Isolating Hamas still Israel’s Gaza policy
Five years into the closure of Gaza, Gisha releases new publications showing: Increased Access Abroad, Separation from the West Bank and Israel.’ June 2007 – June 2012
Gisha, Legal Centre for Fredom of Movement
Five years after Israel closed Gaza’s crossings in the wake of the Hamas takeover (June 14, 2007), Gaza has been somewhat re-opened to access abroad, but sweeping restrictions on movement to Israel and the West Bank remain nearly unchanged. As a result, the prospect of economic recovery is limited, and the integrity of the Palestinian territory, considered a cornerstone of a “two-state solution”, is compromised in ways that will be difficult to reverse.
Although the current Israeli government renounced the logic of the “economic warfare” policy imposed on Gaza from 2007 to 2010, in practice it is still implementing restrictions with the explicit political aim of “pressuring Hamas” under the ambiguous term “separation policy” (see Gisha’s new information sheet). Under this policy, for example, people in Gaza are permitted to exportgoods abroad that transit through Israel and the West Bank but are prevented from selling the same goods in Israel and the West Bank, where both demand and profitability are much higher.
The separation policy is sustaining the economic anomaly created by the closure, in which productive sectors are paralyzed while the local government’s budget and its narrow tier of beneficiaries enjoy staggering growth. Despite numerous official statements that Israel is committed to economic development in Gaza and despite the relative improvement in Gaza’s economy since 2009, sustainable growth is impossible in these circumstances. The relative growth reflects an acute dependence on external sources of funding and lack of income from exports; it is explained in large part by tunnel-supported construction activity and high public sector employment. Restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank also sever the familial, educational and cultural ties that bind the Palestinian territory.
According to military officials, the separation policy is based on a political decision, rather than being a necessary security measure, yet, despite its far-reaching implications, it remains unclear which governmental branch made the decision to implement the policy and if it has been discussed or otherwise debated, taking into consideration the needs and rights of Gaza residents and Israel’s self-stated interests.
The Palestinian factional rift is exacerbating the separation by contributing to political and institutional fragmentation of the Palestinian territory, and complicating coordination procedures needed to facilitate movement between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.
In a second information sheet published today, “Graphing 5 Years of closure”, Gisha provides a unique overview of the past five years in numbers and charts.
Five years of closure by the numbers
Movement of people:
Increased access via Egypt, Israel and the West Bank mostly barred.
• Exits of Palestinians to Egypt are nearly at pre-2007 rates; access via sea and airspace remains blocked.
• Exits of Palestinian travelers to the West Bank and Israel are less than 1% of the volume before September 2000.
• Travel from Gaza to the West Bank and Israel is officially limited to “exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical treatment”. However, Israel is allowing up to 100 senior merchants, most of whom are men, to enter Israel and the West Bank each day. Less senior professionals and businesspeople, including most businesswomen, are banned.
• These same restrictions apply to residents of Gaza wishing to enter the West Bank from Jordan, via the Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing.
Movement of goods:
Increased access to foreign markets, access to nearby, lucrative markets remains banned.
• Entrance of goods to Gaza via Israeli-controlled crossings stands at 40% of pre-closure rates. Construction materials are mostly banned but enter Gaza from Egypt via tunnels.
• Sale of goods from Gaza to markets in the West Bank and Israel remains banned.
• The rate of outgoing goods, while slightly higher since 2010, stands at 2% of what it was before June 2007.
Adding up the numbers: Gaza isn’t lacking for food, but self-sustainability and development remain blocked
• GDP rose from a low base in 2009 but remains lower than it was in 2005.
• Unemployment in the first quarter of 2012 stands at 31.5%, among those aged 25-29 it stands at 58.9%.
• The public sector accounts for 39% of all employed workers (working either for the Gaza-based or Ramallah-based governments) – compared to 16.7% in the West Bank.
• More than 70% of the population in Gaza receives humanitarian aid.
Gisha Executive Director Sari Bashi: “Palestinians in Gaza can travel to and trade with almost any place in the world – except Palestinian towns in the West Bank. Israel’s separation policy is blocking economic recovery in Gaza and deepening what threatens to be an irreversible split between the two parts of the Palestinian territory”.
For graphs and information showing movement trends over the past five years, click here .
For more information on the separation policy, see this information sheet. [Introduction below]
For more information on criteria for travel of individuals, see criteria provided to Gisha by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
What is the “separation policy”?
Introduction, Information sheet, Gisha
In June of 2010, the Israeli government decided, in a formal Security Cabinet decision, to make changes to its policy of closure on the Gaza Strip, which had been in effect since Hamas took over the Strip three years prior. Since the decision, there has been a gradual removal of restrictions on the transfer of goods and raw materials into the Gaza Strip and an increase in travel through Erez
Crossing, particularly by businesspeople. Agricultural export from Gaza to Europe via Israel has also increased somewhat and Egypt’s opening of the Rafah Crossing for travel has provided a route for Gaza residents to travel abroad.
Gaza is less isolated from the outside world than it was two years ago, however the road to development and economic stability in the Strip remains blocked. Gaza’s connections with Israel and the West Bank, vital for its economy and the welfare of its residents, are still subject to sweeping restrictions on movement. The two main restrictions are the prohibition on marketing goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank and the narrow criteria for travel by individuals between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These restrictions have remained almost entirely unchanged, even after the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity in Gaza in October 2011.
When asked why these restrictions on movement remain in effect, security officials explain that they form part of the “policy of separation” between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This term reappears in official statements, but the only explanation ever given is that it is intended to “pressure Hamas and support the Palestinian Authority”. It remains unclear whether there is a well-defined and carefully considered policy that carries this title. If so, what are its goals? What government branch formulated it? Has it been brought for debate in any political forum – the government, the cabinet, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee?
The purpose of the following document is to provide a factual basis for a substantive discussion on the “separation policy” and its political, economic and security ramifications. Since we, like the rest of the Israeli public, do not know what the components of the separation policy are or what its purpose is, we focus here on concrete examples of uses of the term and explanations given for it by state officials.
We also present a number of questions which we believe merit consideration.
The document contains three parts: Part A deals with restrictions on transfer of goods, particularly the sweeping prohibition on marketing goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank; Part B deals with restrictions on travel to and from the Gaza Strip and illustrates the two guiding principles of these restrictions, minimizing the number of people who are eligible for travel and preventing Gaza residents from settling in the West Bank, and; Part C looks at the economic, political and security implications of the “separation policy”, relying on the opinions of various experts.
The policy that emerges from the three parts is one that has far-reaching implications, raises more than a few questions and has not been well-documented or discussed in the media or among security, economy and legal professionals. We hope to help bring the “separation policy” up for public and parliamentary debate in the framework of which it would be weighed against alternatives for
regulating civilian movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that both allow Gaza’s residents to lead normal lives and enjoy economic development and safeguard Israel’s security interests.
Gisha’s position is that Israel is responsible for allowing civilian access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which it has officially recognized as a single territorial unit. It must avoid restrictions on movement that are not connected to concrete security objectives, those that disproportionately harm the civilian population or deny residents of the Gaza Strip the ability to lead normal lives and engage in economic development.