THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION OF THE GAZA STRIP:
ISOLATION AND ECONOMIC DEPENDENCY
Immediately following its occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem on 5th June 1967 the Israeli Government adopted a plan.9 This plan had two objectives: Firstly the assimilation of the economies of the Occupied Territories into the Israeli economy; and secondly land confiscation for the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. To facilitate this, the Israeli occupying forces issued a catalogue of military orders, which placed the Occupied Territories under total military control, procuring strict control over all aspects of Palestinian society.
The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem does not fit easily into traditional models of belligerent occupation. It has been prolonged and its value for strategic purposes has for a long time been insubstantial. It is submitted that the value to Israel of its military occupation has been to enable the systematic undermining of the economies of these areas, so as to restrict their development and to ensure their dependence on Israel. Driven by the Zionist ideology, and facilitated by a comprehensive military and administrative infrastructure, Israel has at the same time confiscated Palestinian land on which it has established illegal Israeli settlements. This has dramatically changed the legal and physical landscape of the Occupied Territories.
Military Orders and Economic Dependency
By rendering the Gaza Strip and West Bank closed military areas at the outset of the occupation,10 a framework was established in which a military infrastructure and administrative system could be implemented for the procurement of tight control over all activity in these areas. Israels military government, (which includes a military force, military courts and military orders), has been maintained by the Interim Agreements,11 thus facilitating the continuation of Israels legal and physical occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem.
Economic subjugation, supported by the general closure, was created through the issuance of military orders, These ensured Israeli control over almost every aspect of Palestinian society in the Occupied Territories: the economy, agriculture, industry, services, transportation, water and financial institutions. Goods could not be produced and Israel ensured that the Occupied Territories became a market for Israeli products, and a source of cheap labour.
The absorption by Israel of a large section of the Palestinian labour force from these areas enforced economic dependency on Israel. This migration served several purposes for Israel: providing a large source of cheap labour to support its own production and industry sectors, while allowing Jewish immigrants of Eastern origin (Sephardim), who had traditionally held these jobs, to acquire higher positions in Israeli society; Israel also hoped that Palestinian dependence on Israel for employment would undermine support for Palestinian national independence movements. The consequence of the daily migration of thousands of labourers was detrimental for the production sectors in the Occupied Territories.
Israel imposed conditions and restrictions on the agricultural and industrial sectors in the Occupied Territories. Military orders denied Palestinian people their rights over their water resources; and in fact Israel has pursued a policy of taking control of Palestinian water resources for use inside Israel.12 In addition it became impossible for Gazas agricultural sector to compete with Israeli agriculture produce which was flowing into the Occupied Territories. The result was a severe depression in the agriculture sector, which was formerly a highly productive sector of the Palestinian economy.
Restrictions were placed on the transit of industrial raw materials into Gaza, and on industrial produce leaving Gaza. Palestinian goods were only allowed to enter Israel on a sporadic basis, according to Israeli market needs. By contrast Israeli goods were given tariff-free access to Gaza markets.
In addition banks and financing and loan institutions were closed, and the movement of funds into the Occupied Territories was prevented. This policy contributed to stagnation in production sectors.
Israeli control of the economies of the Occupied Territories and the maintenance of them in a state of dependency has kept them weak and subservient.
ii. Restrictions on Freedom of Movement: The Permit System
Upon its imposition of the general closure on the Gaza Strip, Israel banned the exit and entrance of any Palestinian unless a special permit was obtained from the Israeli Military Commander. Residents of the Gaza Strip were prevented from travelling abroad or to the West Bank and to East Jerusalem;13 Gaza residents who were outside the Gaza Strip at the time, many of whom were studying abroad, working in neighbouring Arab countries, or who were on vacation and had not returned because of the Six Day war, were prevented from returning to their homes. The permit system ensured complete control of the movement of persons to and from the Occupied Territories; it became increasingly restrictive of movement, particularly since the Interim Agreements came into force, and despite the fact that the Agreements guarantee safe-passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and that they require them to be treated a s one integral territorial unit.14
In 1968, the Military Commander of the Gaza Strip issued Military Order No. 144, which introduced a general permit which allowed all Gaza residents to travel to the West Bank, but only during specified hours, and only upon possession of an identification card. In 1972, another Military order issued a second general permit which allowed Gaza residents to travel anywhere outside the Gaza Strip between the hours of 5.00am and 1.00am.
This general permit remained in effect until 1988, when it was revoked by a military order which required all male residents over the age of 16 to obtain a magnetic card. This effectively introduced a double system of control, because the obtaining of an exit permit depended upon the possession of a magnetic card.
Since 1989, whenever closures have been imposed, all holders of magnetic cards are automatically refused exit permits and existing exit permits are cancelled. Once a closure is lifted, previous exit permits become void and often the regulations for obtaining new ones are changed. For instance, the required age of eligibility for an exit permit may be altered, or the number of permits available reduced; so that some residents who previously held a permit are no longer eligible to do so. These regulations have become increasingly stringent and the process for obtaining them has become increasingly complicated. The application process for permits is prolonged and permits are regularly refused without reason; valid permits are often confiscated by Israeli soldiers at border checkpoints.15
The debilitating effects of the permit system are illustrated by a collation of the numbers of Palestinian labourers who have been permitted to go to work in Israel throughout the occupation. The number of labourers permitted to enter Israel at the beginning of the Intifada was 85,000; this number dropped to 55,000 upon introduction of the magnetic card system in 1988. In 1991, following the long and severe closure imposed during the Gulf War,16 the number of labourers fell again to 30,000. Following the signing of the Interim Agreements the total number of workers allowed into Israel dropped to around 22,000. Before the imposition of the absolute closure on 25th February 1996, 22,447 workers from Gaza had permits to enter Israel. By 5th October 1996, following the easing of the September closure, only 8,232 Palestinian labourers from Gaza were permitted to enter Israel to work.
The Interim Period has not brought an end to Israels occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. That this continues in a legal and physical form is evident from the extent of contrIsrael has maintained over the Palestinian civilian population, even in areas under PNA jurisdiction.