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CLOSURE UPDATE NO.11 Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on the total closure imposed by Israel on the Occupied Territories

Published @ 12.00 hours GMT on 16 June 1996


Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

on the Closure imposed by Israel

on the Gaza Strip

This is the eleventh update published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documenting the effects of the ongoing closure imposed by Israeli occupying forces on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military closure of the Gaza Strip began on February 25th 1996 and is now in its 114th consecutive day.

  • The Background to the Closure

Throughout the military occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has maintained a stranglehold over Palestinian life. The sealing of borders and the restrictions on movement of persons and goods have been a policy of the occupying Israeli military authorities, constitutes the collective punishment of the 2.5 million Palestinian people who inhabit these areas and is forbidden under international law. The closure imposed since February 25th has been the strictest ever since the occupation began in 1967. It has virtually closed off the Occupied Territories from the outside world, causing immense suffering and hardship for Palestinians. Israel has claimed that the closure is necessary to ensure its security; but, as the subsequent bomb attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in late February and early March prove, and as experts argue, the closure is not effective for this purpose.

The closure of the Gaza Strip was strengthened for the Israeli general elections, which were held on May 29th 1996. There was a renewal of the total ban on the traffic of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, including agricultural exports; and the 7,000 Palestinian workers, who have been allowed to return to work since May 16th 1996, were once again prevented from entering Israel. However, with the elections over, the total closure continues, without any indication of it being lifted. Some of the effects of this closure are set out in this report.

Most recent information collected by the Closure Monitoring Team of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights shows that the closure continues to severely disrupt life in the Gaza Strip: the

majority of workers from the Gaza Strip are prevented from travelling to work in Israel; the income they derive sustains not only their families, but forms a vital part of the economy in the Gaza Strip; fishing, another major source of income, has been restricted to a strip of sea which stretches out only 12 nautical miles from the Gaza coast; around 1,200 Gazan students are prevented from travelling to their schools and universities in the West Bank, denying them their basic right to education and disrupting their studies for 1996; the rights of Gazans to visit relatives in Israeli prisons are severely restricted; Israeli measures have caused a deterioration in the health situation in Gaza and restrict the provision of medical supplies to Gaza; Israeli occupying forces stationed inside the Gaza Strip continue to perpetrate acts of violence against Palestinians.

During the period of the closure the Israeli government has introduced a number of measures that it claims are to ease the closure, describing them as humanitarian in nature. However, the benefit of these has been diminished by the imposition of new stringent security measures.

The imposition of closures has been adopted as an instrument of policy by the Government of Israel with the aim of the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Such methods of collective punishment, which were employed as policy throughout the Israeli occupation, are a violation of international humanitarian law.

1. Palestinian Legislative Council Members Prevented from Travelling to Participate in Council Session in Nablus

On the afternoon of Monday June 10th, 20 Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council from the Gaza Strip were forced to wait for two hours at Erez Checkpoint because Israeli soldiers refused to allow them to travel to the Council Session in Nablus without first being subjected to a personal and baggage search.

The usual process for the Council Members at Erez Checkpoint on their way to Council sessions is that they take a mini bus together (the Israeli security authorities do not allow Council Members to travel in their personal transportation), at Erez they have their travel documents and permits checked and then proceed to a mini bus which awaits them on the Israeli side of the checkpoint.

The Israeli military refused them permission to pass the border without being subjected to these searches. Israeli soldiers claimed that their permits were not categorised as VIP permits which would allow them to pass without checks. The Council Members refused to be subjected to the searches and returned to Gaza.

The Council session was cancelled for that day but President Arafat ordered them to travel to Nablus the next day in order to attend a Council session. In order not to be subjected to luggage searches, the Council Members did not take any luggage. They passed Erez Checkpoint without being subjected to searches.

Every week Israel obstructs the movement of the Council Members between areas of Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. Restricting the movement of Council Members is part of a systematic policy used by the Israeli government to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority and to obstruct its senior officials from conducting their work in a proper way. This policy reflects the double standards in Israel’s approach: it claims that it is committed to the peace process, but its actual practices do not reflect this. The Palestinian Council spends much time and effort each week just discussing how its members can reach the sessions, and in negotiations with the Israelis on the same subject.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns Israeli measures and their disruptive policies against Palestinian Council Members. We restate our demands for international intervention, especially by those states who supported and were involved in the Palestinian elections. Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as elected representatives of the Palestinian people should be able to move freely between areas under Palestinian jurisdiction so that they can carry out their official duties without such obstructions.

2. Palestinian students from Gaza are deprived of their right to education

Since February 25th Israeli authorities have refused to allow around 1,200 students from the Gaza Strip to travel to their educational establishments in the West Bank. As yet there have been no positive developments regarding the predicament of the Gazan students, resulting in the loss of a whole academic year.

On March 12th 1996 the Israeli army ordered all Gazan students who were studying in the West Bank and therefore residing there, to return to the Gaza Strip immediately. On March 28th military forces attacked villages of Birzeit, Abu Qush and Abu Shkhaidem near Ramallah and launched a search and arrest campaign against Birzeit University students. Hundreds of Gazan students were transported back to Gaza by Israeli forces.

Since that time there has not been a positive outcome from negotiations between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority on this issue.

3. Gazan patients are prevented from seeking medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip

Israel has claimed that it has acted with humanitarian concern and has eased the restrictions on the passage of Palestinian patients from Gaza who need to cross its territory in order to receive urgent medical treatment. However Israeli authorities continue to refuse the necessary travel permits in many cases. Between June 1st and 11th 195 Gazans, in need of urgent medial treatment, applied to the Israeli authorities for permits to travel outside Gaza; however only 30 were issued. No reasons were given for refusal of the remaining 165 cases, nor is there any right to appeal or to have the

decision reviewed. In the few cases where permits are issued to the patient, family members are not permitted to accompany them, nor to travel to visit them.

Around 80% of these were in need of eye surgery at St. Johns Hospital in East Jerusalem, which is situated neither in Israel, nor is it an Israeli hospital.

Israeli authorities deny travel permits for 89 doctors and nurses from the Gaza Strip to travel to their places of work in West Bank hospitals (Al Makased, St Johns, Augusta Victoria, Al Khalil Ahli Hospital).

Throughout the Israeli occupation, Gazan patients had to travel abroad or to Israel in order to receive anything more than basic medical treatment. Since the closure, obtaining permits for travel from the Israeli military authority to obtain medical treatment outside Gaza has become extremely difficult.

4. Israeli violations continue to be perpetrated against Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip

Around 20:00 hours local time (17:00 hours GMT), on June 5th 1996 Israeli soldiers shot dead Attiyah Ismail Abu Samra, resident of Khan Younis Refugee Camp, 23 years of age and mentally challenged.

An eye-witness stated that Abu Samra was walking near an Israeli military observation point, to the west of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip. It appears that Abu Samra, was approaching sand dunes near Al Amal Avenue, around 150 metres from the observation point. The soldiers demanded that he stop. Israeli military sources state that when Abu Samra continued two warning shots were fired by the soldiers. When he did not respond, the Israeli soldiers shot him once directly in the chest from a distance of about 15 metres. However, a witness reported hearing between five and seven bullets being fired from an automatic weapon. Abu Samra was alone and unarmed. It is clear that by aiming at his chest the soldiers intended to kill Abu Samra, and that they did so even though there were available alternatives to the use of lethal force.

Israel maintains a very large military presence (numbering between 4,000 – 5,000) inside the Gaza Strip, based at the borders, around settlements and at strategic points on arterial settlement roads. 3,000 – 4,000 Israeli Settlers live in these illegally established settlements in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians who live or travel in the vicinity of these points face continual harassment, often in the guise of security checks, by Israeli forces. These checks often involve full searches of vehicles, and there have been many reports of beatings of Palestinians and, on occasion, the use of live ammunition.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemns the killing of Abu Samra, which is a grave human rights violation. Israeli military authorities continue to use security as a pretext for harassment and ill-treatment of Palestinians. The Israeli Settlers and Israeli military occupying forces have a pernicious effect on life in the Gaza Strip, which can involve, as in this killing, grave human rights violations.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights sees this incident as further demonstration of the urgent need to dismantle the illegal Israeli Settlements which are a major obstacle to the peace process and contribute to an environment which is incompatible with the human rights of the Palestinian people.

5. Restricting the right of Palestinians to travel outside the region

Since the imposition of the closure the Israeli authorities have sought to prevent residents of Gaza from travelling into and across Israeli territory. Israel has imposed many obstacles on the ability of Gazans to reach international ports of embarkation, and there is as yet no such available port in Gaza. The only alternative route for Gazans is through the Rafah border into Egypt and to leave from an international port there. It is only in the past week that Egypt has eased the previously restrictive regulations on travel to Cairo for Palestinians, making it now easier for them to do so.

Despite Israeli claims that it has eased the closure, and that in this regard special permits had been granted to people seeking to travel, other restrictions are imposed which render them ineffectual.

On June 12th the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior stated that 1,000 one-day permits were issued to Gazan residents for travel to Jordan. The Israeli authorities conditioned this on them travelling in convoys of buses. However, permits were only granted for 5 buses, each with a capacity of 50 passengers; therefore only 250 of the 1,000 people who had been given permits could travel.

The Israeli authorities refuse to consider applications for travel via Ben Gurion Airport for people under the age of 30. Those over 30 years of age must submit proof of a valid visa, air ticket and proof of the reason for travel. In effect travel is prevented and people are forced to leave via Egypt. For the month of May out of 30 people over the age of 30 years who applied to the Israeli

authorities for travel permits only 12 were granted permits, even though their applications were complete and included all required documents.

  • Conclusion

The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is an Israeli government policy aimed at increasing and prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people. It undermines popular support for the peace process as it touches every part of Palestinian society .

Israel justifies the closure on the basis of security issues. But this argument appears more contrived and less justifiable in relation to the prevention of critically ill Palestinian patients reaching hospitals outside Gaza; Palestinian Legislative Council Members are prevented from travelling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip are prevented from travelling to their universities in the West Bank, even though most of them stay in areas under Palestinian jurisdiction.

This Israeli instrument of collective punishment is having severe and destructive effects on the Palestinian people and is contrary to international humanitarian law. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights urges the following:

i. The closure should be lifted immediately and unconditionally.

ii. The repeated abuses of international accepted human rights standards, perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people must end.

iii. The Israeli government must fulfil its obligations under the peace agreements which it has signed including implementation of the safe passage arrangements as provided in the Article

XI and Annex I Article IX of the Cairo Agreement signed between Israel and the PLO in May 1994. These safe passage routes facilitate travel of residents of the Gaza Strip and West Bank between these areas. Unless these arrangements are implemented Palestinian territorial integrity is undermined, and these two territories are absolutely isolated from each other.