Creating people's geographies
Israel’s ‘invisible hand’ still controls Gaza, says report
David Sharrock in Gaza | Times Online | January 15, 2007
Israel continues to control Gaza, 16 months after it pulled out its settlements and military installations, with an “invisible hand” that has provoked a severe humanitarian and economic crisis, according to an Israeli human rights body.
Ending its 38-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip did not end Israeli control but simply changed the rules of engagement, charges Gisha, the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, in a report due to be published next week.
The organisation says that Israel’s control over Gaza’s borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax system and supply of goods means that it cannot absolve itself of responsibility for its citizens under international law.
“It’s a new position made very clear in Hebrew before the courts but not something that Israel has made clear internationally,” said Sari Bashi, Gisha’s executive director.
“Sometimes Israeli soldiers still operate in the streets of Gaza but Israeli control of every aspect of the lives of Gaza citizens is constant, they know that their ability to do ordinary things like turn on a light or buy milk depends on decisions made by the Israeli military.”
The report details how Israel has removed some of its elements of control while significantly tightening others.
“Far from improving the economy and welfare of Gaza residents, Israeli actions since September 2005 – including severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza and an economic stronghold on the funding of civil services – have contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis in Gaza not seen in the 38 years of Israeli control that preceded the withdrawal of permanent ground troops.”
Gisha says that Gaza has been cut off from the outside world for 42 per cent of the time since the Strip was evacuated of Jewish settlers and troops. The Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt is operated by the Palestinian Authority under the supervision of European Union monitors and Israeli security officials who monitor operations with live video footage and passenger lists.
Travel through the crossing is restricted to Palestinians registered in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry.
This means that foreigners may only enter Gaza via the Israeli-controlled crossing points in the north.
“Reports and internal military documents suggest that Israel has used the closure of the (Rafah) crossing to exercise pressure on Gaza residents. In the first year following the completion of its disengagement programme, Israel kept Rafah Crossing closed for 148 days.” Since June last year, when militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier, the Rafah crossing has been closed for 80 per cent of the time and, on days that it has opened, has functioned only for a few hours.
At the same time Israel has also kept Gaza’s other crossings mostly closed and has withheld monies needed to pay the salaries of civil servants and to run civilian institutions.
“The results of these controls have been devastating and have helped plunge Gaza into an economic and humanitarian crisis unprecedented in nearly four decades of occupation,” says the report, seen by The Times.
Israel completely controls the import of goods into Gaza and exercises substantial control over exports from Gaza to third countries and to the West Bank.
The Karni Crossing between Israel and Gaza is the lifeline through Which commercial goods enter the Gaza Strip. Because imports to Gaza are not permitted via air, sea, or Rafah Crossing, only goods arriving first in Israel and inspected there can be brought into Gaza.
“The restrictions on imports via Karni Crossing have, at various points, caused severe shortages of basic goods that threatened the health and welfare of Gaza residents,” the report says.
“Citing security warnings, Israel has closed Karni Crossing to exports for most of 2006, causing severe damage to Gaza’s economy and rendering export crops virtually worthless. The closures caused an estimated $30 US million in losses in the first quarter of 2006 alone.
“During that time, farmers destroyed their crops, donated them, or left them to rot in the fields, because they could not get them out of Gaza and to export markets.”
Another controversial are is control over the Palestinian Population Registry, which means control over who may enter and leave Gaza.
Since 2000, with few exceptions, Israel has not permitted additions to the Palestinian Population Registry, with the exception of children of Palestinian ID-card holders.
Tens of thousands of Gaza residents, primarily women who entered Gaza on visitor permits and married locals, cannot leave because they will not be permitted to return.
A result of these policies, says Gisha, is an unemployment rate which has risen between 2005 and 2006 from 33.1 per cent to 41.8 per cent, and Gross Domestic Product has declined by an estimated 30 per cent.
The report concludes: “So long as Israel exercises control over civilian life in Gaza, it will continue to owe obligations to those civilians whose lives depend on the decisions of a foreign military power.”