Published on November 12, 2000
CLOSURE UPDATE NO. 26
Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
on the Closure Imposed by Israel
on the Gaza Strip
For the second consecutive month, the Israeli occupation forces have continued to impose a total siege on the occupied Palestinian territories, including the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These forces have continued to threaten to take tougher measures. The Palestinian people are suffering an unprecedented economic, social and political suffocation under the imposed total siege on the occupied Palestinian territories.
In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli occupation forces restricted the movement of people by closing Salah El-Din Street (the main road between the north and south of the Gaza Strip) and a number of branch roads several times. In addition, these forces frequently closed Gaza International Airport and Rafah Border Crossing. On November 8 these forces closed the two travel outlets once again.
This is the 26th in a series of updates published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on the closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. This update documents the effects of the ongoing total siege, as part of a policy of collective punishment, imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip since September 29, 2000.
The Israeli occupation forces have continued to impose restrictions on commercial transactions from the Gaza Strip. As a result, Gaza Strip markets are suffering a shortage of raw material necessary for local industry and construction raw materials necessary for construction and development projects. In addition, losses in the agricultural sector are increasing due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation forces on exporting agricultural products, especially strawberries, from the Gaza Strip to markets in Israel, the West Bank and abroad. Two weeks ago, the Israeli occupation forces reopened Al-Mentar (Karni) Outlet for commercial transactions, but under strict security measures. Palestinian trucks unload their cargo in a special route under the observation of Israeli occupation troops for checking. The case is the same concerning trucks coming from Israel. Importing goes on normally, but there has been a 50 percent reduction in exports, including clothes, agricultural products and some local industrial products.
Under the above system, the Israeli occupation authorities impose a tax of 410 NIS on each car or truck loaded with goods. Currently, the number of trucks that pass through Al-Mentar (Karni) Outlet daily is 120. This is down from the 450 trucks that passed daily before the current siege was imposed. In addition, the Israeli occupation forces will make the owners of these trucks pay the wages of laborers unloading these vehicles. The number of these laborers has been reduced from 35 to 17 for claimed security purposes. As an example of the miserable situation of Palestinian merchants, one merchant stated that the Israeli occupation authorities continued to block several trucks loaded with imported goods at Rafah commercial crossing and Gaza International Airport. He added that five trucks loaded with clothes were at Noweiba’ harbor in Egypt and were supposed to pass through Rafah commercial crossing on November 8, 2000, but the closure of the crossing prevented this. The merchant has lost $50,000 because of such measures. Generally, the continued siege has led to a deterioration in all sectors of the economy: agricultural, industrial, commercial, labor, etc. The total loss to the Palestinian economy since the current siege was imposed is estimated at $1billion.
Although the Israeli occupation authorities declared that they decided to reopen Al-Mentar (Karni) Outlet under new procedures and arrangements, the crisis that Palestinian farmers face is still overwhelming. The Israeli occupation forces have allowed the entry of some agricultural yields in lesser amounts that meet the needs of the Israeli markets. Yet he Israeli occupation authorities procrastinate in allowing the access of agricultural yields to markets in the West Bank. The Israeli measures might lead to the damage of large amounts of these agricultural products and thereby cause more losses for farmers.
Israeli military roadblocks, Al-Tuffah in Khan Yunis and Tal Al-Sultan and Morag in Rafah, still constitute an obstacle to farmers’ free movement. The Israeli occupation troops at these roadblocks often prevent the access of Palestinian farmers to their farms. In addition, almost daily, the Israeli occupation forces sweep and destroy areas of agricultural and wooded land.
Nowadays, farmers are increasingly concerned that the continued siege imposed on the Gaza Strip might cause damage to strawberries and olives. The daily loss to the agricultural sector in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the siege is estimated at $3.7 million according to the Palestinian Ministry of Economy and Trade.
The industrial sector faces a difficult crisis resulting from the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli occupation forces still prevent the export of industrial products to markets in the West Bank, Israel and abroad. They also prevent the entry of industrial raw materials into the Gaza Strip from either Israel or from other countries through Israeli harbors. The daily loss to the industrial sector in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the siege is estimated at $3.52 million – the number does not include the wages of laborers – according to the Palestinian Ministry of Industry.
2. Further Deterioration in the Health Sector
The past period has not witnessed any improvement in the health situation in the Gaza Strip. Dozens of patients are still deprived of getting necessary health care outside the Gaza Strip. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip lack much of the necessary medical equipment, especially for surgical operations. They also suffer a shortage of medicines and drugs.
On October 29, 2000, the Israeli occupation authorities re-closed Gaza International Airport with no logical justification. The Airport has frequently been closed during the past short period. On November 6, 2000, the Israeli occupation forces reopened the Airport during the visit of the foreign minister of Qatar and only during the daytime with strict security arrangements. On November 8, 2000, they re-closed the airport and Rafah Border Crossing. The frequent closure of the airport has hindered the access of medical assistance and staff to the Gaza Strip. It has also hampered the transfer of the wounded to hospitals in Arab countries; therefore, officials have been forced to use Al-Areesh airport in Egypt.
There is a shortage of construction raw materials, especially cement, in the Gaza Strip because of the siege. No amount of cement has entered into the Gaza Strip from Israel or through the Palestinian-Egyptian border (Rafah Border Crossing). The Israeli occupation forces have continued to prevent the entry of gravel used in construction, as Sofa Crossing, the sole crossing through which this material is allowed to enter into the Gaza Strip, is still closed. Consequently, the construction sector is suffering a significant crisis. In addition, thousands of laborers in this sector have become unemployed.
Factories of flagstones and concrete have become inoperative as their work mainly depends on the availability of cement and gravel. (A PCHR field officer has just reported that the Israeli occupation forces have permitted the entry of three trucks loaded with cement into the Gaza Strip through Al-Mentar (Karni) Outlet after the Israeli Ashdod harbor administration released them. Cement usually enters into the Gaza Strip through Erez Checkpoint).
The Israeli occupation forces have prevented the entry of asphalt into the Gaza Strip through Sofa Crossing since they imposed the current siege on the Gaza Strip on September 29, 2000. As a result, all projects supervised by municipalities, including paving and reconditioning roads and establishing markets and buildings, have been halted. In addition, work on Gaza seaport has stopped due to the lack of asphalt. Hundreds of laborers who worked in these projects have been forced to stop working.
The Israeli occupation authorities have continued to block some equipment necessary for the electricity generation station of Gaza in Ashdod harbor. As a result, work in the station has stopped. This station was expected to operate in its first stage in November, but Israel’s decision to block its equipment has caused this date to be postponed.
The Israeli occupation forces have not permitted the entry of food assistance to the Palestinian people since Al-Aqsa Intifada started. They have also prevented planes loaded with foodstuffs and medical assistance from landing at Gaza International Airport, which was closed from October 29, 2000 to November 6, 2000. In this context, the Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs, Intesar Al-Wazir, stated that “Hundreds of trucks loaded with food assistance are still awaiting a decision by the Israeli authorities in order for this assistance to be forwarded to the poor and needy. This particular action has led to the damage of large amounts of such assistance.”
Under the current total siege imposed on the occupied Palestinian territories, thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have been deprived of seeing their families. For the second consecutive month, the Israeli occupation forces have prevented these families from visiting their sons in Israeli jails. These families are worried by the lack of visits with their sons. Additionally, lawyers have not been able to visit the prisoners in order to address their cases. This has a negative psychological effect on the prisoners that is exacerbated by the hard and inhuman conditions of detention.
Gazan students at the universities of the West Bank are still deprived of their right to education. Under the current total siege imposed on the occupied Palestinian territories, Gazan students have not been permitted to attend classes at their universities in the West Bank. Gazan students who were still in the West Bank have not been allowed to return home. In addition, roadblocks set up by the Israeli occupation forces between cities in the Gaza Strip have hindered the free access of students to their schools and universities. These roadblocks have caused psychological distress for families worried about the safety of their children. Additionally, some universities have reduced the hours of classes in order for students to be able to reach home earlier.
Under the current total siege imposed by the Israeli occupation forces on the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinian citizens have been denied their right to free movement between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Although there are agreements signed between the Palestinian and Israeli sides for a specific mechanism of free movement in the areas of the Palestinian National Authority, the Israeli authorities do not respect what they signed.
Under the current total siege on the occupied Palestinian territories, citizens of the Gaza Strip are prevented from visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem, whether Christian or Islamic. The Israeli occupation forces have also prevented Muslim men under the age of 45 who are from the West Bank and the Palestinian cities and villages inside the Green Line from reaching Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Friday Prayer.
Additionally, roadblocks between the areas of the Gaza Strip have hindered free internal movement. In this context, a PCHR field officer has reported that the Israeli occupation forces have strictly stopped and checked cars at Tal Al-Sultan roadblock separating Tal Al-Sultan neighborhood in Rafah from Al-Mawasi (agricultural) area since November 3, 2000. These forces also keep the identity cards of Palestinians who pass by the mentioned roadblock. In a serious escalation, the Israeli occupation forces have prevented Palestinians who have Palestinian passports from traveling through Al-Lod Airport in Israel.
For more than six weeks, the Israeli occupation forces have been imposing a total siege on the occupied Palestinian territories in blatant violation of the simplest human rights which all international conventions ensure. The policy of collective punishment carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people contradicts the international conventions and covenants on human rights. As long as the siege continues, the suffering of the Palestinian people in all aspects of political, economic, social and health-related life will increase.
PCHR condemns the international silence regarding the continued Israeli actions against the Palestinian people. These actions are a challenge to international law. PCHR reiterates its call to the governments of the world to ensure respect by Israel of all relevant international conventions.