Chapter Three

THE IMPACT OF CLOSURES ON THE GAZA STRIP

This Chapter seeks to illustrate the effects of the closure on Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip. The damage caused by the closures of 1996 will be considered in the context of the peace process and with relation to the issue of Palestinian independence and development.

This Chapter gives particular consideration of the following issues: Imports of food and basic necessities prevented - Israel prevented all imports, including basic food supplies and humanitarian supplies, which resulted in shortages of basic food stuffs. Medical and health services - after allowing medical facilities in the Gaza Strip to deteriorate to an extent where there is inadequate provision for the Palestinian population in Gaza, Israel has prevented Palestinian access to health facilities outside Gaza, the import of necessary medical supplies and attempts by the PNA to improve these facilities in the Gaza. Higher education - Israel has prevented around 1,200 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip from reaching their universities in the West Bank since March. The economy - Gaza's economy was seeking to emerge from the despoilment of almost 30 years of Israeli occupation, it sustained severe damage and was brought to the brink of collapse by the closures. Migratory labour - the 22,000 Palestinian labourers from Gaza who depend on jobs in Israel have been prevented from reaching their places of work. Restrictions on freedom of movement - these have severe social ramifications as they have caused inter alia the separation of families; prevented access for families to visit Palestinian prisoners held illegally in Israeli prisons; restricted activities of PNA Legislative Council Members; and prevented access to religious sites.

The consequences of the severe closures imposed in 1996 have been all-pervasive. Not only has the Gaza economy suffered devastation, but there have been serious social and political implications. Moreover the closures have had deleterious effects on the peace process, and have violated international law.

i. Restrictions on Food and Basic Necessities

Gaza is heavily reliant on imports for even basic foods; the closures of 1996 prevented such imports, which resulted in shortages in basic food stuffs such as wheat, flour, rice, sugar, milk powder (used for infants) and dairy products. During the absolute closure of Spring 1996, Israel did not allow humanitarian supplies such as basic food stuffs to be imported to Gaza for 11 days. The PNA was forced to impose a rationing system to distribute flour; people were seen waiting in long queues for hours, and sometimes overnight to receive their share.27 Even once this closure was eased, from 13th March onwards, Israel permitted the importation of only small and inadequate amounts of basic foodstuffs.

The denial of basic food stuffs threatened food security in the Gaza Strip. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, (to which Israel is a Party) declares in Article 11 the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living and adequate food. Such restrictions violate Israel's obligations under IV Geneva Convention.28 By lowering living conditions for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to such a degrading level Israel violates the text and spirit of the Interim Agreements.29

ii. Medical Services

A consequence of nearly 30 years of Israeli military occupation has been an acute deficiency of medical facilities in the Gaza Strip. Not only has Israel failed to fulfil its obligations to provide health care to the Palestinian population, it has also hampered attempts to compensate for the shortfall in Israel’s provision of health care services. Anything more than basic or specialist treatment is not available in Gaza; there are shortages of basic supplies, hospital accommodation and facilities, and what is available is often outdated. Palestinians from the Occupied Territories are thus dependent on access to health services in Israel and abroad. Such access depends upon the co-operation of Israel in order to gain access across contiguous borders and over its territory. The absolute closures of 1996 deprived Palestinians of necessary, often vital, medical treatment which they sought outside the Gaza Strip.

At the outset of Israel's occupation, the health services and facilities in the Gaza Strip lacked basic supplies and equipment. Medication for illnesses, such as diabetes, equipment for basic operations, optical surgery, radiology treatment, and physical rehabilitation were all insufficient. Under Israeli occupation, health provision went into decline. Israel refused to provide proper health services and to allocate sufficient funds to the support of existing services; in addition it restricted the role of the private and charitable sectors to provide health services.

In 1967 there were 20 governmental hospitals operating in the Occupied Territories; by 1992, there were only 14. One of the 6 hospitals shut down was converted into a police station, another into the military headquarters of the Israeli Civil Administration (Beit El), and a third into a prison. Other medical facilities which were shut down include the Central Laboratory, the Tuberculosis Centre, the Central Government Blood Bank in East Jerusalem, and 2 dental units in the West Bank. In 1988-89 the Israeli Health Ministry estimated that 90% of all health services were provided by the Israeli occupying authorities.30 During the Intifada, the extent of this provision declined so that by 1992, only 44% of all health services in the Gaza Strip were being provided by Israel.31

Israel also sought to restrict attempts by Palestinian organisations to expand health services. It imposed a “selective policy of granting permits for the establishment of new clinics and hospitals; substantial delays and deferrals in health-related activities and projects; restrictions on funding, personnel, equipment, and travel abroad for academic development; harassment of health professionals; and imposition of heavy taxation on health institutions.”

Health facilities during the Interim Period

Upon Israeli military re-deployment in May 1994 its occupying authorities withdrew its support of the health sector in Gaza, and responsibility passed to the PNA under the Cairo Agreement.33 Currently in the Gaza Strip, there are 5 hospitals and 70 clinics. The total number of beds available remains grossly inadequate. There is an inadequate number of medical staff, particularly doctors with specialist knowledge, in the Gaza Strip. There is a ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 persons, in comparison for example with a ratio in Israel of 28 doctors per 10,000 persons. There is a ratio of 1.5 nurses per 1,000 persons in Gaza. The ratio per person of other medical personnel, including dentists, pharmacists, and lab technicians per person is even lower.34 There are only 24 ambulances in the Gaza Strip, which, according to PHR-Israel is less than half the required number to adequately meet the needs of the population.35

Since assuming responsibility for the health sector, as part of the responsibilities transferred to it in accordance with the Interim Agreements, the PNA has sought to make advances to improve health services in the Gaza Strip. However, considerable investments are required before adequate health provision is available. PHR-Israel estimates that it would cost approximately $300 million to construct an independent medical infrastructure in the Occupied Territories but the entire annual budget of the PNA Ministry of Health is only $12 million.36 Thus, for the short term at least, access to medical facilities outside Gaza is vital.

The Interim Agreements provided for the establishment of a Joint Liaison Committee made up of Israeli Government and PNA officials, in order to facilitate travel for medical reasons. Palestinians must submit applications to this Committee, but the process is inappropriately long, as applicants undergo rigorous administrative security checks before an exit permit is issued. Often applications are rejected without reaso, or they are simply not responded to, and there is no appeal process or right of administrative review. Ultimately the establishment of the JLC has not empowered Palestinians, and the authorisation for the granting of permits lies entirely with Israel.

Impact of 1996 closures on access to health care outside the Gaza Strip

Since the imposition of the absolute closure on 25th February there have been a number of deaths as a direct result of Israel's denial to Palestinian patients of medical facilities outside Gaza, and on restrictions of imports of medical equipment into Gaza.

Upon being granted such a permit the patient, medical personnel and ambulance are subjected to rigorous and prolonged physical security searches at Erez Checkpoint before being allowed to enter Israel. Only the most urgent cases are granted exit permits by the Israeli authorities and patients undergoing these physical checks are in a serious condition.

There were tune deaths during the first ten days of the Spring 1996 closure, as a result of delays or the denial of passage at checkpoints.37 For example, between 25th February and 18th March 1996, 98 critical cases were submitted for the required permits. Of these only 6 were even responded to by the Israeli side of the JLC, resulting in the death of three patients.38 Between 14th April and 20th April, 133 applications for critical cases were submitted, but only 40 were granted.39 At the end of April 1996 Israel claimed that on a humanitarian basis it would ease the closure in respect of the issuing of travel permits for patients with critical cases. However between 25th April and 11th May 1996 of the 180 critical cases submitted, 50 were rejected without reason. On 16th May the Israeli side of the JLC announced that only “very urgent cases” would be granted travel permits. However in June 1996, 470 very urgent cases were submitted, of which only 150 were accepted, which is less than one third of the applications made.

By September the closure had been further eased, and Israel claimed that this would improve access to urgent medical treatment outside Gaza for Palestinians. However Israel introduced other restrictions which have counter-balanced any benefits that there might have been from the easing of the closure. For example Israel declared that Palestinians who were personally paying for their medical treatment in the West Bank or Jerusalem were no longer eligible for an exit permit (Palestinians either pay for their own medical treatment, or it is paid for by the PNA).40 Furthermore, following the imposition of the absolute closure on 26th September, all patients were prevented from access to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip between 26th and 29th September; even after this was eased however, of the 260 applications submitted between 29th and 16th October, only 80 were granted permits, and all applications for treatment in hospitals in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were refused.

Israel limits the number of ambulance, drivers and medical staff who can leave the Gaza Strip through the permit system. Permits are necessary for vehicles and each individual that enters Israel, and only a limited number are issued. During the period of absolute and strict closure in 1996, the 35 Gazans employed at Mokassed hospital in East Jerusalem were refused permit to travel there; only 150 of the hospital’s 435 employees were permitted to reach the hospital. Only five or six of the 24 ambulances in the Gaza Strip have an exit permit, and only 11 of the 43 ambulance drivers in the Gaza Strip have permits to drive ambulances in Israel. At Erez Checkpoint ambulances and personnel are subjected to stringent security checks which have lasted for up to three hours. In several cases during the Spring 1996 closure, Israeli soldiers a Erez sent ambulances back, demanding that they be changed. These delays have lead to deaths.41

Family members are not permitted to travel with patients, who are often in a critical condition and who may spend long periods in the hospital to which they are travelling. On the other hand, in some cases patients are given one day permits which restricts access to often necessary courses of medical treatment. It is known that Israel’s “humanitarian” category excludes patients in need of ongoing treatment, which fails to take account of the potential deterioration of illnesses without such treatment.42 Requests for permits in order to obtain treatment in Israel for cancer, heart disease, and renal failure are routinely denied.43

Restrictions on imports of medical supplies and facilities into Gaza

During the absolute closures Israel did not give exceptions for imports of essential medical supplies from their ban on the movement of goods and provisions across its borders with Gaza. This resulted in shortages of basic medical supplies such as antibiotics and vaccinations. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the immunisation of children under 5 years old, scheduled for 21st March had to be postponed until 6th April as a result of shortages in vaccination drugs.

The importation of necessary and often urgent medical supplies into the Gaza Strip is hampered; its transit delayed by prolonged security checks by Israeli authorities at the borders with Gaza. These highly perishable and fragile medical supplies have to be unloaded from Israeli vehicles, checked by the Israeli authorities, and then loaded onto Palestinian vehicles. A process which clearly raises the chance of damage.

UNRWA is currently supervising the building of a new hospital in Gaza, which is funded by the European Union, and which will provide an additional 232 beds and vital facilities for hospital care in the Gaza Strip. Dr. Riyad Za’noun, Palestinian Minister of Health, announced on 17th September 1996 that the opening of this hospital, scheduled for 1st October 1996, has had to be postponed until February 1997. He attributed this postponement to the Israeli authorities’ refusal to allow medical equipment for the hospital to be imported for over three months.

Conclusion

Israel's restrictions on the provision of and access to health facilities for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories has sought to undermine all levels of health care for Palestinians, and is in violation of its international obligations, which require it to make accessible, and where necessary, to provide, adequate medical services and medical care to the Palestinian population, and to develop and maintain these services.44

iii. Closures and Higher Education

The availability of facilities for tertiary education in the Gaza Strip is inadequate for the needs of the Palestinian population. There is a shortage of available places in the two universities in Gaza; facilities are basic and not all degree subjects are available. As a result, every year, hundreds of graduates from Gaza secondary schools seek a university education outside, often in the West Bank.

For many years Palestinian university students have been targeted by Israeli authorities. This policy continued during the Interim Period. Palestinian youth have consequently been one of the groups hardest hit by the closures. Pursuant to the absolute closure of February 1996 Israel issued a military order which cancelled all permits for the approximately 1,200 Gaza students studying in the West Bank. Subsequently in the early morning of 28th March 1996, the Israeli military launched a search and arrest campaign in which Gaza students found in the West Bank in violation of the military order were arrested, many were beaten and interrogated before being transferred to Gaza in humiliating circumstances.45

The dearth of career and investment opportunities in the Occupied Territories was a major impetus for the emigration of many educated Palestinians. Israel tolerated the expansion of' university education in the Occupied Territories, because it created “successive waves of graduates qualified for one thing only: leaving their homeland”46, this was backed up by Israel’s refusal to permit local universities to establish vocational training programmes in agriculture aindustry. Such courses could have produced graduates with practical skills for use inside the Occupied Territories and which would make a valuable contribution towards Palestinian economic development.47

The right to education

The right to education is a principal individual human right which should be enjoyed by all human beings without discrimination. Israel has obligations in regard to the provision of this right under the humanitarian provisions of the IV Geneva Convention, the 1966 ICESCR and the Interim Agreements.48

The Interim Agreements49 require the Occupied Territories to be treated as a single territorial unit, and Israel to provide safe passage between them. Israel prevents Gaza students from reaching universities in the West Bank, in violation of these provisions.

Israel’s efforts to directly undermine the educational development for a generation of young Palestinians only serves to undermine any constructive dialogue, and nurtures the opposition of a politically active and intelligent Palestinian youth to the peace process.

The case of Gaza students who study in the West Bank50

Approximately 1,200 Gaza students are registered to study at West Bank universities. Each semester they face uncertainty as to whether or not Israel will allow them to leave the Gaza Strip to attend their universities in the West Bank, and, once in the West Bank, how long they will be allowed to stay.

Gaza universities do not have sufficient facilities to accommodate the large numbers of students wishing to attend university. Birzeit University noted that:

Until recently, Gaza’ two universities, the Islamic University and Al-Azhar University, did not offer applied sciences such as medicine and engineering. Although these courses are now available, the programmes lack adequate facilities. Academic institutions in the West Bank, especially Birzeit University, tend to attract Gaza’s top secondary school graduates.

In order to study in the West Bank, Gaza students must obtain an exit permit to leave Gaza, and a second permit which allows them to reside in the West Bank for the duration of their studies. This second permit is valid for only three months, even though academic semesters last for four months. Once a residence permit expires there is no guarantee that it will be renewed.

These permits are summarily cancelled each time a closure is imposed, and Gaza students are forced to return to the Gaza Strip where they must begin the complicated, uncertain and time-consuming process of applying for another permit. Students who remain in the West Bank in defiance of Israeli orders face fines or imprisonment.

Gaza students studying in the West Bank were often denied permits in an arbitrary fashion, without explanation and without any avenue for appeal or administrative review. Students who have no record of committing a “security” offence may be denied a permit on “security” grounds; conversely, those who have continuously been refused permits on “security” grounds may suddenly be issued a permit without explanation. The issuing of permits was often delayed until mid-way through the academic term so that it was too late for students to begin their studies. Israel regularly refused to renew otherwise valid permits for Gaza students, which were cancelled as a result of a closure.

Gaza students have experienced interruptions and long breaks which caused them to lose entire academic semesters in their university attendance, prolonging the period of their education well beyond that of that of a standard degree course. Even after the signing of the Interim Agreements, Israel continued to use measures which blocked Gaza students’ pursuit of a tertiary education by delaying, cancelling or refusing permits. Birzeit University reports that in 1995, for the first half of the second semester, all Gaza students were denied permits:

The Gaza Students Campaign53 responded by petitioning the Israel State Attorney resulted in the issuing of 370 permits to registered Gaza students. However, the semester was almost over. At the same time, the JLC in Gaza released a list of students whom the Israeli GSS declared ineligible for a permit on security grounds. This number amounted to approximately IS percent of Birzeit’s Gaza students. Birzeit noted that a number of those on the list had as recently as the previous semester been issued with a permit by the Israeli authorities, and had never been arrested or been made aware of a security file against them.

Gaza students in the West Bank were harassed and interrogated for “security information” about political activities and individuals on their campus, by Israeli General Security Services (GSS). Indeed, Israel, throughout its occupation conditional on the provision of such information.54

Such coercion is prohibited by Article 31 of the IV Geneva Convention. Furthermore making access to education and freedom of movement dependant on the holding of a particular political viewpoint, is contrary to Articles 18 and 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 of the ICCPR, which require State Parties guarantee the right to hold opinions without interference and the freedoms of expression and thought, conscience and religion, including the right not to be required to hold any opinion and not to be compelled to declare ones beliefs.

Upon the imposition of the absolute closure on 25th February 1996 all permits for Gaza students studying in the West Bank were cancelled.55 On 12th March, this was supplement by a military order issued by Israeli authorities which required all Gaza students in the West Bank to report to an IDF Co-ordination office in order to be transferred back to Gaza. This order declared illegal the presence of Gaza students in the West Bank, including those who were in areas under Palestinian autonomy.

On 25th March Israel lifted the internal closure which separated West Bank towns and villages from each other.56 However on 28th March, Israeli military, border police, and undercover units launched raids and a search-and-arrest campaign on the Birzeit University campus and other West Bank education institutions, and surrounding areas. During the raids,

Around 370 individuals were detained during the raid, 280 of whom were Birzeit students, and 37 of whom were students from Gaza. Those arrested were kept blindfolded and tied up in the sun all day at a nearby Israeli military camp, and were interrogated by the Israeli GSS. Only 32 students were released, five remained in detention, three were subsequently released, and two continue to be held.

Gaza students who were forced t6 leave the West Bank have not yet been permitted to return, and many have been unable to graduate or take their final examinations. The 1996-97 school year has begun, and the Israeli authorities have not yet issued permits for them to return to study in the West Bank.

As a result of Israeli policies, increasing numbers of Gaza students no longer even apply to West Bank universities. Israeli restrictions on the right of Gaza students to study in the West Bank are consistent with Israel's concerted objective of keeping the Occupied Territories, isolated from each other, influencing the facts on the ground so as to affect the outcome of the Final StaNegotiations; and ultimately undermining another element in Palestinian development.

iv. Economic Ramifications of Closures

The Israeli occupation of 1967 brought Gaza’s weak and underdeveloped economy into direct contact with Israel’s highly industrialised one. While some domestic economic growth was stimulated in Gaza, a relationship of extreme economic dependency was created, at the cost of real and significant economic development in the Occupied Territories. In this context of dependency, Israel carries responsibility for the severe hardship suffered by the population of the Gaza Strip when it imposes a closure which completely isolates Gaza, not only from Israel, but also from economic contact with other States. Gaza’s production and agricultural industries have not been developed so that it is self-sufficient. On the contrary, Israel has sought to ensure that it is not, and to this end has confiscated land in Gaza and taken control of access to natural resources, such as water.

Israel's economic policy towards the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Israel’s activities towards the Occupied Territories suggests a policy aimed at precluding the possibility of the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. Israel has extracted maximum economic benefit from the Occupied Territories, while pursuing a policy of “de-development”58 , particularly in relation to the Gaza Strip. This policy is accompanied by lsrael’s maintenance of the separation of the Occupied Territories, and its confiscation of land therein for the establishment of Israeli settlements.

The de-development of the Gaza Strip has rendered it ill-equipped to deal with the economic isolation resulting from the severe closures of 1996. Israeli policies which restrict investment and the import and export of goods, expropriate Palestinian natural resources, and encourage the emigration of economically crucial sectors of the Palestinian population, have precluded development in the Gaza Strip which might otherwise have been able to mitigate the harsh impact of these closures.

An economy so dependant on Israel for income, basic food, medical supplies and fuel, cannot withstand more than a few days of absolute closure before it is at risk of total collapse.

v. Economic Assessment of the February and September 1996 Absolute Closures

Economic activity in the Occupied Territories was already severely hampered before the destructive closures of 1996. The economy was Labouring under the effects of the regularly imposed strict closures. It is widely acknowledged that the Palestinian economy is in the worst state it has been in since 1967. As a result of the closures of 1996 industrial, fishing and agricultural sectors sustained heavy losses. Palestinian officials say that the closures cost the Palestinian economy $6 million a day in lost wages and exports. The rate of unemployment rose rapidly, forcing many Palestinian labourers and their dependants below the poverty line. Official estimates put figures for the Palestinian population living below the poverty line before the February 1996 closure at 14-25 percent. the closure is estimated to have caused a rise in the poverty rate to 25-30 percent.59

In August 1996, before the September absolute closure, PECDAR estimated that the PNA areas would lose $600 million this year due to the closure, and that the budget deficit, which had been projected at $75 million before the imposition of these closures, would double to $150 million. In fact Palestinian economic activity dropped by 60 percent after the imposition of the February closure.61

Migratory Labour

Throughout its occupation Israel has encouraged the migration of the majority of the Palestinian workforce from the Occupied Territories to jobs its own production sectors.62 The Palestinian workforce has thus been reduced to a source of cheap labour for its own benefit. Palestinians fill manual labour positions and are subject to less favourable pay and conditions than their Israeli counterparts. Access to employment in Israel is thus vital for Gaza’s economy and the livelihoods of thousands of families in Gaza. Therefore when Israel cancels permits63 for migratory labourers the economic and social ramifications are dangerous.

At the time of the closure imposed on 25th February 1996, 22,447 Palestinian labourers from Gaza were going to work in Israel. It was not until 13th March that labourers were permitted to enter Israel again, and initially only 300 were permitted to enter. Israel announced on 1st April that more Palestinians would be permitted to enter Israel to work. By 20th April 1996 only 6,264 permits had been issued by Israel, But these were subject to new conditions, which further restricted the eligibility of many to obtain a permit.64

However only 4,710 of the workers who had obtained the newly issued permits were actually allowed to enter Israel. Many were turned back by Israeli security forces at the border, claiming that there were mistakes on their permits, or on their magnetic cards.

The conditions of eligibility for permits have become increasingly restrictive; permits are currently only available for Palestinians who are married and over the age of 30.65 The effect of these restrictions has been a reduction in the number of Palestinian labourers who go to work in Israel.66 Currently the potential Gaza work-force is around 120,000, but there is a high unemployment rate of 60 percent and higher.67

Closure-easing measures began to take effect throughout the summer and the number of labourers permitted to enter Israel had risen to 19,554 by the time the second absolute closure was imposed on 26th September 1996, and all permits for labourers were cancelled. On 13th October an Israeli security spokesperson announced that 15,000 work permits would be issued in Gaza for men over the age of 30. Despite this, the actual figure of labourers who had been allowed to enter Israel by 15th October was only 8,232 from the Gaza Strip.

A secondary effect of the closure was that donors to the PNA diverted development aid for the Gaza Strip, to emergency employment programmes to deal with the unemployment crisis. An Emergency Employment Programme68 was begun in April 1996 for the generation of up to 50,000 temporary, labour-intensive jobs, at a wage of $ 10 a day; this was done at the expense of investment in long-term economic development in the Gaza Strip. In addition to lost employment in Israel, a further 50,000 Palestinians employed in construction, transport, and other industries in the West Bank and Gaza have lost their jobs as a result of recession in these sectors.69

 

It is estimated that each working Palestinian supports ten people. The IMF and World Bank estimate that every 10,000 Palestinians who work in Israel generate an annual income of $20 to $25 million for the PNA. The Palestinian Ministry of Labour estimates that the revenue lost when labourers are prevented from going to Israel is between $750,000 and $900,000 daily, which translates into a cost to the Gaza economy equivalent to the total aid to the PNA from donor countries.

Commercial imports and exports

Following the imposition of the absolute closure on 25th February 1996, Gaza's borders were completely sealed for 11 days. From 13th March Israel allowed the importation of only small amounts of basic foodstuffs; while commercial transactions were totally blocked. Israel did not allow Gaza produce to be exported into or via its territory until 24th March 1996. Following the September closure, Israel did not allow exports of Gaza produce for 10 days, from 26th September to 5th October. No imports were permitted for 9 days, until 3rd October, and then only restricted amounts of food stuffs were permitted.

Gaza relies heavily on imports from Israel and on commercial transactions with and through Israel. The overwhelming amount of production in the Gaza Strip is orientated toward Israel’s markets, the entrance of which is controlled by Israel at the borders around Gaza. However while Israeli Policies have encouraged goods to pour into the Occupied Territories, st quotas are imposed on the entry of Palestinian goods into Israel and via Israel to markets abroad. By 1987, the Palestinian trade deficit was US $675 million which was mainly with Israel.

The Occupied Territories have become Israel’s second largest export market (after the United States). Ninety percent of imports to the Occupied Territories came from Israel in the late 1980s; by 1986, the Gaza Strip was selling more than 85 percent of its exports on the Israeli market.71 World Bank research suggests that, freed from the restrictions imposed by Israel on economic development, and assuming the existence of a free trade area, Israel’s share in Palestinian trade would not exceed 36 percent of total exports and 20 percent of imports.72

Karni Crossing is one of the few crossing points between Gaza Strip and Israel. It has been specifically designed for the transit of commercial goods between Gaza and Israel, made assurances that it would remain open in the event of closures. However Karni was completely closed from. 25th February to 29th February, from 4th March to 12th March (a total of 14 days)73; and following the September closure, for 12 days from 26th September to 7th October. Imports and exports crossing the borders between Israel and Gaza were and remain subject to onerous security arrangements, which are time-consuming, costly and risk damage to the goods.

Cross-border commercial activity is further handicapped by restrictions placed on the number of Palestinian trucks that are permitted to cross into Israel from Gaza. Permits are required for each truck and each driver, and Israel has restricted the number of permits available. Prior to the closure imposed on 25th February, 500 trucks a day were permitted to cross the borders into Israel from Gaza. Upon the imposition of the closure, all trucks were blocked from crossing for 26 days (export transit was banned from 25th February - 29th February, and from 4th March - 24th March).

When the closure was eased, only a small number of trucks were allowed to leave and the number increased only slowly. By the end of September around 200 trucks were leaving Gaza daily, less than 50 percent of the number that had been permitted to do so prior to the 25th February closure, The September closure blocked truck movement between 26th September and 3rd October. On 6th and 7th October 8 trucks were permitted leave Gaza. By 11th October this number had increased to 186 trucks, which was still only around 37 percent of those permitted to leave Gaza prior to 25th February.

Agricultural sector

Throughout the occupation Israel has prohibited the sale in Israel of fruits and vegetables grown in Gaza, and has imposed severe restrictions on the marketing of Gaza produce abroad, in order to prevent competition with Israeli products. Israel has only sporadically imported

Gaza produce, according to the needs of Israeli markets. As a result, the Palestinian agricultural sector, whose contribution to the GNP had been 34 percent in 1970-73, fell to only 23 percent in 1984-86.74

The Gaza agricultural sector depends upon the export of 70 percent of its produce, and thus remains especially vulnerable to imposition of severe closures. Even when exports of agricultural produce are permitted, security measures such as the “back-to-back” trading system,75 result in long delays in the export of agricultural produce, which is highly perishable and seasonal produce, the preparation and transit of which must take place expediently.76

The inability to export this produce has meant that it has accumulated in Gaza markets, which are not large enough to consume them, resulting in a dramatic depreciation in their value and retail price.77 Consequential losses in the agricultural sector have been estimated at $1.045 million.78

Fisheries sector

On 8th March, Israel closed off access to the sea for vessels from Gaza, putting an estimated 4-5,000 Palestinian fishermen out of work, and crippling an industry whose daily average catch brings in $400-500,000.79 On 11th March, Israel announced that fishing vessels would be allowed to re-access the sea but only up to 6 nautical miles from the coast. However Palestinian fishermen reported that the Israeli navy had fired upon vessels which attempted to pass beyond 3 nautical miles. This limit was extended to only 12 nautical miles on 26th March.

These restrictions on access to the sea violate Article XI, Annex I of the Cairo Agreement. Though this Agreement establishes access for Palestinian fishing vessels in only a small area of water, up to 20 nautical miles from the coast, Israel has totally prohibited, or greatly restricted, access to this area for Palestinian fishermen during the 1996 closures. Access to the sea remains restricted.

Industry and construction

Industrial and construction sectors rely on imports of raw materials. But due to the closures this year such materials could not be imported, which brought about a complete paralysis in these sectors, causing delays in housing projects, job losses and high daily sectoral losses.

The construction industry is vital for the Gaza economy and necessary infrastructure development. In addition Gaza produced goods could not be exported to or via Israel. Many factories were closed as a result, causing further job losses.

Conclusion

The prosperity expected to accompany peace has not yet materialised in the Occupied Territories due to the closure policy. The severe cash crisis which followed the February 1996 closure, combined with the agricultural and industrial sectors’ inability to import or export brought Gaza’s economy to a virtual standstill. In addition to the thousands unable to enter Israel to work, an estimated 20,000 more Gazans lost their jobs as a result of paralysis in industrial and construction sectors and severe losses in the agricultural and fisheries sectors.

Since the signing of the Interim Agreements Israel’s closure policy has been its principal instrument for Palestinian control. Israel has retained control of the borders around the Occupied Territories, which has enabled it to impose an onerous burden on exporters and importers who deal in the Occupied Territories; “security” inspections have further hindered Palestinian exports from and imports to Gaza.80

These measures violate Annex I, Article I: 3 of the Taba Agreement, which states: “Any security arrangements and measures which become effective, commensurate with the redeployment of the Israeli military forces, will not undermine the importance, nor will they prejudice the Palestinian development programmes and projects for reconstruction and development of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the moral and physical dignity of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Article XI: 1, Annex I of the Taba Agreement gives deference to the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.

While every nation has the right to regulate the passage of goods and people across its borders, and to determine which individuals shall be allowed entry into its territory, it is an accepted principle of international human rights and humanitarian law that security concerns must not diminish fundamental human rights of peoples and individuals.

Since 1989, the Israeli policy of closure has caused an increasing separation between the Occupied Territories, and from the outside world. This separation appears to be part of an Israeli policy goal to prevent Palestinian self-determination. This forced separation of these territories violates the Interim Agreements which seek to maintain the integrity of the Gaza Strip and West Bank as a single territorial unit during the Interim Period.

Throughout the occupation products have moved relatively freely between them, and their markets were very much integrated; joint companies were established and workers moved between the areas. Prior to 1989 Israel allowed some movement by Palestinians between the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, which enabled the continuation of economic rel, personal relationships and connections between residents of these areas.

The strict closures that have been imposed since 1989 have made it extremely difficult to maintain this economic integration and the absolute closures of 1996 hit trade links between the West Bank and Gaza Strip to an even greater extent than foreign trade or trade with Israel.

This is particularly resonant as the trade links between the Occupied Territories had witnessed a steady increase during 1995.81

The magnetic card system that was introduced in 1989 rendered movement between these areas far more restricted and Israel made it much harder for Palestinians to obtain permits. These measures augmented the isolation of the Occupied Territories from each other and from Israel.

A permit is required from the Israeli authorities if a Palestinian wishes to exit the Gaza Strip, to move between the Occupied Territories or to enter Israel; to reside in any area of the Occupied Territories other than the place where their identification card was issued, and even to enter Ben-Gurion airport.82 Many Gazans wishing to travel abroad by plane are forced to take an inconvenient and long overland journey to Cairo, from where they can take a plane. Israel authorities refuse to consider applications for travel via Ben-Gurion airport for people under 30 years of age.83 Any Palestinian who is not in possession of an East Jerusalem identity card, must have a permit in order to enter the city, which has made transit between the north and south West Bank difficult. Palestinians are even prevented from travelling to areas which are entirely under PNA jurisdiction. Similarly Israeli authorities impose restrictions on visits to the Occupied Territories for diaspora Palestinians.84

The closures and permit system have resulted in the separation of many Palestinian families because people who are registered in one area of the Occupied Territories must apply for a special permit in order to visit another. When a closure is imposed Palestinians are required to return to the place where they were originally issued with their identification cards. Thus where spouses live together with their children in, for example, the Gaza Strip, but hold an identification card from the West Bank, they must return to the West Bank upon the imposition of a closure, and must re-apply for a permit to return to their family when the closure is lifted.

The forced separation of families and preventing families from seeing each other is in violation of Article 16 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 23 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obligate State Parties to protect the right to marry and to found a family.

The Taba Agreement divided the West Bank into three areas: Area A is under PNA jurisdiction, Area B is under PNA civil authority, and the IDF control all other responsibilities, Area C is completely under Israeli jurisdiction.

When Israel imposed the absolute closure in Spring 1996 the IDF erected road blocks and security arrangements which isolated West Bank cities and towns from each other, as well as from surrounding villages, which administratively belong to these cities. The Gaza Strip was totally sealed off from the outside world and the Occupied Territories were cut off from each other in violation of the Interim Agreements which require the Gaza Strip and West Bank to be treated “as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the Interim period”.85 The Agreements also seek to ensure that transit between areas under PNA jurisdiction is not restricted: the “movement of people, vehicles and goods in the West Bank between cities, towns, villages and refugee camps, will be free and normal, and shall not need to be effected through checkpoints or roadblocks.”85

Safe Passage

The Taba Agreement provides for “safe passage” for persons, vehicles and goods between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Article X: 1(b) provides that Israel will “ensure safe passage for persons and transportation during daylight hours...or...not less than 10 hours a day”. Article X:2(e) provides that even “Persons who are denied entry into Israel will use safe passage for means of shuttle buses which will be escorted by the Israeli police”.

The “safe passage” arrangements have not been implemented by Israel although it signed the Cairo and Taba Agreements almost 2 years ago. The imposition of the restrictions on movement between these integral areas violates these provisions on safe. passage for Palestinians.

VIPs and Senior PNA Officials

Article X(f) of the Taba Agreement provides that “Special arrangements will apply with respect to the passage of Palestinian leaders, senior Council officials, distinguished personalities and guests of the Ra’ees of the Council”. Israel has violated this repeatedly this year during the closure.

Israeli security personnel at checkpoints between the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem have repeatedly prevented the free movement of Legislative Council Members and Palestinian Government officials.87 Much time is taken up by the Legislative Council in overcoming the obstacles imposed by Israel on their freedom to move between area under Palestinian jurisdiction.

The work of the Legislative Council covers constituencies in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In order to travel to a sitting of the Council, Members must apply for permits from Israel, where they are held in areas beyond that of an LC Member’s residence. Israel regularly issues permits for only short periods of time which allow barely sufficient time for travel to and attendance at Council meetings. The issuing of permits is often delayed and they are regularly issued only at the last minute. Furthermore at border checkpoints Council Members have been subjected to humiliating personal and baggage searches by Israeli soldiers who regularly delay and harass them at checkpoints.

These are democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, who fulfil a mandate prescribed in Chapter I of the Taba Agreement, and which is supported by the people they represent. The Palestinian Authority carries a unique status, but as the Government of the Palestinian people, with jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, and as Israel’s negotiating partner for the Final Status Negotiations, its officials must be accorded the respect and dignity commensurate with their civil status, as provided in the provisions for VIPs in the Taba Agreement. The obstacles imposed by Israel on their freedom of movement restricts their work during a very difficult and delicate period. Such restrictions are not appropriate in the context of the peace process, and violate the Agreements.

Israeli impediments to the proper functioning of the democratically elected Palestinian Legislative Council are particularly significant in fight of Israel’s stated commitment to the “strengthening of democracy” in the Middle East. On 10th July 1996 Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech to the US Congress in which he emphasised that the existence of democracy in neighbouring Arab nations is a prerequisite for the establishment of a true peace, and called for an application of “the standards of democracy and human rights in the Middle East.” Israel’s actions contradict this commitment.

Palestinian prisoners held in Israel

Upon re-deployment from the Gaza Strip in May 1994, Palestinian prisoners held by the Israeli occupying authorities in prisons inside the Gaza Strip were illegally transferred to prisons inside Israel,88 violating Article 76 of the IV Geneva Convention, which states that “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.” It is well-documented that these prisoners are kept in substandard conditions, and subjected to ill-treatment. Family visits are one of the few privileges they enjoy, and the closures make it difficult, and often impossible, for family members and Palestinian lawyers to visit these prisoners.

Family membewere prohibited from visiting their relatives inside Israeli prisons between 7th February 1996, due to the strict closure which was in place at that time on the Gaza Strip, and 19th April, when Israel granted Palestinians from southern Gaza only permission to visit relatives in Ashkelon prison in Israel. The International Committee for the Red Cross, which co-ordinates prison visits with the Israeli authorities89, suspended prison visits on 20th May 1996 in protest at Israel’s continual obstruction of the visiting programme.90 In June it reached an agreement with Israel and the family visit programme resumed on 1st July, however on 5th July Israel summarily cancelled all family visits.

Following the imposition of the absolute closure on 26th September, the Israeli authorities suspended all family visits. The next visit was not permitted until 15th October 1996 with onerous conditions and security restrictions in place.91

Access to religious sites

The Israeli authorities regularly prevent access to religious sites in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank in violation of the Taba Agreement, which requires both parties to ensure free access to religious sites inside areas of their jurisdiction.92 Israel violates this provision by refusing to issue permits to Palestinians resident in Gaza.

On the first Friday of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), thousands of Muslim worshippers traditionally attend Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities announced that West Bank residents under 30 years of age, and all Palestinians resident in Gaza, would be prohibited from entering East Jerusalem even if they held valid permits.93 Gaza’s 3,000 Christians have also been denied access to holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and to Christmas and Faster celebrations held in these cities.

Conclusion

Through its all-pervasive administrative and military control over the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel controls all movement restrictively in a manner which blatantly violates the Interim Agreements.

The Palestinian economies must be allowed to restructure and given an opportunity to develop on a more equitable basis alongside that of Israel. The closures have hampered the economic development of a people trying to rebuild after almost 30 years of occupation; they cause extreme hardship in the Gaza Strip, and are clearly inadmissible from a humanitarian standpoint.

Where Israel's security concerns diminish the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people, they are in violation of international legal norms and principles. The priority of human rights is preserved in the Taba Agreement itself, and also by the IV Geneva Convention. In turn the guarantees provided by the Convention cannot be diminished by provisions of the Interim Agreements, and any provisions which do so are void.94 Thus Israel cannot lawfully use security as a justification for the prevention of necessary medical supplies and basic foodstuffs entering Gaza, nor for the restriction on the passage of Palestinians who are in need of urgent medical attention which is not available in the Gaza Strip.

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