The Gaza Strip Border Crossings

Closure Report 8-25 May 2008

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) continued to impose a complete closure on all border crossings in the Gaza Strip during the eighteen day reporting period. Imports of food, medicine, and necessary fuel dropped to below 30% of the population’s daily requirement. The humanitarian conditions of 1.5 million Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip continued to deteriorate; and they are now facing increasing food and medication insecurity, in addition to severe shortages of transport. Economic sectors across the Gaza Strip remain in a state of near paralysis, due to the mass stoppages in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Local councils are currently unable to provide full basic services such as sanitation services, provision of safe drinking water, and sewage water treatment.

The most significant impacts of the closure during the reporting period were:

            Rafah International Crossing Point was closed throughout the reporting period, except for several hours for a period of three days. 

            Living conditions continued to deteriorate due to the closure, resulting in deficiencies in food and medicines, and leading to further price increases. 

            Approximately 950 Gaza Strip residents imprisoned in Israeli prisons have been denied all visitation rights for more than a year. 

            The daily rate of Gaza Strip patients allowed to access West Bank and Israeli hospitals dropped to 13 patients per day, compared to 50 patients per day a year ago.

            Two Gaza Strip patients died as a result of being denied access to healthcare outside the Strip.

            Fuel supplies provided through Nahal Oz Crossing dropped to unprecedented levels. Benzene supplies were under 1% of the daily requirement; diesel supplies were 12.8% of the reporting period requirement and cooking gas supplies 17% of the reporting period requirement.

            The operation of 125 water reservoirs was reduced.

            Availability of drinking water for 250,000 residents was reduced due to lack of fuel. 

            Fuel ran out or was about to run out for 35 sewage water disposal facilities; and the pumping of 50,000 m3 of untreated sewage water into the sea continued on a daily basis.

            Rafah Municipality announced a complete stoppage of garbage collection from streets and markets due to the lack of fuel for garbage dumpsters.

During the reporting period, IOF continued to tighten the suffocating siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since June 2007. The civilian population of the Gaza Strip has now been subjected to systematic violations of freedom of movement for 2 years.

The continuing closure has impacted on all aspects of civilian life, including access to food and medical supplies, fuel, construction materials and other raw materials. The IOF have also continued to impose a complete ban on exports from the Gaza Strip. As a result, the living conditions of the civilian populations have continued to deteriorate. The closure has resulted in poverty rates reaching approximately 80%; and unemployment rates approximately 55%.

During the reporting period, the fuel crisis continued to paralyze the Gaza Strip, hampering all essential services. The fuel crisis has severely affected the transport sector; and caused near paralysis to many other sectors including health and environmental health services, and provision of safe drinking water.

The reporting period also witnessed the continuation of the hermetic closure of all Gaza Strip border crossings. Rafah Crossing was closed completely for 15 days of the reporting period, and Beit Hanoun Crossing (Erez) was entirely closed during the reporting period. IOF allowed a very limited number of persons to pass through Beit Hanoun Crossing, including diplomats and foreign aid workers.  

The situation of the Gaza Strip commercial crossings also deteriorated. Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing was closed completely for 16 days. Nahal Oz Crossing for fuel was closed for 9 days. It was partially opened for 9 days, for limited imports 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 opened partially for 12 days to allow humanitarian assistance into the Strip. Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Crossing was closed completely throughout the reporting period.

PCHR documented the death of 2 patients due to the closure. The number of patients who have died as a direct result of being prevented from traveling outside Gaza via Beit Hanoun Crossing, or due to shortages of medication inside the Gaza trip stands at 35 victims, including 10 women and 8 children.

The most significant developments regarding the Gaza Strip border crossings during the reporting period were as follows:  

 

Civilian Crossings

Rafah International Crossing Point and Beit Hanoun Crossing remained closed throughout the reporting period, with the exception of Rafah Crossing being partially opened for 3-days to allow a limited number of Gazans to exit the Gaza Strip. As a result, the total number of closure days of the Rafah Crossing since the Hamas takeover (on 10 June 2007) stands at 346 days, whilst Beit Hanoun Crossing has been closed 352 days during the same period. During the 18 day reporting period, IOF allowed some persons to travel in and out of the Gaza Strip under very strict criteria. These include diplomats, international staff and a limited number of critically ill patients.

 

Rafah International Crossing Point:

            The crossing has to date been closed for 346 days since 10 June 2007. 

            On 8 May, Egypt allowed 6 patients who had received treatment in Egyptian hospitals to return to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah Crossing, and allowed 10 Egyptians stranded in Gaza to return to Egypt. 

            On 10 May, Egypt allowed 140 seriously ill patients, including a number who had been seriously injured in Gaza, to cross into Egypt for treatment in Egyptian hospitals. No companions were allowed to travel with them. 

             On 11 May, Egypt allowed 750 Gazans with resident permits in Egypt, and Egyptian citizens, to cross into Egypt. 

            On 12 May, Egypt allowed 457 patients who received treatment in Egyptian hospitals to return to the Gaza Strip. On the same day, 70 Gazans with resident permits in Egypt and Egyptian citizens were allowed to cross into Egypt.

            During several days of complete closure, Egypt allowed exceptional cases to pass through Rafah Crossing. 

o          On 18 May, Egypt allowed 14 patients and injured persons and their companions to return to Gaza from Egypt, and allowed 10 Egyptians to return from Gaza to Egypt.

o          On 19 May, Egypt allowed 18 Palestinians, including a 14-member Hamas delegation heading to Egypt for talks on a ceasefire in Gaza, to cross into Egypt.

o          On 21 May, Egypt allowed 21 patients to return to Gaza after treatment in Egypt.

o          On 22 May, Egypt allowed 13 patients to return to Gaza after treatment in Egypt.

o          On 24 May, Egypt allowed 2 persons to travel from Gaza to Egypt. 

            Despite the opening of the crossing for several hours over a 3-day period, the chronic problem of freedom of movement into and out of Gaza remains unresolved. Thousands of Gaza residents have been denied the right to travel out of the Gaza Strip since June 2007, including student and patients. 

 

Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing:

            IOF continued to close Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing throughout the reporting period. 

            During the reporting period, IOF allowed diplomatic missions, some international staff, and some critically ill patients to travel in and out of the Gaza Strip through the Crossing. However, Beit Hanoun Crossing was completely closed for these groups for 7 days of the reporting period.

            Since 17 January, IOF have banned the movement of Palestinian traders with permits and Palestinian workers in international organizations from leaving Gaza through the crossing.  

            IOF closed the Crossing completely on 10, 15, 16 May for Jewish holidays.

            IOF closed the Crossing completely on 22-25 May for security reasons.

            For the 12th consecutive month, IOF continued to prevent families of prisoners from Gaza imprisoned in Israeli from visiting their relatives. PCHR notes that prior to the family visits program being suspended, the ICRC coordinated these visits. The visitation program was functional till 6 June 2007 for approximately 950 Gaza prisoners jailed in Israel, including dozens held in solitary confinement cells. However, approximately 150 of these prisoners had been denied all visitation right before the family visits program was formally suspended by IOF.

 

Health Issues

            During the reporting period, IOF hindered the passage of tens of patients through the 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 13 patients daily. This number constituted a 35% decrease compared to the previous month (when an average of 20 patients traveled through the Crossing daily) and a 74% decrease compared to the number of patients allowed to travel through the Crossing the previous year. PCHR notes that patients applying for passage through Beit Hanoun 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 Crossing.

            IOF allowed 230 patients to travel through the Crossing during the reporting period to access hospitals in Israel and the West Bank. However, another 200 patients are still waiting for responses to their permit applications.

            IOF continued to ban Palestinian ambulances from transporting patients to hospitals in the West Bank and Israel. IOF allows some Palestinian ambulances to enter the Crossing and deliver seriously ill patients to Israeli ambulances. Palestinian patients are subjected to humiliating security procedures whilst accessing Beit Hanoun, which delays the arrival of many patients to the hospitals in Israel and also results in others being forced to return to Gaza without having received any treatment.

            During the reporting period, PCHR documented the death of 2 patients due to the closure. To date, the number of patients who have died as a result of being prevented from traveling via Beit Hanoun Crossing for treatment outside Gaza, or shortages of medication inside Gaza, stands at 35. The two patients who died during the reporting period are:

1.         Nabhan Rabah Salim Habboush (62) from Gaza City, died on 14 May. His son, Rafat, stated that his father’s health started to deteriorate 10 months ago. He was treated in Shifa Hospital in Gaza city, however due to the lack of adequate diagnostic equipment; he was transferred to the Muttal’e Hospital in Jerusalem in February 2007 for diagnosis. He returned to Gaza where his health stabilized until approximately two weeks ago, when he became seriously ill again. A referral to the same Jerusalem hospital was organized, and Habboush was taken to Beit Hanoun Crossing. However, IOF stopped him and strip-searched him, before ordering him to return to Gaza and come back to Beit Hanoun crossing the following day. IOF also prevented his passage the following day. Habboush’s family wanted to access Egypt for treatment, but congestion at Rafah prevented the patients’ entry to Egypt during the days Egypt was allowing patients to enter its territory for treatment. Nabhan Rabah Salim Habboush died in his house at approximately 17:30 on Wednesday, 14 May.

2.         Salwa Nahed Abu Tawahina, aged 8 months, from Deir El-Balah, died after her hospital treatment was delayed. Her father, Nahed stated that his daughter was admitted to the Nasser Pediatric Hospital on 5 May 2008, where she was diagnosed with leukemia; physicians requested an urgent referral outside Gaza due to the seriousness of the case. The paperwork for a referral to the Israeli Hospital “Tal Hashomer” was prepared the following day (6 May). However, the Israeli hospital replied that there was no vacancy for her until 18 May. The girl’s father tried to refer her to Ichilov hospital in Israel; however the second hospital also informed him that there was no immediate vacancy. Salwa Nahed Abu Tawahina died on 17 May.

 

 

Commercial Crossings:

IOF continued to impose a complete ban on exports from Gaza during the reporting period. In addition, IOF continued to reduce imports, with only limited quantities of international aid and basic necessities being allowed to enter Gaza.  

 

Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing:

            The Crossing was closed completely for imports and exports for 16 days. It was partially opened for 2 days. During the reporting period 13 truckloads of flour and fodder were allowed to enter Gaza.

            Exports have been banned through the Crossing since it was completely closed on 13 June 2007.

            Since 13 June 2007, Al-Mentar has been closed for a total of 280 days. During that period it has been partially opened for just 62 days for imports of flour and fodder.

            The reduction in imports resulted in severe shortages of food products, medical supplies, and medications.

 

Sofa Crossing:

            The Crossing was closed completely for 6 days and partially for 12 days. IOF allowed limited quantities of food stuffs for local traders and humanitarian aid for UNRWA and the WFP.

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

            During the reporting period, IOF allowed the passage of 568 truckloads of food stuffs such as rice, flour, milk and medication for UNRWA, WFP, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Social Affairs, and limited quantities of sugar, fruits, frozen meat, dairy products, rice, and salt for local traders.

            IOF allowed the import of limited numbers of livestock. On 16 May, IOF allowed the import of 744 head of cattle. However, the civilians of the Gaza Strip consume an average of 3,000 head of livestock per month.

            Despite the entry of limited quantities of cement from Egypt when the border was blown open in January 2008, the continuing ban on construction material imports has paralyzed all construction and housing projects in the Gaza Strip. As a result, cement prices have quadrupled; and thousands of construction workers have become laid off.

 

Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Commercial Crossing:

            The Crossing was completely closed throughout the reporting period. 

            The Crossing has been completely closed since 17 January.

 

Nahal Oz Crossing:

            The Crossing was closed completely for 9 days during the reporting period. As a result, chronic fuel shortages continued across the Gaza Strip.  

            During the reporting period just 30,000 liters entered the Gaza Strip (plus 30,000 liters for UNRWA). This amount constitutes half a percent of the Strip’s benzene demand during the reporting period. Prior to the IOF decision to reduce fuel supplies to Gaza, 120,000 liters of benzene were being imported on a daily basis. 

            Gasoline supplies were banned from entering the Strip for 11 days during the reporting period. Just 12.8% of the Strips gasoline demand for the reporting period was allowed to enter during the reporting period (763,000 liters). PCHR notes that prior to the IOF fuel reductions, gasoline imports amounted to 350,000 liters per day. 

            IOF banned the entry of cooking gas for 9 days during the reporting period. During the days in which cooking gas imports were allowed, only 17% of the Strip’s requirement for the reporting period was imported, approximately 1,008.6 tons. The Gaza Strip requires approximately 350 tons of gas per day.

 

Table of fuel imported to Gaza during the reporting period

Date

Benzene in liters

Diesel in liters

Cooking Gas in tons

Industrial fuel

8/5

0

0

0

0

9/5

0

0

0

0

10/5

0

0

0

0

11/5

0

0

0

0

12/5

0

81000

284.5

922000

13/5

0

0

170

563000

14/5

0

0

100

400000

15/5

0

0

0

0

16/5

0

0

0

0

17/5

0

0

0

0

18/5

0

212000

179.6

478400

19/5

0

175000

203

475000

20/5

0

203000

139.5

475000

21/5

0

350000

220

558000

22/5

0

0

0

0

23/5

30000

92000

185

340000

24/5

0

0

0

0

Total

30000

763000

1008.6

3871400

Daily average

1746

44882

59.3

227729

 

The Impacts of Chronic Fuel Reductions

To date, the IOF imposed fuel crisis has been acute for more than six weeks, and has severely impacted on all aspects of civilian life in Gaza, especially the work of government hospitals and health centres,  the NGO sectors, supplies of drinking water, waste water treatment facilities, the fishing industry and poultry farms. In addition, the transport sector has been severely disrupted across the Gaza Strip. The 145 petrol stations in the Gaza strip were forced to close due to lack of fuel. The Gaza power station continues to operate below capacity due to deficiencies in fuel stocks. In addition, there are chronic shortages of cooking gas as insufficient supplies are being allowed to be imported. 

 

Health Sector:

The Ministry of Health (MOH) started to use the fuel supplies it received during the reporting period as well as its limited fuel reserves in order to operate health centres and important hospital equipment. MOH warned that the expiry of its small fuel reserves would paralyze the health sector and the ambulances that are currently forced to operate on a part-time basis. MOH announced it would not be able to provide the minimum level of healthcare to civilians if these fuel reserves run out. Staff continue to face serious difficulties in traveling to work; therefore health institutions are threatened whilst IOF military operations and incursions continue in Gaza.

 

Transport

Due to the chronic fuel crisis, thousands of vehicles have been taken off the roads, hindering access to vital public services. According to local sources, more than 85% of transport has been seriously disrupted by the fuel crisis.

 

Water and sewerage:

The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) informed a PCHR fieldworker that the CMWU has been suffering a fuel crisis since the beginning of 2008. The CMWU also stated that its fuel quantities supplied under the contract with Bahlool Fuel Company have now dropped from 150,000 liters/month to 45,000 liters/month; i.e. less than the third of the previous quantity. This

has severely impacted on its ability to deliver all aspects of its work, including delivery of safe drinking water, sewage water pumps, and sewage water treatment facilities during the reporting period.

            CMWU faced total or near expiry of fuel for 35 sewage water stations, which has led to the continued pumping of approximately 40,000-50,000 cubic meters of untreated or partially treated sewage into the sea every day. This poses a serious environmental risk. CMWU indicated that it needs urgent increases in fuel in order to operate effectively and prevent floods of raw sewage. 

            IOF continues to prevent the delivery of equipment, water pumps, and electrical tools required to operate the drinking water reservoirs and waste water plants that the CMWU needs, in spite of interventions and requests for equipment over the last ten months.  

 

 

Education Sector:

The fuel crisis continues to impact on the delivery of education across the Gaza Strip despite some measures by educational institutions to minimize the impact of the crisis.

Most universities partially resumed teaching during the reporting period, adopting reduced curricula, in order to reduce the transport burdens on students, teachers, and administrative staff. Sources from the Islamic University, Al-Azhar University, Al-Aqsa University, Al-Quds Open University, Palestine University International, and the Community College informed PCHR fieldworker that exam dates were brought forward to reduce the burdens on approximately 5,2000 students attending these educational institutions.

However, schools in the Gaza Strip faced difficulties in the final exams for approximately 448,000 students due to the transport difficulties facing students and their teachers.

 

Sanitation:

The fuel crisis has had an impact on the functioning of municipalities across Gaza. Most municipal services have been disrupted, including health, environmental, and garbage collection services. As a result, piles of garbage accumulated, posing a serious environmental and health risk to the population.

During the reporting period, the municipalities of Gaza, Jabalia, El-Nazla, and Rafah reduced their services to the bare minimum due to the fuel crisis. On 16 May, the Rafah municipality stopped garbage collection from house doors and main streets due to the lack of fuel for dumpsters. Dr. Abd El-Hamid D’heir, Director of Health and Environment, stated that the municipality received complaints from city residents about bad smells and spread of insects due to the accumulation of garbage in front of their homes. He added that the problem will continue till the municipality receives fuel to operate its vehicles. Dr. D’heir warned that the cessation of garbage collection in Rafah poses a serious environmental risk, especially during

the summer when temperatures speed up the rotting of garbage, and gathering of insects and rodents, and spread of diseases and odors. He noted that garbage collection services require approximately 330 liters of diesel daily.