CLOSURE UPDATE NO.1 Report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on the total closure imposed by Israel on the Occupied Territories
Published @ 10.00 CMT on 5 March 1996
Reported by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
On the closure imposed on Gaza Strip by Israel
Following the fourth bomb in Tel Aviv on 4 March 1996 the borders of the Gaza Strip have been totally sealed off and the area isolated from the outside world. No person or vehicle can enter or leave.
On 25 February 1996 Israel imposed a total closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip following 2 suicide bombings by Hamas in Israel. The total closure did not prevent 2 more bombs attacks in Israel on 3rd and 4th of March. The policy of total closure contradicts accepted international human rights standards and constitutes the collective punishment of the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing deterioration in their already impoverished living conditions. Palestinian and Israeli reports suggest that the closure will last at least until the Israeli elections in late May 1996.
Israel claims that total closure of her borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a necessary security measure. It locks Palestinians inside these two areas, severely restricting freedom of movement and the import of basic foods and amenities. The effects are devastating for the livelihood of thousands of families in Gaza. Yet it is clear that closures are not effective in preventing suicide bomb attracts inside Israel.
The policy of total closure undermines the position of the Palestinian Authority: since its foundation in May 1994 Israel has imposed over 300 days of total closure on the Gaza Strip. For the remaining time the norm was a limited closure rather than an open border.
The information contained in this update has been provided by the staff of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights who have been given the specific mandate of conducting daily monitoring and documentation of the devastating effects of the closures on the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
A. ECONOMIC SITUATION WORSENS AS A RESULT OF CLOSURE
The economy of the Gaza Strip is already in crisis. The total closure has caused a paralysis in all economic sectors in Gaza. Official Palestinian reports estimate daily economic losses of $ 6 million. The Gazan economy is very much dependent upon Israel: Gaza depends heavily on the ability of Palestinians to work in Israel; Gazan produce is exported to markets in Israel, or abroad via Israel; the closure demonstrates the control Israel has over Gazan commercial transactions with other Palestinian autonomous areas in the West Bank.
The Karni Outlet, at the border between Israel and Gaza Strip, was designed for the purpose of commercial transactions between Israel and Gaza. Israel made assurances that it would remain open for such purposes in the event of closures.
The Outlet was completely closed between 25th and 29th February; transactions were severely curtailed thereafter; in the wake of the latest bomb in Israel on 4 March the Outlet is once again completely sealed, preventing the entry of even the most basic provisions into Gaza.
The worsening economic situation is calamitous in human rights terms. The most fundamental rights are based on a stable and adequate economy. The closures diminish any human rights benefit Palestinians can gain from the peace agreements. Their right to self-determination is curtailed, whilst the continued occupation denies economic and social rights.
I. Palestinian workers denied access to Israel
The economy of Gaza relies upon thousands of Gazan workers travelling into Israel every morning. Since the transfer of autonomy the number of workers permitted into Israel has been reduced dramatically.
The process of gaining entry for work in Israel is complicated, prolonged and the majority of applications are turned down without reason; work permits are only issued to married workers over the age 30 years. Many valid permits have been confiscated by Israeli soldiers; in the last 3 months Israeli soldiers have taken 340 work permits at Israeli checkpoints.
When a closure is imposed, all permits are cancelled, and Palestinians must re-apply for them when the closure is lifted.
The closures and the resultant inability of Gazans to reach their work-places in Israel have resulted in a dramatic rise in unemployment in Gaza. Around 90,000 (57%) of the total workforce is unemployed. Even when no closure is imposed only 13,000 workers can travel to Israel each day.
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Labour estimates that the revenue lost because workers cannot travel to Israel is between $750.000 and $900.000 daily. This translates into a cost the Gazan economy equivalent to the total aid to the Palestinian Authority from donor countries.
The following table details the number of workers who have been allowed entry to Israel each month between the period January 1995 to February 1996:
NUMBER OF WORKERS
Closure imposed on Gaza Strip on 22nd January
Until 19th February all workers were prevented from entering Israel.
Thereafter numbers workers allowed entry were only gradually increased.
Total closure imposed between 21st and 23rd March.
Total closure between 21st and 23rd April
Total closure between 3rd and 7th May.
Total closure between 24th and 29th July.
Number of workers allowed into Israel was reduced to 0 as a result of an Israeli order to renew magnetic cards (required for each Gazan in order to enter Israel to work) between 10th and 23rd.
Total closure imposed between 20th and 30th.
This number includes only those workers who crossed to Israel after 17th October.
Total closure imposed between 13th and 29th February
Source: Palestinian Authority Ministry of Labour
ii. Commercial transactions cease under the closure
The total closure has lead to a cessation in all commercial activity which is with or via Israel. Sources in Gaza already identify shortages in basic provisions such as wheat and dairy goods, and a resultant drastic increase in prices. There is a paralysis in construction activity due to a severe shortage of building materials.
80% of Gazan Commercial activity is conducted with Israeli, and 20% with the West Bank and international markets. The sealing of the karni Outlet commercially isolates the Gaza Strip.
Damage has been greates to the agricultural sector, with high losses reported by farmers. The Minister of Agriculture estimates that agricultural losses of $2 million during the first 4 days of the closure. The Marketing Department of the Ministry reported, for example, estimated losses in the rose sector of the flower industry alone at $ 1 million.
Consignments of agricultural produce regularly rot while waiting in trucks at Karni for permission to enter Israel.
iii Vehicle transportation severely curtailed
On 21st March 1995 Israel issued a military order which prevented all Palestinian vehicles, including commercial vehicles, from entering Israel from the Gaza Strip, resulting in a estimated loss of $600,000 daily. Israel has since allowed a limited number of vehicles to cross the borders, but only in groups and only under military escort.
Between 25th and 28th February, following the recent closure, no Palestinian vehicle from Gaza has been allowed to pass; on the 29th only 38 commercial vehicles (carrying vegetables and flowers from Gaza to Israeli and West Bank markets) were allowed through; on March 1st 53 vehicles were allowed; on 2nd March 8 vehicles were allowed.
B. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT AND SAFE PASSAGE DENIED
The total closure denies Palestinians at all levels freedom of movement between Palestinians autonomous areas in West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements provide special arrangements have been implemented, denying the right to free movement between these areas.
Senior Palestinian Authority officials, including Ministers and members of the elected council have their freedom of movement restricted. On establishment of the Palestinian Authority its officials were issued with special “VIP” permits by Israel. 4 days after the closure had been imposed only som “VIPS” were allowed to move between West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since the third bomb they have again been totally denied passage. This restricts the extent of Palestinian Authority cabinet activity at this vital time.
C. CLOSURE CAUSES GRAVE DETERIORATION IN HEALTH SITUATION
27 years of Israeli occupation have left the Gaza Strip with a dearth of health facilities and infrastructure. Gazans cannot be guaranteed adequate medical treatment and are forced to seek medical treatment in hospitals in Israel, the West Bank or abroad. Since the total closure on 25th February Israeli authorities have denied all but 6 permits for patients to travel outside Gaza for medical treatment; despite the fact that Israel had previously agreed to exclude such cases from any closure. This measure jeopardises the lives of many Palestinians who struggle to live without appropriate medical treatment.
30 cancer patients were scheduled to receive chemotherapy in Israel and Jerusalem; such treatment is not available in Gaza. It is a spurious argument that critically ill patients such as these are a security threat to Israel.
In order to travel for medical reasons Palestinians must undergo complicated and prolonged procedures imposed by Israel. The delays in issuing these permits, and at the border-crossing has proved to be fatal. For example Khadija Odwan died as a direct result of such delays. The following are details of her case:
Khadija Mohammad Odwan, born 1937 and from Beit Hanoun, was described by her doctors at Shifa Hospital as being in a critical state of health and in urgent need of treatment which could not be provided in Gaza, but could be found in Israel. The Palestinian Authority took the required steps to secure her transferral to an Israeli hospital; however it received no response at all from the Israeli authorities. The patient’s family approached the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights seeking help. The Centre faxed a letter to the Israeli Minister of Health on 25th February 1996. The Israeli authorities did not issue a travel permit for the patient until 27th February, after the Palestinian Centre and Palestinian officials had lobbied various Israeli governmental institutions, officers and human rights organisation.
At 2.00pm on February 27th the ambulance carrying Khadija Odwan, and Dr. Jamil Tarazi, arrived at Erez Checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers checked the ambulance 3 times during a period of 2 hours, regardless of Dr. Tarazi’s entreties to speed the procedure.
The soldiers did not allow the ambulance to cross into Israel, and ordered that the ambulance had to be changed. The second ambulance crossed at 6:30pm, following further checks which took 90 minutes. At 7.00pm the patient arrived at Asaf Harofeh Hospital in Sarafand, Israel and died minutes after being admitted to the emergency unit.
D. DEPRIVING PALESTINIANS OF THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION
The total closure has prevented 500 Gazan students from reaching their universities and colleges in the West Bank. 1,218 Palestinian students from Gaza study in the West Bank.
Some student returned to Gaza for the Ramadan feast which begins on 20th February, intending to leave Gaza to return to their schools and colleges after the feast. On 23rd February, students attempting to leave Gaza were denied access to Israel because of a previous closure which was in place. The total closure of 25th February means they face severe disruptions to their education.
E. PALESTINIANS PREVENTED FROM TRAVELLING FROM LOD AIRPORT AND ACROSS THE WEST BANK/JORDAN BORDER
The total closure imposed on 25th February has prevented Palestinian from reaching Lod airport, the only airport of embarkation from Israel and the Occupied Territories. In addition Gazans are restricted from crossing Israeli territory in order to travel to Jordan.
This means that the only exit from Gaza is the Rafah Crossing border with Egypt, which is difficult to cross. Thus hundreds of Palestinians with valid permits and reasons to travel are confined to the Gaza Strip and restricted from leaving for any reason.
F. PALESTINIAN PRISONERS DETAINED IN ISRAEL DEPRIVED OF VISITS THEIR FAMILIES
Around 3,500 Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli prisons in Israel. Many were transferred from prisons in the Occupied Territories to prisons in Israel in contravention of international law.
For 1 month families have been families have been prevented from visiting their relatives in prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross states: the last visit paid to Nafha Prison in Israel was on February 6th 1996; the last visit to Ashkelon prison was on February 7th 1996; a visit scheduled for 27th January 1996 to Negev Prison was cancelled by Israeli authorities.
Israel imposes strict procedures for Palestinian family visits to prisons in Israel: Only women are allowed to visit; sometimes men over the age of 30 years are allowed to visit, but more recently this minimum age has been raised to 35 years; lawyers visits to prisons and detention centres in Israel are restricted, depriving Palestinian prisoners of the basic procedural human right to legal council. Since the latest closure all scheduled visits have been cancelled, and all lawyers are prevented from contacting their clients.
G. RESTRICTING PRESS FREEDOM
Since the closure on February 25th, Israeli authorities have banned circulation in Gaza Strip of Palestinian newspapers published in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. On 29th February 1996 Israel reinstated circulation of newspapers, but on 2 March only Al Ayyam newspaper was permitted to be circulated.
The imposition by Israel of the total closure on Gaza Strip and West Bank constitutes a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people, which will lead to a drastic deterioration of their already impoverished living conditions.
The argument that total closure guarantees Israel’s security is not born out by the last two suicides bomb attacks, which took place inside Israel during total closure. In addition those who carried out the first two suicide bombings came from Hebron, which is under Israeli jurisdiction where the Palestinian Authority bears no responsibility.
The total closure, which may only serve Israel’s political considerations, threatens the lives of the Palestinian people, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and worsens the chronic economic crisis. This measure escalates the tension and further undermines stability in the region.
Israel is requested to reconsider its policy of closure.