Special Report on
The Israeli Decision to Prevent Palestinians Whose Ages Are between
16 and 35 from Traveling through Rafah International Crossing Point
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - Paris
Member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network – Copenhagen
This report highlights an Israeli military decision taken on 16 April 2004, which has prohibited Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling through Rafah Terminal between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It also attempts to draw the attention of the international community and its organizations, particularly those engaged in human rights work, to the policy of closure imposed by Israeli occupying troops on Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPTs) since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000. This report also refutes Israeli claims in the media that Israeli troops stopped preventing this age category from traveling. It further tries to trace the impacts of this decision from a human rights perspective.
Current Situation at Rafah Terminal
Rafah Terminal has been the only outlet for the Gaza Strip to the outside world since 14 February 2004, when Israeli troops destroyed Gaza International Airport. The terminal is located on the Egyptian border, southeast of Rafah. On 9 October 2000, Israeli occupying troops closed the Crossing Point and all other border crossing of the Gaza Strip. According to PCHR's documentation, since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000, the Terminal has been sporadically closed for at least 193 days, while it has been partially closed in the remaining days. Under such closures, Palestinians are denied their right to travel to and from the Gaza Strip, in violation of their basic human rights. On 18 July 2004, Israeli occupying troops totally closed the terminal. This closure remained effective until 6 August 2004, marking the longest period of closure of the terminal since the beginning of the current Intifada. The terminal remains under the threat of closure at anytime.
In the days of partial closure, the terminal operates in a very limited capacity; the average number of travelers who pass through is about 400 compared to 2000 normally. In addition, Israeli occupying troops impose severe restrictions on travel, causing extreme suffering for Palestinian travelers, including women and children. Travelers are deprived of basic services, and some of them are forced to spend their nights at the Egyptian side of the terminal, waiting to be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. The situation further deteriorated when Israeli occupying troops decided to end any Palestinian presence, whether official or unofficial, at the terminal, except for a small number of workers. As a result, Palestinian officials and police have been forced to carry out their jobs in the street or in vehicles. The situation further deteriorates during the periods of pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and summer holidays. Since April 2004, Israeli occupying troops have imposed further restrictions on travel through the terminal. Since 16 April 2004, Israeli occupying troops have prohibited Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling through Rafah Terminal. This age category represents university students and employees in Arab and foreign countries. Palestinian travelers of this age category have been subject to pressure by Israeli troops to collaborate with the Israeli intelligence. The response of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to this Israeli decision has led to a further deterioration of the situation, which is now strongly characterized by favoritism, since some travelers of this age category are allowed, unfairly, to travel before others. This state of chaos is attributed to the presence of several Palestinian security services at the terminal, which control the travel of this age category in a way that serves their interests. In addition, there is no official Palestinian body that can organize the procedures of travel at terminal, so a number of gunmen, in violation of the law, have intervened and attacked a number of the Palestinian staff at the terminal. Travelers have protested more than once about the procedures followed by the PNA at the Crossing. They closed the road leading to the terminal and organized demonstrations that accused Palestinian officials of bribery and corruption.
The Israeli Decision
On 16 April 2004, Israeli occupying troops, which control the Rafah Terminal, informed the Palestinian side that they had taken a decision prohibiting Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling through the terminal. This decision marked a serious escalation in the measures of closures imposed by Israeli occupying troops on the Palestinian territory. The decision included both sexes, which means that 13% of the total population of the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, would be prevented from traveling. As a result, dozens of patients and university students have not been able to travel to receive medical attention abroad or attend their universities in Arab and foreign countries. One month later, Israeli occupying troops allowed female Palestinians of this age category to travel. According to the Israeli decision, Palestinians of this age category can travel only if they obtain permission from the Israeli liaison at Erez crossing, a process which often takes considerable time.
On 9 August 2004, Israeli troops claimed that they had cancelled the travel restrictions imposed on this age category. So, thousands of Palestinians aged 16-35 went to Rafah Terminal, but Israeli troops did not allow them to travel, which means that the decision to prevent them from traveling was still effective. According to information available to PCHR, Israeli occupying troops claim that the Israeli government did not take a political decision preventing Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling through Rafah Terminal, and that these Palestinians undergo complicated security checking. They further claim that the Palestinian side is required to submit lists of travelers, but it has refused to do.
This decision comes in the context of the measures of the total siege and closure imposed by Israeli occupying troops on the Gaza Strip since 28 September 2000, as those troops have repeatedly closed Rafah Terminal, claiming that such closures are either responses to certain incidents or preventive measures to avoid attacks or arms smuggling. Under such closures of the terminal, thousands of Palestinians are deprived of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
It is worth noting that Israeli occupying troops had taken a similar decision in the period of 8 January – 3 March 2003, prohibiting male Palestinians whose ages were between 16 and 35 from traveling abroad. One week following the cancellation of this decision, Israeli occupying troops imposed new conditions, according to which only 40 travelers of this age category were allowed to travel through Rafah Terminal after being checked by the Israeli intelligence.
The Legal Status of the OPTs and Responsibilities of Occupying Authorities towards Civilian Population
Since 1967, when they occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including Jerusalem, Israeli occupying troops have imposed military government on these territories. Since then, the international community has considered the Israeli military as an occupying power and the Palestinian territories as occupied, and recognized the applicability of Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time War (1949) to the OPTs and that Israeli occupying troops are obliged to implement the Convention in the OPTs. Nevertheless, Isreali occupying troops have systematically violated the Convention and the international law in their administration of the OPTs and their relations with the Palestinian civilian population who are granted protection under the Convention. Under the Convention, the occupying power is not free to use whatever force, measures or policies it wishes in domineering the occupied territory, it must take into consideration the interests of civilian population and ensue protection for their properties, and must not change the legal status of the occupied territory.
An Illegal Decision
The Israeli decision to prevent Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 is part of a more comprehensive policy of closure imposed by Israeli occupying troops on the OPTs. It is a form of collective punishment, which is prohibited under international human rights law and humanitarian law, particularly the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949). Article 33 of the Convention provides that "no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."
International human rights instruments ensure the right to freedom of movement for each person. Article 12 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 prescribes that "everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence," and that he "shall be free to leave any country, including his own." Such Israeli actions also violate International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, whose article 1 provides that "in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence." Article 5 of the Covenant provides that "any State, group or person" does not have "any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights or freedoms recognized herein."
In addition the Committee against Torture considered that the policies of closures and house demolitions practiced by Israeli occupying troops violate article 16 of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and that these policies can never be justified under any circumstances. Provisions of international human rights law are obligatory for Israel, since it is a party to most international conventions.
Impacts of the Israeli Decision
The aforementioned Israeli decision violates the right to freedom of movement and a number of other rights. This section of the report will focus on the impacts of this decision on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, which are ensured by international human rights law and humanitarian law.
1. Violation of the Right of Education
The Israeli decision, which prevents Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling through Rafah Terminal, violates the Palestinian right of education, specifically articles 13 and 14 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as most students are found in this category. As a result of the Israeli decision, thousands of Palestinian students have not been able to attend their universities outside the OPTs. Israeli occupying troops often summon and interrogate Palestinian students traveling abroad. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, at least 1500 students referred to the ministry seeking coordination for their travel, but Israeli occupying troops have continued to reject their requests. The claim that there is no political decision that prevents Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling, and that this issue is under control of the Israeli intelligence service. Some examples:
M. T., 29, a lecturer at al-Azhar University from Gaza City, who has postgraduate studies at the Arab Institute of Research and Studies in Egypt, tried to travel to Egypt through the Rafah Terminal to discuss his dissertation, but Israeli occupying troops did not allow him to cross because he is under 35. He has tried to coordinate his travel through the Palestinian civil liaison, but all of his attempts have failed.
A. H., 28, an UNRWA school teacher from Gaza City, who has postgraduate studies at the Arab Institute of Research and Studies in Egypt, has not been able to travel to Egypt to meet with his academic supervisor since June 2004, because he is under 35. He has tried to coordinate his travel through the Palestinian civil liaison, but all of his attempts have failed.
A. S., 25, from Khan Yunis, who has postgraduate studies in Algeria, has not been able to travel because he is under 35. His residence in Algeria may expire because he has not been able to travel on time.
M. N., 20, from Gaza City, says that he paid US$ 3000 as fees for his university, and has not been able to travel to attend his university. He expressed his concerns that he may loose the university semester.
2. Violation of the Right of Health
The Israeli restrictions imposed at Rafah Terminal, especially the aforementioned decision, have had a disastrous impact on the right to health of Palestinians. Israeli occupying troops have prevented at least 700 patients from traveling to receive medical attention abroad, even though they have submitted requests to coordinate their travel. Hundreds of other patients have not been able to submit similar requests as Israeli troops have cancelled coordination for Palestinians who are aged between 16 and 35. Most of these patients suffer from serious diseases, such as cancer. In some cases, Israeli troops have arrested a number of patients or their relatives.
Such Israeli measures violate all international standards on the right of health, particularly article 12(2) of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 provides that "the steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:.. (d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness."
3. Violation of the Right of Work
Thousands of Palestinians work in Arab and foreign countries and they come to the Gaza Strip every year to spend their holidays with their families and relatives. As a result of the Israeli decision preventing those whose ages are between 16 and 35, many of them have lost their jobs. So, the Israeli decision violates their right of work. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, hundreds of Palestinians, who work in Arab countries, came to the Gaza Strip to visit their families, but they have not been able to travel back because of the aforementioned Israeli decision. As a result, many will lose their jobs. Some examples:
H. A., from Jabalya refugee camp, said that he had referred to the Palestinian liaison for more than 20 days waiting to be allowed by Israeli occupying troops to travel to France to attend his job. He expressed concerns that he might loose his residence and job in France.
A. B., 28, from Deir al-Balah, who works in Saudi Arabia, came to visit his family this summer, but he has not been able to travel back to Saudi Arabia, despite all the attempts he has made.
4. Violation of the Right to Freedom of Worship
During the current Intifada, Israeli occupying troops have deprived hundreds of Palestinians of their right to freedom of worship. In 2002 and 2003, Israeli occupying troops prevented many Palestinian pilgrims from traveling from the Gaza Strip to Saudi Arabia. Those pilgrims are either relatives of Palestinians who were killed during the current Intifada, or those whose travel was prohibited for security claims. The ages of some of those pilgrims are between 16 and 35. If the Israeli decision to prevent this category of Palestinians from traveling remains effective, many Palestinians will not be able to travel to Saudi Arabia for 'Omra (the lesser pilgrimage), especially in the holy Ramadan Month. Preventing pilgrimages from traveling violates the right of Palestinian to freedom of worship, in violation of international human rights law and humanitarian law.
Israeli occupying troops have continued to impose a total siege on the OPTs for the 47th consecutive month, causing extreme deterioration for the living conditions of the Palestinian people. For the 5th consecutive month, Israeli occupying troops have also continued to prevent Palestinians whose ages are between 16 and 35 from traveling abroad through Rafah Terminal on the Egyptian border. Most of the Palestinians who fall under this category are university students and scholars, whose academic future has become threatened.
PCHR calls for the policy of closure practiced by Israeli occupying troops against the Palestinian people to stop. It also calls upon international agencies and organizations to pressure the Israeli government to lift the siege imposed on more than 3 million Palestinians, as the situation has become the worst since June 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including Jerusalem.
For Israeli occupying authorities:
1. Lifting the total siege imposed on the OPTs, through dismantling all checkpoints erected on the main and branch roads.
2. Lifting all restrictions at border crossings, especially Rafah Terminal on the Egyptian border.
3. Lifting restrictions imposed on the travel of Palestinians aged between 16 and 35.
4. Stopping the policies of collective punishment practiced against Palestinian civilians.
For the international community:
1. Obligating Israel to respect international conventions and comply with international resolutions.
2. Pressuring Israel to immediately lift the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and stop its aggression on the Palestinian people and their properties.
3. Activating intervention mechanisms by United Nations bodies and ICRC to ensure the freedom of movement for patients.
4. Taking effective steps by the European Union in accordance with the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which demands Israel's respect for human rights.
5. Prosecuting Israeli political and military leaders as war criminals who have continued to commit war crimes against the Palestinian people.
 Gaza International Airport is located in the southeast of Rafah. It had been subject to repeated closure and destruction by Israeli troops. Since Wednesday, 14 February 2004, it has been totally closed, causing large losses to traders and the Palestinian Airlines Company. In addition, more restrictions have been added on the freedom of movement, as Rafah Terminal has become the only outlet for the Gaza Strip to the outside world.
 For more details, see PCHR's Closure Update, issues 22-46.
 The Committee against Torture is one of the most important United Nations mechanisms to monitor States' commitment to Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It was formed in accordance with article 17 of the Convention. It was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984, and entered into force on 26 June 1987.
 PCHR has a list of these pilgrims.