between April 3rd and April 19th, due to the Passover Feast.
ii. Israel restricts the import of basic medical supplies
Israeli authorities restrict the import into Gaza of medical supplies, which has resulted in a shortage of even basic drugs. The Palestinian Ministry of Health states that the immunisation of children under 5, scheduled for March 21st, has had to be postponed until April 6th, as a result of shortage in immunisation drugs. There is also a shortage of pharmaceutical chemicals and solutions, and of medicines for diseases such as cancer, irregular blood-pressure and diabetes.
On March 18th Israeli authorities prevented an Israeli vehicle carrying medical supplies from the West Bank from entering Gaza. The reason given was that the driver was Israeli-Arab and not a Jewish driver as requested by Israeli security.
4. PREVENTING FAMILY VISITS TO PRISONERS
3,500 Palestinians are detained illegally in Israeli prisons in Israel. They were transferred to prisons inside Israel from prisons in the Occupied Territories in violation of the IVth Geneva Convention, following re-deployment in 1994. They are reportedly kept in sub-standard conditions, subjected to ill-treatment, and are prevented from access to their lawyers, also in violation of accepted international laws and principles. The hundreds of people who have been imprisoned since February 25th in the arrest campaigns are added to the numbers of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.
Israel prevents all family visits by Gazans to detainees in its prisons. International Committee of the Red Cross sources state that the last visits by family members from Gaza to detainees in Nafhar and Ashkelon prisons were permitted by Israel on 6th and 7th of February 1996.
Israeli authorities refuse access for lawyers from the Gaza Strip to their clients in Israeli prisons. Thus prisoners are deprived of their right to receive proper legal representation. Between February 25th and March 25th, Gazan lawyers were not allowed to enter the Erez zone in the north of Gaza, which is under Israeli jurisdiction, and were therefore prevented from defending their clients in the Israeli Military Court. On March 25th, Israel reinstated access for Gazan lawyers to this zone. However in practice Israeli security arrangements severely restrict their access and their work, and few have yet been allowed to enter. For example advocate Anan al Borsh was prevented from reaching the Israeli Military Court on March 28th to defend 5 cases on that day; they were all postponed.
5. CONTINUED CLOSURE OF THE GAZA SHORE
Four thousand Palestinians depend on the Gazan fishing industry. The closure of the sea by Israel on March 8th has left them redundant, there are drastic losses in the fisheries sector and the sector as a whole has suffered severe damage. Israels closure of this zone is a severe violation of the Cairo Agreement signed between the PLO and Israel in September 1994.
On March 11th, Israel allowed Palestinian fishermen to fish within a zone which stretches out 6 nautical miles from the shore. This limit was raised to 12 nautical miles on March 22nd. This means that Israel is still depriving Gaza of 40% of the fishing zone which was designated for Gazan use by the Cairo Agreement.
Gazan use of even this far reduced area is further restricted by the fact that Israeli gunboats patrol inside the Gazan sea zone. The Gazan Fishermen Association complain that the gunboats maintain a division of the Gazan sea zone so that fishermen cannot use the full length of the Gazan shoreline, but are forced to remain within the immediate area around where their boats are stationed.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights demands that Israel lifts the closure of the sea immediately and that Israel abides by the Cairo Agreement of 1994. The 20 autical mile fishing zone is not granted by Israel and it is not within Israeli authority to deprive it. Israel is obliged to abide by all the provisions of the Agreement.
Since February 25th Israel has imposed the strictest closure of the Occupied Territories since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. The total closure also covers areas under Palestinian jurisdiction. In a Cabinet meeting on March 31st the Israeli Government took the decision that the closure would be maintained indefinitely. It is unlikely that Israel will lift the closure until the Israeli elections on May 29th.
In the run up to the Israeli elections, it appears that the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is maintaining harsh measures against the Palestinian people in order to win election support. This internal political game has dangerous implications for stability in the Middle East and for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. It demands immediate intervention from foreign governments in order to avert the potential consequences.
The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people are committed to peace in the region. They should not have to demonstrate their commitment with any further suffering. It is now Israel who must demonstrate its commitment to the peace process by ending the suffering of the Palestinian people caused by the total closure.