In Israel’s attempt to stifle the Palestinian uprising, it has enforced a siege-now in its third consecutive month-on the Occupied Territories, resulting in intense economic, social, and political strangulation. Studies prepared by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza refute Israel’s claim that it has relaxed the siege.
Israel’s systematic closure policy is an action of collective punishment against millions of Palestinians. This contradicts international conventions and covenants, particularly Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which provides that “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”
This brief is based on data available from November 10 to December 3. Specific closures, statistics, and other facts vary daily, yet the following information is indicative of the problems closure creates for Palestinian society. Israel may re-impose or expand restrictions at any time. These internal and external closures have led to serious economic deterioration in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s restrictions on the movement of medicines and individuals requiring emergency hospital care have severely limited Palestinian access to crucial health care services.
Agricultural and Industrial Sectors:
The closure places a heavy toll on the Palestinian economy, causing a decline in the production capacity of local industry. The agricultural sector is already losing an estimated $3.7 million daily, according to Palestinian Ministry of Industry statistics on November 24. Under normal conditions, approximately 450 tons of vegetables and fruit are usually exported by this time of year. PCHR calculated a loss of approximately $6,750,000 resulting from Israel’s export blockade on these products over a 60-day period. Additional losses resulted from the price decrease on these goods in the local market. If the closure continues, the Palestinian agricultural sector will face increasing setbacks.
On November 24, the Palestinian Ministry of Industry estimated daily losses in the industrial sector at $3,459,000, excluding indirect losses. Construction, for example, has nearly ground to a halt. Construction companies and tens of thousands of laborers and engineers were forced to stop their work because Israel blocks raw materials from entering Gaza, and construction exports from leaving. On November 28, Israel allowed the entry of 650-700 tons of cement used in construction through the Al-Mentar (Karni) outlet. Yet according to official Palestinian sources, approximately 75,000 tons were imported monthly into the Gaza Strip before the closure. Clearly, the amount of cement allowed into Gaza does not meet the need for construction materials.
Losses are also incurred as a result of damaged property. By November 21, Israeli forces had already destroyed more than 2,828 dunums (one dunum is 1,000 square meters) of agricultural and wooded land in Gaza, as well as irrigation networks, water pumps, and other equipment. On many occasions, Israeli soldiers and settlers fired upon Palestinians as they tried to irrigate and cultivate their fields. By December 3, total losses in the olive industry alone were estimated at $12,857,000. The Israeli military has also damaged Palestinian factories. On November 20, for example, Israeli occupation forces, with the help of settlers, destroyed Metalco aluminum factory-after they stole its equipment.
In addition, the Palestinian economy faces indirect consequences due to the closure. The investment climate has suffered considerably, which will affect future local and international investment. Furthermore, many Palestinians were unable to meet the obligations they made through contracts with foreign countries. This will negatively impact the credibility of Palestinian producers and will force them to pay fines for the delay or cancellation of orders.
Freedom of Movement:
Israel has allowed the entry of some foodstuffs under strict measures and in limited amounts; however, it continues to impose restrictions on the free movement of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip. As of December 2, the Israeli military was still denying-on a daily basis-24,000 Gazan laborers access to their work places in Israel. This is in addition to the thousands of workers who lost their jobs in local factories for the reasons already mentioned. Several sources contend that the unemployment rate has increased to 50 percent-from an unusual low of 11 percent prior to the closure-and that a further increase is expected as long as the current siege continues.
On top of the external closure, Israel restricts Palestinian movement between cities and villages in Gaza. In a serious escalation, Israel completely isolated the south of the Gaza Strip from the north on November 20 by closing Salah El-Din Street (the main north-south road). The Israeli military reinforced its presence with troops, tanks, and heavy machine guns. Furthermore, Israeli forces closed branch and bypass roads with concrete blocks and mounds of sand. Palestinians were unable to reach their work places, and students were unable to attend classes at their universities in Gaza City. On November 23, Israel began to open the eastern (alternative) road twice a day, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and from 4:00 pm to 6:00 p.m. However, the movement of people, medicine, food, and goods was still limited by strict security measures.
Israeli troops used tear gas several times against Palestinians traveling on this road. As a result, Palestinians suffered from fainting and suffocation caused by the gas. Meanwhile, Israel allowed settlers to move freely on the main and branch roads under the escort of Israeli soldiers. (Salah El-Din Street was reopened several days after the December 3 PCHR report was published).
Palestinians are also deprived of their right to worship freely, as Israel prevents the majority of them from visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In addition, Israeli authorities have banned Muslims who are under 45 years old from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayer.
Access to Health Services:
Israel has blocked the entry of trucks loaded with medicines and medical equipment through the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. The crossing has been closed and reopened numerous times. On November 16, nine trucks-loaded with 30 well-equipped ambulances-were prevented from entering the Gaza Strip. They were not allowed in until the Gaza International Airport was partially reopened on December 1. On top of these restrictions, Israel continues to obstruct the transfer of wounded Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries. This increases the burden on severely strained hospitals in Gaza, especially as the number of the seriously wounded increases daily due to Israel’s use of excessive force against civilians.
Because of travel restrictions between the north and the south, physicians and medicine cannot reach hospitals in the south. In addition, Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints block the transfer of patients to hospitals-some of these patients have died as a result.
Role of the International Community:
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are facing an uncertain future. They are overwhelmed and frustrated as a result of Israel’s oppressive actions and policy of collective punishment. The international community should pressure Israel to lift the siege imposed on Gaza, and of course the West Bank as well, and to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people and their property. This community can also activate mechanisms of immediate intervention by the United Nations and its agencies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to ensure the access of medical and food assistance to the besieged occupied Palestinian territories. The European Union, for its part, should take steps under Article 2 of the Euro-Israel Association Agreement, which provides that Israel must respect human rights.