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The State of Gaza Strip Border Crossings

10 – 31 January, 2008

 

The publication of this update coincides with a continuing threat to the lives and well being of 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. This threat stems from the tightening of the siege and closure imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). These increasingly draconian closure measures are directly affecting the ability of the civilian population to secure food and other basic necessities, such as medical care and even fresh water. On January 17, 2008, the Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, announced the closure of all border crossings to the Gaza Strip regarding the movement of individuals and essential goods, including food, medicine, and fuel. As a direct result, the chronic humanitarian crisis further deteriorated. This humanitarian crisis continues in light of shameful international failure to agree a nonbinding UN Security Council statement condemning the policy of collective punishment being imposed on the civilians of the Gaza Strip, and calling for an immediate end to the siege and closure of Gaza. 

Regarding the closure, the most serious recent development has been the Israeli High Court decision, on January 27, to reject a petition submitted by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations challenging the IOF decision of 28 November, 2007, to reduce fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip. By rejecting this petition, the Israeli High Court has effectively legalized mass collective punishment of the citizens of Gaza, despite the fact that collective punishment is illegal under international humanitarian Law. As a result, civilians across the Gaza Strip suffered several days of total black-out, which severely affecting the delivery of all services, including health, and education, and also led to the temporary shutdown of water pumps, sewage disposal pumps, and numerous other vital amenities.

Israel’s implementation of the decision to drastically reduce fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip is a violation of the economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights of the civilian population, and amounts to a war crime. It forced the only power plant in the Gaza Strip to temporarily shut down, which affected all aspects of life across Gaza. 

However, these draconian measures regarding fuel for electricity need to be seen in the context of the continuing IOF siege and closure of the whole Gaza Strip, which has steadily intensified since June 2007. This systematic collective punishment has transformed the Gaza Strip into an occupied territory where patients, especially those injured as result of Israeli military attacks, are deprived of the right to appropriate health care due to lack of essential drugs and other medical facilities, as well as being denied the right to travel abroad for medical treatment unavailable in the Strip. The IOF are implementing this systematic policy of collective punishment against an already impoverished society. 80% of the population of the Gaza Strip is now at least partially dependent on humanitarian assistance, making Gaza one of the most aid dependent communities on earth. Unemployment is epidemic, and the poorest families in Gaza are suffering serious food insecurity. Across the Gaza Strip, standards of living have deteriorated, whilst child malnutrition, including child stunting and anemia, have increased dramatically. 

In addition to the power crisis, there was a border crisis in the Gaza Strip during the reporting period. Palestinians armed with explosives destroyed entire sections of the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands of Gazans poured over the border to the Egyptian cities of Rafah and El-Arish; an inevitable result of months of complete siege. In addition, hundreds of Palestinians who had been stranded in Egypt were finally able to return home to Gaza. Although the Egyptian authorities allowed civilians to stock up on food and other basic supplies that are unavailable in Gaza due to the closure, this rapid stockpiling was not sufficient to fulfill overall demands for flour, rice, sugar, medicine, and fuel.

Since June 2007, approximately 6,000 Gaza residents have been waiting for permits to travel outside the Gaza Strip. This includes patients, students wanting to continue their studies abroad and expatriate Palestinians working and living abroad who had returned to Gaza for summer vacations. Approximately 1,500 of them petitioned the Egyptian Interior Ministry Compound in El-Arish, and organized a sit-in to highlight their need for permission to travel via Egypt to third countries. During the reporting period they remained in El-Arish, pending a decision on their travel requests.

Another serious development during the reporting period was the complete stoppage of fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip. Subsequently the Gaza Strip power plant was forced to shut down, cutting off electricity supplies for approximately 700,000 people for several consecutive days. Electricity became the main concern for the civilian population, as it affects their access to food, drinking water, and basic healthcare. There were blackouts for up to 12 hours a day throughout the Gaza Strip. Bakeries were forced to stop work due to lack of electricity and fuel, creating a major bread shortage. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities could only deal with very serious or critical cases. Fuel stations were closed because stocks ran out, affecting transport and local productivity. The lack of fuel also coincided with cold weather conditions that meant people actually required additional fuel for heating.

The reporting period also witnessed the continuation of the closure of all crossings to the Gaza Strip, as well as a total ban on the free and safe movement of civilians and goods. Only a limited number of selected individuals were allowed to pass through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing. As a result, the Gaza Strip civilian population continued to be isolated from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) in the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as from the outside world.

During the reporting period, PCHR documented the death of 3 patients, including a woman and a child, who were denied access to adequate healthcare facilities outside the Gaza Strip. The number of patients who have died as a result of being prevented them from traveling through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing for treatment outside of Gaza now stands at 24 victims, including 6 women and 6 children.

The situation at the Gaza Strip commercial crossings also deteriorated during the reporting period. Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing was closed completely for 20 days. It was partially re-opened for the last 2 days of the reporting period. Nahal Oz Crossing, the main fuel terminal, was closed for 5 days. It was partially re-opened for the delivery of limited supplies of fuel, including industrial fuel for the Gaza Strip power plant. Sofa Crossing was completely closed for aggregate and construction materials throughout the reporting period. It was partially re-opened for 6 days, in order to allow humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip. Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Crossing was closed for 16 days during the reporting period.

The most significant developments regarding the Gaza Strip border crossings are detailed below.

 

Travel Crossings:

Rafah International Crossing Point and Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing remained closed throughout the reporting period. Beit Hanoun Crossing was partially opened for one day to allow the passage of a limited number of Gaza residents. As a result, the total number of closure days of the Rafah Crossing since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, increased to 231 days, while Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing has been closed for 234 days since June 2007. As a result, the population of the Gaza Strip was denied freedom of movement to travel to and from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as being denied freedom of movement to travel abroad. During the reporting period, IOF allowed some persons to travel in and out of the Gaza Strip under very strict criteria. These include diplomats, workers in international organizations, some businessmen and women, and a limited number of patients.

 

Rafah International Crossing Point:

               The crossing was closed completely throughout the reporting period of 22 days.

               IOF completely closed the crossing on 10 June 2007. Since then, Rafah Crossing has been closed completely for 231 days.

               The economic and social strangulation currently affecting all aspects of civilian life in the Gaza Strip led armed Palestinian groups to destroy entire sections of border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Hours later, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured across the border into the Egyptian cities of Rafah and El-Arish. In addition, hundreds of Palestinians who had been stranded in Egypt were finally able to return home to Gaza. The Egyptian authorities dealt positively with the events, and allowed Gazans to stock up on food and goods that had not been available in Gaza due to the prolonged closure.

               Although the Egyptian authorities allowed civilians to stock up on food and other basic supplies, this rapid stockpiling was not sufficient to fulfill the overall needs for flour, rice, sugar, medicine, and fuel. The Gaza Strip still suffers severe shortages of basics and commodities, as well as shortages of industrial fuel to run the only power plant in the Gaza Strip.

               Since June 2007, approximately 6,000 Gaza residents have been waiting for permits to travel outside the Gaza Strip, including patients, students wanting to continue their studies abroad and expatriates working and living abroad who had returned to Gaza for the summer vacation. About 1,500 of them petitioned the Egyptian Interior Ministry Compound in El-Arish, and organized a sit-in to highlight their need for permission to travel via Egypt to third countries. However, to date they remain in El-Arish, pending a decision on their travel requests.

               There are, however, approximately another 4,000 persons in Gaza still waiting for permission to travel outside of the Strip. This number includes hundreds of student, as well as approximately 500 patients who require urgent medical treatment. These individuals face an uncertain future regarding their jobs and residence permits abroad, educational opportunities, and the risk of deteriorated health due to severe delays in treatment.

               PCHR notes that the majority of Gaza Strip residents who were stranded outside of the Strip, on the Egyptian side of the border, which is approximately 1,500 persons, returned to Gaza as soon as the border was forced open. They had already spent more than five months living in extremely basic conditions while they waited to return home. 

 

Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing:

               IOF continued to close Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing throughout the reporting period. It was closed completely for 22 days. On 13 January, the Crossing was partially re-opened to allow approximately 200 Gaza residents to travel outside the Strip. 

               During the reporting period, IOF allowed some diplomatic missions, and workers in international organizations to travel in and out of the Gaza Strip via the Crossing.

               IOF allowed 20 businessmen and women to travel via the Crossing in the first 9 days of the reporting period.

               IOF have banned Palestinian newspapers printed in the West Bank from entering the Gaza Strip through the Crossing since 18 January. 

               For the 7th consecutive month, IOF continued to prevent families of prisoners from Gaza imprisoned in Israeli from exercising their visitation rights. PCHR notes that the ICRC coordinates these visits. The visitation program was functional until June 2007. 

               On 19 January, IOF banned the movement of traders with permits or workers in international organizations from leaving Gaza through the Crossing.

 

Health Issues:

                     During the reporting period, IOF hindered the passage of tens of patients through Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing. In addition, IOF banned hundreds of patients from access to healthcare facilities in Israel and the West Bank by refusing to issue permits for them. As a result, a limited number of patients passed through the Crossing, averaging about 20 patients daily. PCHR notes that patients applying for passage through Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing suffer from serious illnesses that cannot be treated in Gaza hospitals. In addition, they are unable to access Egyptian hospitals due to the closure of Rafah International Crossing Point.

               IOF closed the Crossing completely for patients for 4 days during the reporting period. These closures occurred on 12, 18, 19, & 26 January 2008.

               IOF rejected permits for 35% of applicants (510 out of 1457) for security reasons. In addition, 84 patients are still awaiting replies to their permit applications. Therefore 594 patients (40.8% of all patients) are suffering deterioration of their health due to security ban or waiting for permits.

               IOF allowed several Palestinian ambulances to enter the Crossing and deliver seriously ill patients to Israeli ambulances. However PCHR notes that the IOF has banned Palestinian ambulances from transporting patients to hospitals in the West Bank and Israel.

               During the reporting period, PCHR documented the death of 3 patients, including a woman and a child, as a result of IOF refusal to issue permits or delaying the issuing of permits. The patients who died during the reporting period are:

1.            Yehya Mustafa Salim El-Jamal (53) from Shabour refugee camp in Rafah. He died on 12 January, after IOF delayed issuing a permit for him to enter Israel for treatment. El-Jamal was suffering from lung cancer, and underwent treatment in the Israeli hospital of Ichilov in October 2007. He returned to Gaza and was scheduled to resume his treatment in November 2007. IOF refused to issue him permits to go to hospital appointments set for 19 November and 3 December 2007.

2.            Shireen Abdallah Abu Shawareb, aged 10, died on 15 January, after IOF refused to issue her a permit for treatment in Israel. Her father stated that his daughter had suffered from a heart defect for 6 months. She had been treated in Gaza, and then transferred to the Israeli Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa for 14 days. She returned to Gaza, and was scheduled to resume treatment at Rambam on 1 November 2007. Her referral was prepared on December 27, however, IOF refused to issue a permit for her to travel to Israel. On 9 January 2008, the Palestinian liaison office informed Shireen’s father that his daughter would be allowed to cross Beit Hanoun (Erez) the following day. When father and daughter arrived at the crossing, IOF refused them entry, and told them to return the following day. Shireen’s health had already seriously deteriorated. She died in Gaza on January 15. 

3.            Amna Hussein El-Madhoun (68-year old woman) from Beit Lahia died as a result of her referral for treatment outside the Gaza Strip being delayed. Her son, Hamdi, stated that doctors discovered that his mother was suffering from kidney cancer in December 2007. Gaza hospitals lacked the facilities to treat her, and she required treatment abroad. Egypt was out of the question due to the closure of the Rafah International Crossing Point. The Israeli hospitals that were contacted initially refused her an appointment, saying they were full. However, a Jerusalem hospital did agree to treat her on 3 February, 2008. During the waiting period her condition deteriorated. Amna Hussein El-Madhoun died on January 29.

 

Commercial Crossings:

IOF imposed a complete ban on exports from Gaza during the reporting period. In addition, IOF continued to reduce imports, limiting them to some basic commodities. PCHR notes that imports were completely banned on 19 January 2008. Only limited quantities of international humanitarian aid were allowed to enter the Gaza Strip.

 

Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing:

               The Crossing was closed completely for imports and exports for 20 days. It was closed partially for 2 days. Exports were completely banned through the Crossings. Only limited amounts of flour and fodder were allowed to enter Gaza.

               The Crossing has been completely closed since 13 June 2007, with only sporadic days of opening in order to allow flour and animal fodder imports to enter Gaza.

               The continuous closure of the Crossing for such an extended time has resulted in a near paralysis in civilian life and resulted in a humanitarian crisis.

               The reduction in imports has caused severe shortages of food products, medical supplies, and medications. In addition, the closure has reduced production in all industrial sectors, with 70% of industries being forced to close. Below is a table of the amounts of flour and animal fodder allowed to enter Gaza during the reporting period:

 

Date

Work Hours

Trucks

Tons

14 January

7

70

2650

17 January

8

73

2920

 

Sofa Crossing:

               The Crossing was closed completely for 16 days and partially for 6 days. IOF allowed limited quantities of food stuffs, plus UNRWA and the WFP humanitarian assistance deliveries to pass through the Crossing.

               IOF has continued to prevent the entry of aggregate and construction materials into the Gaza Strip since 15 June 2007.

               Since 17 January 2008, IOF completely closed the crossing, as ordered by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Since then the crossing was partially opened for just two days, in order to allow limited quantities of food stuffs and humanitarian assistance to pass through for UNRWA and WFP supplies. Prior to the Ehud Barak decision, IOF allowed the passage of 153 truckloads of goods and 646 truckloads of food and fruits for local traders, as well as 29 truckloads of flour for UNRWA.

               IOF have banned the entry of livestock into Gaza since 18 December 2007. As a result, there is a shortage of meat in Gaza markets, and prices have soared from 30 NIS to 60 NIS per kilogram. Prices are expected to continue to rise as a result of the continuous shortage. PCHR notes that the Gaza Strip consumption of meat is approximately 3,000 heads of livestock per month.

               Despite the entry of some quantities of cement from Egypt when the border was temporarily open, the ban on construction material imports has effectively paralyzed all construction and housing projects. As a result, prices of cement has quadrupled; and thousands of construction workers have become unemployed, placing a heavy burden on the already high unemployment rate, which stood at 40% before the tightening of the closure.

 

Nahal Oz Crossing:

 

               The Crossing operated below capacity during the reporting period. In addition, it was closed for 5 days.

               During the period 10-15 January, IOF allowed the passage of limited quantities of fuel with a daily average of 250,000 liters of gasoline, 38,000 liters of benzene, and 200-240 tons of natural gas.

               In a measure designed to tighten the siege on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, IOF completely closed the crossing 5 days from 16-21 January, and prevented the entry of all forms of fuel. As a result, fuel supplies ran out at local fuel stations, and a number of businesses and other institutions were forced to close temporarily. The health sector was also adversely affected. The Ministry of Health declared a state of emergency in some hospital departments, and limited surgery to vital operations. Some ambulances were suspended, as well as other vital public health services. The lack of natural gas created a crisis for several days, with empty canisters piling up in distribution centers.

               On 22 January, IOF announced that it would reopen Nahal Oz Crossing to allow limited fuel supplies to enter Gaza. IOF announced that the weekly fuel supply will consist of 2,000,000 liters of industrial fuel for the power plant, 500,000 liters of gasoline, and an unspecified amount of natural gas.

               The Union of Fuel Distributors in Gaza refused to accept these reduced amounts as they did not meet the minimum requirements of the Gaza Strip. PCHR notes that the daily fuel needs of the Gaza Strip are 350,000 liters of gasoline, 120,000 liters of benzene, and 350 tons of natural gas. Prior to 25 October 2007, the Israeli fuel supplier met the daily essential fuel needs of the Gaza Strip.

               On 24 January, IOF announced the entry of limited quantities of benzene, constituting approximately 10% of the Strip’s needs, 197,000 liters of gasoline (56% of the daily need), 255 tons of natural gas (72% of daily need), and 38,6000 liters of industrial fuel. Fuel distributors also refused to receive these amounts, with the exception of the industrial fuel for the power plant.

               On 27 January, the Israeli High Court convened to consider a petition submitted by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations on 28 November 2007, against the IOF reduction of fuel supplies. The IOF response was based on its security considerations, and did not take into account the humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip. IOF expressed readiness to supply the Strip with a weekly supply of 800,000 liters of gasoline (constituting a reduction of 57% from the overall weekly need of 1,850,000 liter), 75,400 liters of benzene (88% reduction from the overall weekly need of 600,000 liters), and 2,200,000 liters of industrial fuel for the power plant (37% below demand). In addition, the IOF announced that Israel will reduce its electricity supply to the Strip by 7.5%.

               In a very serious and disturbing precedent, on January 27 the Israeli High Court approved the IOF fuel reductions. This decision provided effective legalization for the IOF to impose collective punishment against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, in contravention of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.

               The High Court decision caused blackouts throughout the Gaza Strip for several days. In addition, the decision had a catastrophic impact on health, education, drinking water supplies, sewage disposal capacity, and other vital services.

 

               To date, the residents of the Gaza Strip continue to suffer daily blackout of 10-12 hours, causing shortages of drinking water supplies, especially in multi-story buildings, due to there not being sufficient electricity to power the domestic water pumps. 

 

Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Commercial Crossing:

               During the reporting period, the Crossing was completely closed for 16 days, and partially opened for 6 days to allow the passage of limited amounts of food and medicine.

               The Crossing has been completely closed since 17 January, 2008.

               IOF allowed the entry of 197 truckloads of “humanitarian” materials that included dairy products, frozen meat, other food products, and medication. In addition, IOF allowed the entry of humanitarian assistance in the form of food products donated to the World Food Programme through the Egyptian Red Crescent Society.

               IOF banned all exports through the crossing during the reporting period, especially strawberries and flowers to European markets. The Gaza Agricultural Association estimates that the Strip produces 30-40 tons of strawberries per day during the strawberry season. This is much higher than the permitted export quantity. As a result, the export quota for farmers was effectively reduced, and they suffered heavy financial losses. These losses are estimated at $US 15 millions, 8 million being the cost of planting and maintaining 2,700 donums of strawberries.