The State of Gaza Strip Border Crossings

1 – 17 February 2008

To date 1.5 million civilians living in Gaza remain at risk due to the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) siege and closure of the entire Gaza Strip. This closure has drastically affected the ability of the civilian population to secure their basic needs, including food and medicine as well as access to adequate and appropriate healthcare.

Israel has imposed this unprecedented siege and closure on the civilians of Gaza since June 2007. As a result, the Gaza Strip is now a de-facto open air detention centre, where patients, including those injured by Israeli attacks, are being systematically deprived of adequate health care. This deprivation stems from the chronic lack of medication and medical supplies in the Gaza Strip, and is severely exacerbated by Israel denying Gaza civilians access to healthcare facilities outside of Gaza. 

These IOF policies are being imposed upon an already severely impoverished population. Almost 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 and chronic food insecurity. Across the Gaza Strip, standards of living have deteriorated, whilst child malnutrition, including child stunting and anemia, have increased dramatically. 

The Gaza Strip covers an area of just 365 square kilometers, and, due to the siege and closure, its citizens are unable to meet some of their most basic needs. There are chronic shortages of certain foods (including basic items), medicine and medical supplies, as well as fuel, and raw industrial materials, including materials for the agriculture, transport, and construction sectors. 

This reporting period saw continuing IOF reductions in electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip. In addition, IOF continued to reduce supplies of other essential fuels. Blackouts have continued to afflict the Gaza Strip on a daily basis, seriously disrupting vital civilian facilities, including hospitals and community healthcare centres, where some patients are totally dependant on electrically powered facilities, such as kidney dialysis machines. The power cuts are therefore putting the lives of patients, including critically -ill patients, at risk. 

This reporting period also witnessed the continuation of the hermetic closure of all Gaza Strip border crossings. The ban on the free and safe movement of civilians continued, with the imposed closure of Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border and the Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing in the northern Gaza Strip. Both these crossings were completely closed to Palestinian civilians during the 17 day reporting period, with only certain individuals permitted by the IOF to pass through Beit Hanoun Crossing. As a result, the civilian population of the Gaza Strip continued to be isolated from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, and the outside world.

The situation of the Gaza Strip commercial crossings also deteriorated during the reporting period. Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing was closed completely for 14 days. It was partially opened during the final three days of the reporting period, in order to allow some food items to enter the Strip. Nahal Oz Crossing for fuel was closed for 3 days. It was partially opened for 14 days in order to supply limited amounts of fuel, including industrial fuel for Gaza Strip power plant. Sofa Crossing was completely closed for aggregate and construction materials throughout the reporting period. It was partially opened for 13 days, in order to allow humanitarian assistance to enter the Strip. Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Crossing was closed completely throughout the reporting period. 

PCHR documented the death of 2 female patients during the reporting period, who were both denied access to adequate healthcare facilities outside the Gaza Strip. The number of patients who have died as a direct result of being prevented from traveling via Beit Hanoun Crossing for medical treatment outside of Gaza now stands at 26 victims, including 8 women and 6 children. In addition, approximately 4,800 Gaza residents have been waiting for permission to leave Gaza since June 2007, including patients, students who need to continue their studies abroad, and Palestinian expatriates living and working abroad who have been stranded in Gaza since visiting their families in the Strip last summer.  

The most notable developments during the reporting period are detailed below.

 

Travel Crossings:

Rafah International Crossing Point and Beit Hanoun Crossing remained closed throughout the reporting period. Since 10 June 2007, Rafah Crossing has been closed for a total of 248 days. Beit Hanoun Crossing has been closed for a total of 251 days during the same period. These closures deny the civilian population their right to freedom of movement to the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and beyond.

During the reporting period, IOF allowed a limited number of persons to travel in and out of Gaza under strict criteria. These individuals included diplomats, workers in international organizations, some traders and a limited number of patients.

 

Rafah International Crossing Point:

               The crossing was closed throughout the 17 day reporting period.  

               Since 10 June 2007, the Crossing has been closed completely for 248 days.

               On 4 February, Egypt started closing the parts of the Rafah border fence that were detonated in January 2008.[1] In addition, they prevented Palestinians crossing into Egypt, and prevented Egyptians and other internationals from leaving the Gaza Strip.[2] On 6 February, Egypt allowed hundreds of Palestinians and Egyptians from both sides of the border to return home via Salah El-Deen Gate. On 11 February, Egypt allowed an additional 53 internationals (excluding Egyptians) to leave the Gaza Strip. These included a Bahraini parliamentary delegation who had visited the Gaza Strip after the border was detonated, as a gesture of solidarity with Gazans.

               During the reporting period, the Egyptian authorities allowed approximately 1,400 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were in Al-Arish to travel outside of Egypt via Cairo Airport. These Palestinians all needed to travel outside Egypt for treatment, study, or residence. They had petitioned the Ministry of Interior in Al-Arish for permission to travel via Cairo. However, the Egyptian authorities denied entry to 800 Palestinians seeking to enter Egypt for treatment, study, or because they have Egyptian residency permits. The 800 Palestinians were returned to the Gaza Strip on 3, 7, & 11 February via the Salah El-Deen Gate. 

               The opening of the border with Egypt for a few days during January did not meet the basic needs of the civilian population and chronic shortages of fuel, medication and some foods continue.

               Several thousand Gaza residents have been denied travel outside of Gaza since June 2007. They include approximately 500 students enrolled in Egyptian higher education institutions as well as around 500 patients requiring treatment outside of Gaza.

 

Beit Hanoun (Erez) Crossing:

               IOF continued to close the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing throughout the reporting period. It was closed completely for 17 days.

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

               IOF have banned the movement of merchants with permits or Palestinian workers in international organizations from leaving Gaza through the crossing since 17 January 2008.

               For the ninth consecutive month, IOF continued to prevent families of prisoners from Gaza imprisoned in Israeli from visiting the prisoners. PCHR notes that the ICRC was coordinating these visits, which were functioning until June 2007. In addition, IOF continue to prevent elected Palestinian Legislative Council members, especially those affiliated with Hamas, from traveling between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

 

Health-related Situation:

               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 approximately 20 patients a day. PCHR notes that patients applying for passage via 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 International Crossing Point.

               During the reporting period, IOF rejected permits for 11% of applicants (20 out of 181) for stated security reasons. In addition, 171 patients are still awaiting replies to their permit applications. Therefore, 191 patients (31% of all patients) are suffering deterioration of their health conditions due to being refused a permit, or a delay in receiving a permit.

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

               Palestinian patients endure extremely difficult circumstances at the Beit Hanoun Crossing. They are subjected to humiliating search procedures, with many of them subsequently arriving at their destination much later than expected. In addition, a substantial number of patients are refused entry to Beit Hanoun Crossing, despite their health conditions. A PCHR fieldworker was at Beit Hanoun Crossing on 5 February 2008 when Na’ma Mohammad Abd El-Rahman Abu Shar, a 56-year old woman from Deir El-Balah, was at the Crossing in a Palestinian ambulance. Na’ma Abu Shar has cancer, and was almost unconscious whilst in the ambulance. She was waiting to be transferred to Ichilov Hospital in Israel and had received permission to travel the previous day from IOF. One of her relatives, a professional nurse, was monitoring her breathing device in the ambulance. He [the nurse] told the fieldworker;

“Na’ma suffers from stomach cancer. She was admitted to the European Hospital in Gaza three weeks ago and has had several operations. Her stomach was removed in addition to the gull bladder and spleen. She was dependent on an intravenous feeding. The physicians decided that she needed another operation. However her body could not withstand another surgery; and she stopped responding to intravenous feeding. She required Total Parenternal Nutrition (which bypasses the usual process of eating and digestion). However, this form of food was not available in the Gaza Strip due to the closure, and the physicians also informed me that the deterioration in her health was due to the lack of specialist feeding syringes she requires.” Na’ma’s sister-in-law, Subhia Hussein Ahmad Salha, who accompanied her to Ichilov Hospital, described the journey to Bet Hanoun Crossing. “We received a referral to Ichilov on Monday, 4 February. Na’ma and I arrived at the Crossing in a Ministry of Health ambulance at 13:00. We were kept waiting till 17:00 when we were finally allowed to enter the crossing. We were thoroughly searched and told to wait. At about 18:00 a soldier told us to return to Gaza. When I tried to tell him how serious Na’ma’s condition was, he said the crossing was closed due to rocket fire. We returned [to Beit Hanoun Crossing] the following day, after renewing the entry coordination. We have been here since 13:00 waiting for permission to pass through and go onto to Ichilov Hospital.” The PCHR fieldworker stated that IOF allowed Na’ma to proceed through Beit Hanoun Crossing at approximately 19:20, after rigorous checks had been carried out. 

During the reporting period, PCHR documented the death of 2 female patients, who both died as a result of IOF refusal to issue travel permits or delaying the issuing of permits. The number of patients who have died as a result of denial of access to healthcare through Beit Hanoun Crossing in 2007 was 26, including 8 women and 6 children. The patients who died during the reporting period are:

1- Nadia Yusef Mohammad El-Omari (28) from the Beach Camp in Gaza City was a mother of five children. A PCHR fieldworker had visited her in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City before she died at the beginning of February.She was in serious pain and her health was deteriorating. Her mother informed the fieldworker that her daughter had been suffering from cancer for almost a year. At the beginning of January Nadia was treated in Ichilov Hospital in Israel for 10 days. The physicians diagnosed terminal stomach cancer. He prescribed medication to reduce her pain. She started taking it in the hospital, and was instructed to continue the medication in Gaza. The medication was a special nutritional system, Total Parenternal Nutrition (TPN). After discharge from the Israeli hospital she returned to the Gaza Strip and attempted to secure the medication from the Ministry of Health. However, it was not available. Nadia’s family also tried to purchase the medication from private pharmacies, at a cost of $100 per dose. However, the medication was not available. Denied the medication she needed, her health deteriorated and she was transfer to Shifa Hospital, where she died on February 1st

 2 – Fatheya Mahmoud Abu Warda (53) died in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on 11 February, after being refused a permit for medical treatment outside Gaza. Her husband stated that Fatheya started to suffer from a kidney disease in May 2007 and she had been treated at Shifa Hospital. However, her health deteriorated due to repeated power cuts disrupting the hospital kidney dialysis machines, and lack of appropriate medication. Fatheya’s son decided to donate a kidney to his mother. However the closure of the Strip prevented her from traveling abroad for a kidney transplant. She depended on medication for survival, but her prescribed medication was not always available from the Ministry of Health pharmacy, and her doctor was forced to request a referral to an Israeli hospital. On 9 February, Fatheya’s health further deteriorated and she went into a coma. The referral was re-submitted to the IOF; however Fatheya Mahmoud Abu Warda died in Shifa hospital before her family had received a response from IOF.

 

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. Only limited quantities of international aid and basic necessities were allowed to enter the Strip.

 

Al-Mentar (Karni) Crossing:

               The Crossing was closed completely for imports and exports for 14 days. It was partially opened for 3 days. Exports were completely banned through the Crossings. Only limited amounts of flour and animal fodder were allowed to enter Gaza.

               The Crossing has been closed since 13 June 2007. It was partially opened for a limited number of days to allow flour and fodder imports to be processed. 

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

 

Date

Work Hours

Trucks

Tons

4 February

7

75

3000

5 February

7

75

3000

11 February

6

67

2650

 

Sofa Crossing:

 

The Crossing was closed completely for 4 days and partially opened for 13 days. IOF allowed limited quantities of food stuffs and humanitarian assistance to pass through for UNRWA and the WFP.

IOF has continued to prevent the entry of aggregate and construction materials into the Strip since 15 June 2007. The crossing was completely closed for 4 days for basic goods. Due to the Israeli Defense Ministry decision on 17 January 2008 to close all crossings to the Gaza Strip, Sofa was completely closed till 4 February, with partial access granted for humanitarian assistance to be delivered to UNRWA and the WFP. During the reporting period IOF allowed the passage of:

·           84 truckloads of food and fruits for local traders

·           315 truckloads of sugar and flour for UNRWA

·           90 truckloads of sugar and flour for the WFP

·           17 truckloads of Jordanian humanitarian assistance

·           24 truckloads of paper for the Ministry of Education

·           1 truckload of equipment for the Water Authority,

·           1 truckload of nylon

·           1 truckload of medicine for the Ministry of Health

·           1 truckload of medicine for UNICEF

·           1 truckload of humanitarian assistance from Israeli Arabs.

 

               IOF have banned the entry of livestock into Gaza since 18 December 2007. As a result, there is a shortage of fresh meat in Gaza markets. Market 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 is approximately 3,000 heads of livestock per month.

               Despite the entry of some quantities of cement from Egypt when the border was opened, the ban on construction material imports has 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 completely for 3 days, and all fuel imports except natural gas were banned for a further three days. In addition, benzene was banned for an additional another 11 days, and gasoline for a further 5 days. The Gaza Strip subsequently suffered serious shortages of fuel.

               The reduction of fuel supplies resulted in supplies running out in local stations, especially benzene. The Gaza Strip power plant continues to operate under full capacity due to lack of industrial fuel. The health sector has also been adversely affected. The Ministry of Health declared a state of emergency in some hospital departments that are dependent on electrical equipment. In addition, there are chronic shortages of natural gas.  

               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 Strip’s essential fuel needs. 

               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 need), 255 tons of natural gas (72% of demand), and 386,000 liters of industrial fuel. Fuel distributors refused to receive these amounts, with the exception of the industrial fuel for the power plant.

 

Table of fuel supplies to Gaza at different intervals since the beginning of 2008

Time frame

Benzene (liter)

Gasoline (Liter)

Natural Gas (ton)

Daily demand

120000

350000

350

1-15 January 08 (daily)

38000

250000

220

Percentage of demand

31.6%

71.4%

61.1%

16-21 January 08 (daily)

0

0

0

22-31 January 08 (daily)

12000

197000

255

Percentage of demand

10%

56.3%

72.8%

1-14 February 2008 (daily)

7570

111000

202.6

Percentage of demand

4.6%

31.7%

57.9%

 

Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) Commercial Crossing:

               During the reporting period, the Crossing was completely closed for 17 days.

               The Crossing has been completely closed since 17 January.

               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 daily during its harvesting season. This quantity is much higher than the exported quantity. As a result, the export quota for farmers was reduced, and they suffered heavy losses. The losses suffered by local strawberry farmers are estimated at $US 15 millions; $ 8 million being the cost of planting and maintaining 2,700 donums of strawberries.

 


[1] The economic and social strangulation affecting all aspects of civilian life in the Gaza Strip led armed Palestinian groups to destroy the parts of the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. A few hours later, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed into the Egyptian towns of Rafah and El-Arish. In addition, hundreds of Gaza residents who were in Egypt and could not previously return used the opportunity to return home. The Egyptian authorities dealt positively with the development and allowed Gazans to stock up on food and goods that were not available in the Gaza market due to the prolonged closure.

[2] The closure of these parts led to confrontations between Palestinians and the Egyptian authorities, resulting in the death of a Palestinian (Hammad El-Qadi – 40) and injury of 40 others from both sides.