Published at 10.00 hours GMT on 19th October 1996
CLOSURE UPDATE NO. 14
Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
on the Closure imposed by Israel
on the Gaza Strip
This is the fourteenth Update published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documenting the effects of the ongoing closure imposed by the Israeli occupying forces on the Gaza Strip, which it imposed with intensity on 25th February 1996. The ferocity of the closure was renewed on the 26th September and once more the Gaza Strips one million residents have had extreme suffering imposed on them through this policy of collective punishment.
Up-to-date information gathered by the Closure Monitoring Team of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights indicates that the closure still affects all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip and that the 26th September tightening of the closure has caused further devastation and damage to the economy of Gaza. The renewed severity of the restrictions on freedom of movement have resulted in: commercial transactions being severely curtailed; Palestinian labourers prevented from reaching their places of work in Israel; family visits to Palestinian prisoners inside Israel are prevented; Gazan students are still denied the freedom to travel to their universities in the West Bank; Palestinian patients are prevented from travelling to hospitals in Israel or the West Bank; restrictions on travel abroad also continue.
1. THE ECONOMY OF THE GAZA STRIP SUSTAINS A NEW BOUT OF DEVASTATION
The renewed restrictions on commercial activity between Gazan traders and producers and external markets have resulted in a further bout of devastation and loss to be borne by the already severely damaged Gazan economy.
a. Commercial transactions
i. Karni Outlet
The main port for the transit of commercial goods between Gaza and external traders in Israel, the West Bank and abroad is Karni Outlet in Gaza Strip, a land port on the border with Israel. This port was completely closed between 26th September and 7th October 1996.
On 8th October 1996 Karni Outlet was re-opened with security measures which were previously in place imposed: all goods are taken from the vehicles, searched meticulously and then placed back on the vehicles for transportation to and from the Gaza Strip. This process raises considerably the risk of damage to perishable produce in particular. The checks are also time-consuming, resulting in additional costs for producers. New security search equipment that was installed at the Outlet at the beginning of September 1996 has still not been put into operation.
Until the date of issue the Israeli authorities continued a ban on the export of canned products and ceramic products/tiles from Gaza without justification.
ii. Erez Checkpoint
Between 26th September and 2nd October 1996 Erez Checkpoint was completely closed to exports and imports between Gaza and Israel, with the exception of the importation of one batch of sheep to Gaza on 30th September 1996.
Between 3rd and 8th October 1996, restricted amounts of food stuffs were permitted to be imported to Gaza through Erez Checkpoint. On 6th and 7th October 1996 8 trucks carrying 100 tonnes of guava fruit were permitted to be exported from Gaza.
The number of trucks transporting various commercial goods that have been permitted to leave Gaza via Erez has increased since 11th October 1996. On 14th October the number reached 186 trucks. This number is close to that which was permitted prior to 26th September 1996 (about 200 trucks daily).
However the easing of restrictions on the movement of trucks transporting commercial produce is still very limited. It is not more than 40% of the number that crossed Erez Checkpoint prior to 25th February 1996.
b. Agricultural Sector
The Gazan agricultural sector is suffering losses of around $1 million daily as a result of Israels ban on agricultural exports from Gaza to markets in the West Bank, Israel and abroad.
Agricultural produce which can not be exported has accumulated in the local markets, and as there is not sufficient consumption capacity for these goods in Gaza, the result has been a large depreciation in their value and retail prices to the extent that costs of production are not being covered. The table below illustrates this dramatic fall in prices:
PRICE (SHKLS) PER 12 KILOS PRIOR TO 26/09/96
PRICE (SHKLS) PER 12 KILOS AFTER 26/09/96
17 - 20
The agricultural sector has also suffered serious damage due to the inability of farmers to reach their fields. Some areas in the Gaza Strip have remained under Israeli jurisdiction since the Cairo Agreement. These are areas in which there are Israeli settlements and they are described in the Cairo Agreement as Yellow Areas or Mawasi. These areas cover 42% of land in the Gaza Strip and have caught within them areas of agricultural land which is owned and farmed by Palestinians. The area of the land is estimated at 6,000-7,000 dunams.
From 26th September to 3rd October Israeli occupying authorities isolated these areas preventing Gazan farmers from reaching their land and thus from being able to provide necessary daily cultivation and care to their crops. Guava is concentrated in the Yellow Areas area around Rafah and Khan Younis in the south of Gaza, and as it is currently guava season and the guava crops must be harvested, serious losses are expected in respect of this years harvest.
2. DENYING ACCESS FOR LABOURERS TO THEIR WORK IN ISRAEL
On 26th September all work permits for Palestinian labourers to go to work in Israel were cancelled, causing further damage to the social and economic situation in Gaza. Prior to the 25th September 19,544 Gazans with valid permits went to work in Israel daily, but since then the Israeli authorities have denied them this access.
Social and economic areas of life in Gaza are still reeling from the effects of the closure imposed on 25th February 1996. The damage resulting is to a large extent attributable to the loss of jobs for around 20,000 Gazan males who formerly went to work in Israel. With an unemployment rate of in excess of 65%, the jobs available for these thousands of Gazans in Israel are vital.
During the past two weeks the Israeli authorities announced first that 10,000 Palestinian labourers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be allowed to return to their places of work in Israel. Then an IDF spokesperson announced that from the 13th October the 35,000 work permits would be issued: 20,000 for the West Bank and 15,000 for the Gaza Strip. However, workers who are allowed to have permits must be over 30 years old.
Despite these announced concessions in respect of work permits, the actual figure of Palestinian labourers who have been allowed to return to work as of 15th October was only 8,232 from the Gaza Strip. This amounts to only 45% of the number which had been granted work permits prior to 26th September, and 40% of the number permitted to work prior to 25th February 1996.
Males with families to support in Gaza are finding it desperately hard, and the social and economic ramifications are serious in an environment of poverty and degradation which the Palestinian Authority inherited from the Israeli authorities. It is well-documented that Israel aimed to transform the Occupied Territories during the 27 years of its occupation into a free market for its products and a source of cheap labour.
3. RESTRICTING FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
a. Denying access for Palestinians to receive medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip
Because of the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, patients are not allowed to travel freely to Israel or to the West Bank for medical treatment. Patients who seek medical treatment outside of the Gaza Strip do so as a result of the Israeli occupations destruction of the health infrastructure during its 27 years of direct occupation. However, these individuals are required to have special permits issued by the Israeli authorities; and usually have their treatment paid for either by the Palestinian Authority or themselves. Permits are granted only to a very limited number of patients, leaving many others deprived of adequate medical care.
The following information has been received by the Palestinian Centre from the Palestinian Minister of Health:
i. Between 26th and 29th September 1996 Israeli authorities completely prohibited the access of patients although they had previously been issued permits.
ii. Between 29th September and 16th October 260 applications were submitted by Gazans requiring medical treatment outside Gaza. These were applied for through the proper channels through the Palestinian Authority; only 80 received the requested permits.
iii. The Israeli authorities have refused to issue permits for all patients who applied for medical treatment in Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The case of Ihab Jarir Abu Haddaf
Abu Haddaf, who is 17 years old, was shot by Israel soldiers during the violent clashes on September 26th. He sustained spinal and abdominal injuries and he is now in a critical state in Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip and is in need of intensive care treatment.
His first application for a permit to travel to Tal Hashomir hospital in Israel was refused by the Israeli authorities. He then applied for a permit to go to a hospital in Jordan and this also was refused. The pretext for the refusals was that he was not a Gazan resident. Abu Hadaff is from outside the Gaza Strip but was on a valid visit permit issued by the Israeli authorities.
This case illustrates how spurious are Israels claims that the closure has been imposed for security reasons. It is highly unlikely that a patient in very serious medical condition and in need of urgent medical care constitutes a threat to Israeli security. Rather, the restrictions imposed by Israel are a measure of collective punishment directed against the Palestinian people.
These restrictions, together with other measures taken by the Israeli government to restrict the development of the health infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, would seem to suggest a concerted effort by the Israeli Government to obstruct the provision to Palestinians in Gaza of adequate health care as well as attempts by the Palestinian Authority to improve the medical and health facilities in Gaza.
b. Restrictions on family visits to prisoners held in Israel
Between 27th September and 14th October the Israeli authorities completely suspended all family visits for Palestinians. The Israeli authorities prevented pre-scheduled visits to Telmund and Nafha prisons on September 16th and re-scheduled them for 30th
September; these visits were cancelled with the imposition of new restrictions on 26th September.
ICRC sources informed the Palestinian Centre that the visiting programme resumed on October 15th and that the first visit took place on the 15th. The same conditions and security restrictions previously documented continue to apply.
The constant rearranging of restrictions and conditions, postponing of scheduled visits and revoking of all visits by the Israeli authorities leaves prisoners and their families in a constant state of flux. Many of these prisoners are detained in prisons inside Israeli territory in violation of Article 76 of the IV Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying State. Prisoners are kept in substandard conditions and unreasonable restrictions are placed on family members wishing to visit relatives.
c. Restrictions on travel to and from the Gaza Strip
Israeli authorities continue to restrict the freedom movement for Palestinians to and from the Gaza Strip, and continue to make the obtainmnet of a travel permit very difficult. Between 26th September and 10th October all movement of Gazans in and out of the Gaza Strip was prevented. The restrictions on the freedom of movement specifically have the following ramifications:
i. Merchants and business people are prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip to Israel, West Bank and abroad;
ii. Gazan students are prevented from reaching their universities in the West Bank (this has been the case since February 25th);
iii. Spouses from the West Bank, East Jerusalem or with Israeli IDs are prevented from coming to the Gaza Strip to either visit or be reunified with their family.
iv. Diaspora Palestinians have been refused permits by the Israeli authorities to come to the Gaza Strip through Jordan. 5000 applications were submitted in June 1996. Of these 1700 were returned without explanation, and 60 others were refused on security grounds.
v. Travel abroad is restricted as Israel restricts travel across its territory for Gazans; thus preventing travel via its international airport or to other States in the region (for example Jordan) via its territory. This leaves Gazans with the only alternative of international or regional travel from Egypt, which is very inconvenient and expensive, especially for those wishing only to travel to Jordan.
It is evident that the number of permit applications submitted to the Israeli authorities in the last three months has decreased drastically when compared with the same period last year. The continued restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities and the difficulty of obtaining travel permits appears to have deterred many Gaza residents from even submitting applications.
The decision by the Israeli authorities to renew the ferocity of its closure on the Gaza Strip on the morning of 26th September did nothing to calm the situation of violence in the Occupied Territories in which 64 Palestinians were killed and over 1,600 were wounded by Israeli solders.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights believes that the closure constitutes collective punishment of the Palestinian people and that it is a main factor in the continuing instability and the recent deterioration in the situation.
In our Closure Updates the Palestinian Centre has repeatedly warned of the disastrous consequences that may result from the closure. With this in mind we re-iterate our call for the international community to exert pressure on the Israeli Government to end such
provocative policies against the Palestinian people, and to lift its sustained closure of the Gaza Strip.
The continued closure, its economic stranglehold on the Gaza Strip in particular, and the Occupied Territories in general, and the lack of respect for the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip contradict the basic principles of the peace process and the agreements between the PLO and the government of Israel.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights demands that the Israeli government respect the agreements it has signed, and that it abide by international law, which prohibits collective punishment and the use of excessive, disproportionate and arbitrary force.