Safe Passage


Frequently Asked Questions:merch_icon

The transit of merchants, goods, and raw materials

Why is Israel still responsible for the transit of goods into and out of Gaza even after the disengagement?

Israel’s ongoing control of the main aspects of life in the Gaza Strip creates obligations. Since 1967 Israel has been ruling the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as an occupying power. Even after completing the “disengagement” plan in September 2005, in which Israel pulled permanent military installations and civilian settlements out of the Gaza Strip, it has continued to fully control the territorial waters and airspace of the Gaza Strip and the land crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Israel also maintains indirect but substantial control of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Israel’s control of the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, in addition to its control of other significant aspects of life in the Gaza Strip, such as the population registry and the taxation system, creates Israel’s obligation towards the population of the Gaza Strip. It is Gisha’s position that these obligations derive from international humanitarian law because Israel is the occupying force in Gaza. Even the Israeli Supreme Court, which considers that the laws of occupation do not apply to Gaza, ruled that Israel continues to bear obligations towards the residents of Gaza deriving from the state of combat between Israel and militants in Gaza, its ongoing control of Gaza’s borders, and the strong dependence created in Gaza upon services provided by Israel as a result of the years in which Israel controlled the Gaza Strip directly, from 1967 to 2005. One way or another, Israel is still responsible for the Gaza Strip and its residents in the areas that it controls, including movement of people into and out of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel is obligated by international humanitarian law to maintain public order and guarantee normal life for the civilian population. Therefore, Israel is responsible for ensuring that its policy regarding the crossings allows the residents of the Gaza Strip a normal life.

In political agreements, Israel also undertook to allow the passage of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In the interim agreement, which has legal force, Israel defined Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit in which people and goods were to enjoy freedom of movement. The Agreement on Movement and Access that Israel signed with the Palestinian Authority a short time after the Gaza disengagement said that Israel would allow the passage of convoys of goods and people between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, however, this promise was never implemented. As a result, most commercial activity in the Gaza Strip was disrupted and paralyzed, and the economic crisis from which its people are suffering is only growing worse.

Why does Israel have to help Palestinians in Gaza when they continue to fire rockets at Israel and hold Corporal Gilad Shalit?

The ever-tightening closure that Israel has imposed on Gaza harms all the residents of the Strip – more than half of whom are children – regardless of any personal involvement in acts of violence against Israel. This constitutes collective punishment in contravention to international law. Indeed, the prohibition on punishing civilians for acts which they did not commit is a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law. IHL seeks to distinguish between those who participate in hostilities and innocent civilians, who are entitled to special protections. The firing of rockets at Israeli civilian population centers is unacceptable and constitutes a violation of international law. This and the ongoing captivity of Gilad Shalit do not, however, justify the imposition of restrictions on freedom of movement for the entire civilian population of the Strip, effectively punishing them for political or other circumstances which are beyond their control. Judging by recent statements of the Israeli government, even the release of Corporal Shalit will not necessarily lead Israel to remove restrictions on freedom of movement for residents of Gaza. Moreover, it should be emphasized that although movement restrictions have been tightened in response to rocket fire, the capture of Shalit, and the rise of the Hamas regime, these restrictions, especially between Gaza and the West Bank, were already in place many years prior. For example, the ban preventing students from Gaza from traveling to study in the West Bank has been in place since 2000.

Isn’t Israel preventing the free movement of merchants, goods, and raw materials because of concrete security threats?

No. Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel severely limited the quantity and variety of goods it allows into the Gaza Strip and almost completely banned exports. The restrictions were imposed as part of a declared policy whose purpose is to exert pressure on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip in order to influence the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Unlike in previous situations, Israel did not justify these restrictions on security grounds, such as threats to the border crossings or threats deriving from the nature of the goods entering (for example, that they could serve a military purpose). Instead, according to Israel, the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip is now limited to a “humanitarian minimum”, which includes only those goods that are considered “vital for the subsistence of the civil population”. Many items whose entry is banned, such as food products, concrete, and paper, are not considered to be dual use (having both civilian and military use). The restrictions on the movement of merchants are also sweeping and do not stem from individual security concerns regarding one merchant or another; merchants whom Israel allowed to travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank daily before 2007 have since then been completely prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip, with the argument that their exit is not a “humanitarian need”.

These restrictions have led to a complete halt of economic activity in the Gaza Strip, a paralysis of production, and deterioration in the standard of living in the Gaza Strip, all as part of an intentional policy to paralyze the economy of the Gaza Strip.

Why is the entry of raw materials into the Gaza Strip prohibited?

The ban on the entry of raw materials into the Gaza Strip is part of the economic policy Israel calls “economic sanctions” or “economic warfare”, and which human rights organizations call “collective punishment”. Since June 2007, Israel has only allowed goods into Gaza which it defines as “vital for the subsistence of the civilian population”. Raw materials for industry are not included in that definition and, thus, their entry is prohibited. The ban on the entry of raw materials is part of a policy of preventing economic development in the Gaza Strip. One example that illustrates this policy is that Israel allows the residents of Gaza to receive small packages of margarine, which are considered a consumer item; however, Israel prohibits the transfer of large blocks of margarine to Gaza, because those blocks are for “industrial” rather than “household” use: they might, for example, allow a local factory to manufacture biscuits, and thereby engage in economic activity. Therefore, it is not the product that is banned but its use for industrial purposes. The purpose of this policy is to disrupt the economy of the Gaza Strip as an instrument of pressure.

Can’t the tunnels provide a solution for the Gaza merchants?

Following Israel’s closure policy, which allows for the transfer only of “humanitarian goods” into the Gaza Strip, the tunnel industry on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt developed, becoming one of the biggest sources of economic activity in Gaza. The tunnels have become a vital lifeline for the Gaza economy and are the only way to obtain goods whose entry through the border crossings with Israel is forbidden. The tunnels also facilitate the smuggling of weapons, cash, and people. The tunnels, estimated to number between 600 and 1,000, are under the control of the Hamas government, which collects taxes on them and controls the entry of goods. However, the tunnels cannot be a solution for Gaza’s manufacturers, because many factors — the uncertainty and unpredictability of the supply of materials and products, the danger of closure or attack of the tunnels, the high costs of transit, the damage caused to goods by the transit route, and the low quality of the purchased goods — make the tunnels unsuitable for the import of raw materials or the export of finished materials by Gaza’s manufacturing sector. Likewise, international organizations working for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip cannot purchase building materials and other goods through the tunnels, because (unlike the Hamas government) they need receipts for the goods they purchase. The UN has proposed a mechanism for the entry of building materials through the border crossings controlled by Israel to guarantee that the goods reach their desired destination, but Israel has so far refused to implement it, other than for glass which has entered Gaza beginning in December 2009. Furthermore, the tunnels are not safe: since the beginning of the closure more than 110 people have been killed working in the tunnels, including dozens of children, as a result of airstrikes and work accidents that caused tunnels to collapse. Another 190 people have been injured.

Why can’t Gaza‘s merchants export their goods to the West Bank through the Rafah Crossing that connects the Gaza Strip and Egypt?

After the 1994 Oslo Agreement, the Rafah terminal served for the import of goods, and every month hundreds of trucks entered the Gaza Strip through it, carrying raw materials for construction and other goods. Between September 2000 and September 2005, following the outbreak of the Intifada, Israel closed the Rafah freight terminal 70% of the time. Import through the Rafah Crossing stopped completely after the Gaza disengagement plan as part of the Agreement on Movement and Access signed in November 2005 between Israel and the PA. The agreement banned the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing beyond “personal effects”, and therefore precluded import through it. Under the agreement, the import of goods into the Gaza Strip from Egypt must take place only through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which is located in Israel and subject to its direct control. The agreement allowed use of the Rafah Crossing for the export of goods to Egypt, but arrangements to make that possible were never made. Despite the freeze of the AMA in June 2007 because of the rise to power of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Egypt continues to prevent the transit of goods into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing.

Even if it were possible to export goods through the Rafah Crossing, it would not be a practical solution for the transit of goods between Gaza and the West Bank, which, according to the AMA, was supposed to take place through convoys of trucks traveling between the two Palestinian areas through Israeli territory. It is simply not economically viable to move goods between Gaza and the West Bank in any way other than via Israel.

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