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CLOSURE UPDATE NO.10 Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on the total closure imposed by Israel on the Occupied Territories

Published @ 18.00 hours GMT on 31 May 1996


Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

on the Closure imposed by Israel

on the Gaza Strip

This is the tenth 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 and is now in its 96th consecutive day.

The Israel General Election, held on 29 May 1996, was the reason behind the complete sealing of the Gaza Strip. This total closure included the total ban on the traffic of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, including agricultural exports which had been permitted to enter Israel over the last few weeks, and, since 16 May, the 7,000 Palestinian workers have been denied permission to enter Israel to travel to work. However, with the elections over, the total closure continues, without any indication of it being lifted or eased. Some of the effects of the total closure are set out in this report.

  • The Background to the Closure

Throughout the military occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and 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, and 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 prove, and as experts argue, the closure is not effective for this purpose.

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 only 12 nautical miles from the Gaza coast; over 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; Gazans are severely restricted in their rights to visit relatives in Israeli prisons; Israeli measures have caused a deterioration in the health situation in Gaza and restricts 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 closure has been adopted as an instrument of policy by the Government of Israel that aims at the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Such methods of collective punishment, which were frequently employed throughout the Israeli occupation, are a violation of international humanitarian law.

  • Palestinians requiring urgent medical assistance denied permission to travel to hospitals for treatment

On 16 May Israeli authorities announced, through the Palestinian- Israeli Joint Liaison Committee, that it would not permit patients to travel to receive treatment across the borders of the Gaza Strip into Israel, save for very urgent cases.

Between 16 and 23 May, some 83 applications for permits were submitted to the Israeli Civil Administration; all of these met the criteria of urgent; medical records were attached to the applications to prove the urgency of these cases; and some of the applicants included cases of cancer and heart disease. However, of those 83 applications only 43 permits were granted.

The treatment needed by these patients is not available in the Gaza Strip, and they had already been accepted for treatment at hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, Israel and neighbouring Arab countries. Previous updates provide information on health provision in the Gaza Strip, the effects of the closure on health

services, including instances where people have died when permits have been refused by the Israeli Civil Administration.

  • Banning Commercial Transactions with the Gaza Strip

On 26 May all commercial activity in goods between Gaza Strip and Israel ceased as a result of the announcement made on the previous day which prohibited the movement of all goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, both into Israel and through Israeli territory. The decision will have a particularly harsh impact on agricultural products, which by their nature have a short-life span and need to have immediate access to markets.

Agriculture, the largest industry in the Gaza Strip, has been severely hit by the closure; Palestinian farmers are suffering as a result of the closure, prices have tumbled and the market in Gaza has been saturated with locally grown agricultural products. The immediate impact of the decision by Israel has taken the agricultural industry back to the devastating position when the closure began.

A similar crisis is occurring in the industrial sector which exists in the Gaza Strip. The weakness of industry in Gaza, has been worsened by the closure which did not benefit from the closure-easing measures introduced by Israel in early April. Industries building and refurbishing washing machines, fridges and solar powered heaters and their parts, have been most seriously effected.

The decision to completely seal the Gaza Strip has also affected imports, even essential humanitarian products, such as food and medicine, and economic materials for industry and construction materials for major public works projects have been denied entry into the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli decision to refuse imports cannot have an appreciable effect on Israeli security. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has argued that the closure is primarily an instrument of policy aimed at the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The Israeli military authorities’ refusal to permit even the most necessary imports is evidence that Israel is using the closure as a policy of collective punishment.

  • Israel Obstructs and Stops Family Visits to Palestinian Prisoners

Israel continues to impede the visits by Palestinians to relatives detained in Israel prisons. When Israel permitted visits to be carried out, the Red Cross – the agency responsible for organising the visits – faced numerous obstacles, created by the Israeli military, in the organising and carrying out these visits. As a consequence, the ICRC suspended all prison visits on 20 May.

The visits themselves were extremely difficult and tiring for families. In the Gaza Strip, people would leave at 6.00am to begin their journey, not returning until midnight, though the actual travelling time is less than two hours from Gaza City. Families reported that the delays were due to them being required to disembark from the bus at the Palestinian side of the Erez security zone and walk one kilometre to the Israeli checkpoint, where the Israeli military carried out stringent security checks. Buses are extremely crowded and these are delayed by Israeli forces requiring a military escort. Similar difficulties were encountered by families from the West Bank. These security measures and delays are made worse by the fact that Israel only permits visits by women, children and men over the age of 50 years.

  • Conclusion

The closure has continued from 25 February 1996 to present. There is no clear sign that now the Israeli elections are over the closure will be lifted. The situation in the Occupied Territories is further deteriorating as a result of the closure which is the worst campaign of collective punishment executed against Palestinians since the occupation began in 1967. Israel has sought to exploit the closure for political gain justifying it with the claim of security. The closure is an ineffective means of ensuring security and worsens the misery and suffering of people in the Gaza Strip and across the Occupied Territories. The consequence of which is a greater threat to peace and security.

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.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is a legal agency dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It was established by Raji Sourani, 1991 Robert F Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Laureate, and a group of lawyers and individuals actively committed to seeking respect for international standards of human rights and humanitarian law, and promoting respect for the rule of law and development of a democratic civil society in the Occupied Territories. The Palestinian Centre is supported by Agir Ensemble pour le Droits de l’Homme, CAW Social Justice Fund, Christian Aid, DanChurchAid, NOVIB, Open Society Fund, Robert F Kennedy Memorial Foundation, Royal Norwegian Embassy and Swedish International Commission of Jurists. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is Partner to the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme and Affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.