Gaza Up Close

Unemployment close to 50%; long blackouts; severe shortages of clean water; limited economic opportunities; a very young, educated population with immense potential, and a closure that undermines their chances of succeeding. This is life in Gaza today.

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Introduction

 

Many Israelis believe that with the implementation of the disengagement plan in 2005, Israel has unburdened itself of Gaza and no longer bears responsibility for what happens there. The reality is that Israel still denies sea and air access to Gaza and controls all but one of its land border crossings, Rafah. Israel takes it upon itself to screen and sort all goods shipped into Gaza and demands to know the purpose of the goods, who receives them and who pays for them. Israel decides what goods produced in Gaza can be sold outside the Strip, how much, when and where. Israel also decides how much electricity will be sold and supplied to the Strip, reducing its supply at will. This is not disengagement; this is remote (but not too remote) control.

How did we get here?

On September 11, 2005, Israel removed its last remaining troops from inside the Strip. In 2007, after Hamas took control of the Strip, Israel’s security cabinet declared Gaza a “hostile entity” and severely tightened restrictions on movement for its residents. Entry of goods was reduced to the bare minimum required to stave off a humanitarian crisis; export of goods outside Gaza was fully banned; severe restrictions were imposed on the entry of fuel, and travel between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel, which was already limited, was even further restricted.

Over the years, a doctrine the military refers to as the “separation policy” was developed. The idea is to sever Gaza from the West Bank, to obstruct contact between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, which were not only meant to make up the Palestinian state according to international resolutions and agreements, but also share the same language, culture, and economy, as well as family ties. Security officials have said that the purpose of the separation policy is to put pressure on Hamas and help the Palestinian Authority, but in practice, the policy harms civilians – for instance, Gaza’s civil society organizations. Students from Gaza cannot study in West Bank universities, medical teams, academics and technical experts cannot travel between the two parts of the territory, not even for seminars and training. Families cannot reunite except in the most exigent circumstances, such as a wedding, or a death or terminal illness in the family. Even then, only first-degree relatives are eligible to apply for a permit.

Some of the restrictions have been lifted or changed over the years (details below). The principle, however, remains the same, despite the fact that the restrictions have clearly failed to achieve their original goal of toppling Hamas or preventing rocket fire on Israeli communities. What the restrictions have done is unravel conditions on the ground to the point that, as a United Nations report has said, without massive, immediate mobilization,  Gaza will be unliveable by 2020.

Click on the map to view a larger version.

Part 1
Movement of People
Movement of People

Movement of People

Erez Crossing, 2019. Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

Erez Crossing

Currently, only two crossings are used for pedestrian travel into and out of Gaza – Rafah, into Egypt, and Erez, into Israel. When Rafah Crossing is closed, Erez Crossing, controlled by Israel, is Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world. It is also the gateway to the West Bank, entry into which is completely controlled by Israel.

Passage through Erez Crossing is subject to Israeli security clearance and interpretation of a narrow and fluid list of criteria for travel. Sometimes, residents who have received permits and have ostensibly been cleared for travel are still denied passage upon arrival at Erez Crossing. For example, traders are told that their permits have been denied due to a “security block,” with no further explanation, including veteran, well-known traders who have traveled back and forth between Gaza and Israel for years, doing business (mostly purchasing goods) in Israel. Figures released by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) show a drop in the rate of affirmative responses to permit applications from 80 percent in 2014 to 46 percent between January and November 2018.

In 2018, when the weekly protests along the Gaza perimeter fence first began, Israel closed the crossings repeatedly in acts of collective punishment. Erez Crossing was all but shut down for Palestinian travel six times between August 2018 and the end of June 2019. This on top of the use of live fire against protestors, which resulted in the killing of hundreds and wounding of thousands.

When Erez Crossing is open, passage is granted mainly to individuals who fall into one of three categories: trader permit holders, medical patients and their companions, and other “exceptional humanitarian cases,” i.e. people traveling to attend the wedding or funeral of a first-degree relative, or visit terminally ill first-degree relatives. Application processing times, even for those meeting the narrow criteria, are unreasonably long. An application to visit a sick child or parent may take up to 50 business days. Applications by patients from the Gaza Strip to exit for medical treatment may take as long as 23 business days, regardless of the medical appointment date.

The average number of exits of Palestinians via Erez Crossing over the first six months of 2019 was about 12,200, a 43% increase compared to the monthly average for 2018 and a 106% increase compared to 2017. Nonetheless, the rate of travel in 2019 was just 2% of the rate in 2000, before the start of the Second Intifada when about 500,000 exits of Palestinian day laborers were recorded at Erez Crossing each month.

Rafah Crossing

The Gaza-Egypt border crossing point is Rafah Crossing. From mid-2012 to mid-2013 the crossing was open regularly, with some 40,000 exits and entries recorded each month. Beginning in July 2013, the crossing remained closed most of the time, until it resumed more regular operations in May 2018, as the Great March of Return protests began and humanitarian conditions in Gaza deteriorated.

Rafah Crossing has been open about five days per week since then, but can still be closed suddenly. In January 2019, the crossing was closed for several weeks after the Palestinian Authority withdrew its employees, casting doubt over the stability of operations at Rafah.

Officially, only people meeting Egypt’s criteria may travel through Rafah, subject to preregistration: Gaza residents with foreign residency or passports, patients with referrals for medical treatment in Egypt, and individuals with study, work or family visitation visas for third countries. Many of those seeking to travel do not meet these criteria and getting permission to cross can take time, so those who can afford it opt to pay high fees for “special coordination.” Transit through the Sinai desert is long, uncomfortable and often dangerous. Israel does not allow people who exited through Rafah to return to the Gaza Strip through Erez Crossing.

From May 2018 to May 2019, a monthly average of 4,630 entries into Gaza and 6,310 exits have been recorded. While this is three times the rate in 2017, it still falls short of 2013 figures and does not meet all the needs of the population. In particular, it cannot substitute for Erez because even if a person exits via Rafah, she still needs Israel’s permission to enter and be present in the West Bank or Israel. Access to family, professional and economic opportunities, and medical care in the West Bank and Israel, for example, cannot take place via Rafah. Given the dire situation in the Gaza Strip, many young adults have reportedly taken advantage of the crossing’s relatively regular operation to leave Gaza in search of a better future elsewhere.

12,297
Exits through Erez (monthly average Jan-June 2019)
Each individual must undergo a security check. Travel is limited to those fitting a narrow list of criteria.
500,000
Exits of laborers via Erez monthly in 2000
Before the Second Intifada, tens of thousands of Palestinians crossed through Erez daily for work in Israel.
10,677
Crossings through Rafah (monthly average Jan-June 2019)
In the first three quarters of 2017, the crossing was open for a total of 17 non-consecutive days.
40,000
Monthly crossings through Rafah in early 2013
In the first half of 2013, Rafah Crossing operated regularly and tens of thousands of crossings were recorded each month.
46%
Permit applications approved (Jan-Nov 2018)
Compared to a more than 80% approval rate in 2013. Many permits have been cancelled or were not renewed.
Part 2
Movement of Goods
Movement of Goods

Exit and entrance of goods via Kerem Shalom

From the time the closure was tightened in 2007 and until the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of 2010, Israel banned entrance of a long list of goods to Gaza, including coriander, paper, toys, and chocolate, to name a few. As a matter of fact, other than a narrow list of items permitted for entry, which was never published, everything was banned. Since 2010, Israel has allowed goods to enter Gaza but severely limits, and in some cases bans, the entry of items it defines as dual-use, that is, items that are civilian in nature but that Israel believes can also be used for military purposes. The list is long and vague. It includes broad categories like “communications equipment” and items vital to the health sector, civilian infrastructure and industry, such as medical equipment, cement, and wood planks.

Basic construction materials, like cement and steel, designated for internationally funded and private projects, enter Gaza almost exclusively through a mechanism for coordinating entry of building materials and goods agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority with monitoring by the United Nations, and established according to Israel’s conditions after Operation Protective Edge (Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM)). The “dual-use” list managed by the GRM contains thousands of items.

The exit of goods from Gaza is critical for its industries. Toward the end of 2014, Israel announced it would remove one of the most restrictive economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip – the ban on selling Gaza-grown and manufactured goods in the West Bank and in 2015 it began allowing goods to go to the Israeli market in limited quantities. In November 2014, for the first time in seven years, a truck carrying goods from Gaza made its way to Hebron. It was followed by furniture, textile and produce from Gaza that were shipped out to West Bank markets. Currently, the types of Gaza-grown produce permitted for sale in the West Bank are tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, strawberry, cabbage, cauliflower and date. It is unclear why the list is limited to these items. In March 2015, Israel permitted the sale of tomatoes and eggplants from the Gaza Strip in certain markets within its own territory. At present there is a cap on how much can be sold per month: 350 tons of tomato and 50 tons of eggplants. Furniture, textiles and scrap metal are also permitted. In 2019, Israel allowed a few new products to exit for sale in the West Bank, including baby wipes and toys.

Gaza – Chronology of closure
1947-2016, move the scale right for a historical overview
29.11.1947
The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine is adopted. The Palestinian state includes the Gaza Strip.
15.04.1948
Declaration of the State of Israel and the 1948 War. Over the course of the war, large numbers of Palestinian refugees from the center and south converge in Gaza.
24.02.1949
Armistice agreement signed with Egypt, leaving Gaza under Egyptian military rule.
05.06.1967
Israel occupies Gaza during the Six Day War.
01.01.1972
The “General Exit Permit” allows Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to enter Israel during the day and work there.
09.12.1987
The First Intifada erupts in Gaza and spreads to the West Bank. Over the next few years, violence will escalate and spread (Gaza, 1987. Photo by Anat Saragusti).
10.02.1991
“General Exit Permit” revoked. Access restrictions imposed on Gaza residents become more severe.
01.04.1994
The Cairo Agreement for the transfer of Gaza and Jericho to Palestinian control is signed.
01.01.1995
Israel puts up a fence around the Gaza Strip.
25.10.1999
The “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank opens.
27.09.2000
The Second Intifada breaks out. Safe passage is closed. Serious restrictions on movement through Erez Crossing imposed. Israel shuts down Gaza airport. Gaza students banned from studying at West Bank universities.
11.09.2005
The Gaza Disengagement Plan is completed. Israeli military withdraws from the inside of Gaza after 38 years. Commerce with Gaza is restricted.
15.11.2005
The Agreement on Access and Movement is signed, giving Israel a great deal of control over travel into and out of the Gaza Strip.
25.01.2006
Hamas wins majority vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections held in Gaza and the West Bank. Three months later, Israel forbids Gaza laborers from entering its territory, and restricts travel through Erez to exceptional humanitarian cases.
26.06.2006
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is captured by Palestinian militants and held in Gaza. Two days later, Operation Summer Rain begins, the first ground invasion of the Gaza Strip since the disengagement. Gaza’s power station is bombed during the fighting.
19.09.2007
Israel declares Gaza a “hostile entity” following the Hamas take-over in June and tightening of the closure. Israel devises formulas for calculating the minimum caloric intake needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis, reduces the amount of fuel and electricity sold to Gaza, and limits the fishing zone to three nautical miles from shore.
27.12.2008
Operation Cast Lead – Gaza’s power station is hit once again. Extensive damage to residential and government buildings, as well as electricity, sewage and water infrastructure. Hundreds are killed and thousands injured.
01.01.2009
Israel releases protocol which effectively prohibits Palestinians from Gaza from moving to the West Bank for family unification.
31.05.2010
Israeli navy takeover of Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, ends with the killing of nine activists on board. International pressure and investigations follow. Israel lifts most restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza, with the exception of “dual-use” items and allows the entry of construction materials for international organizations only. Limited export abroad from Gaza begins.
10.07.2011
Israeli air force strikes a Gaza tunnel. Throughout the year, smuggling through tunnels running from Gaza to the Sinai desert intensifies. Rafah Crossing operations expand greatly after the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power in Egypt, and it remains open most of the time, allowing Gaza residents to travel into Egypt.
14.11.2012
Operation Pillar of Defense. Israel subsequently increases the fishing zone to six nautical miles off the coast and declares farmers will be allowed to approach up to a distance of 100 meters from the border.
13.10.2013
The discovery of a tunnel near the Israeli kibbutz community of Ein Hashlosha brings an end to a very brief interval during which Israel allowed construction materials to enter Gaza for the private sector. All construction materials are banned. Unemployment soars. Over the course of the year, Egypt destroys most Sinai smuggling tunnels and frequently shuts down Rafah Crossing.
08.07.2014
Operation Protective Edge begins - the deadliest, most destructive round of fighting in Gaza to date.
26.08.2014
Operation Protective Edge ends in ceasefire. The GRM is established and more construction materials are allowed to enter Gaza. Permits for family visits in the West Bank are somewhat increased. The ban on the sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank is lifted in November.
01.03.2015
Israel allows limited sale of Gaza produce in its own territory for Jews who observe shmita (practice by which Jewish-owned land must lay fallow). Rafah Crossing opens for just 32 non-consecutive days throughout the year.
29.03.2016
Israel bans cement designated for Gaza’s private sector from entering for almost two months. Over the year, thousands of merchant permits given to Gaza residents are revoked, and they are denied travel to Israel or the West Bank. Security refusals increase.
May 2018
From May 2018 and through July and August of the same year, Israel used the closure of crossings and stoppage of essential goods coming into Gaza as collective punishment measures. The closure of Kerem Shalom Crossing causes heavy financial losses to industry, businesses and factories already struggling under the restrictions Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip.
April 2019
Israel expands the fishing zone off some of Gaza’s coastline to 15 nautical miles. This new range applies to a relatively narrow area, off the southern Gaza Strip. Israel continues to use the reduction of the fishing zone as a punitive measure. From the beginning of 2019 to July, the area of the zone changed 15 times, including at times a full maritime closure.

 

Sales of goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank are far from reaching their potential. From the time the closure was tightened in June 2007, until the end of 2014, an average of 14.7 trucks left Gaza every month. In the first half of 2019, an average of 318 trucks left Gaza each month. In 2018, the average was 217, just 20% of the volume in early 2007, when more than 1,000 truckloads left Gaza each month. Many types of products are still banned, for instance, processed foods.

From the beginning of 2018 to July 2019, Kerem Shalom Crossing, the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel, located in the southern Gaza Strip, was closed five times as a punitive measure. At times, the crossing was closed in retaliation for indiscriminate fire toward Israeli communities, which, although a war crime in its own right, has nothing to do with the operation of the crossings. Lengthy closures kept essential humanitarian supplies, including fuel, from coming into Gaza. Every time Kerem Shalom is closed, Gaza’s industry and businesses, already strained by more than a decade of closure, suffer serious financial losses.

In addition to restrictions on the movement of goods via Kerem Shalom, other restrictions also undermine economic development, including by curtailing the growth of small businesses which relied in the past on the use of commercial mail or transport of items in personal luggage – both of which Israel limits.

Entrance of goods via Egypt

In May 2018, goods began coming into Gaza from Egypt via the Salah a-Din gate near Rafah Crossing. This crossing is under the civilian and security control of Hamas and Egypt. In the first half of 2019, 15% of the total amount of cement entering Gaza and 80% of cooking gas were shipped through the Salah a-Din gate.

Despite a growing volume of goods entering via Salah a-Din, this crossing is still significantly smaller than the volume of goods passing through Kerem Shalom, and it cannot substitute for the latter, all the more so given that goods are shipped only into Gaza and not from it. The gate has no clear or transparent working procedures, and sometimes, items denied admittance by Israel at Kerem Shalom are denied admittance at Salah a-Din as well.

Cucambers from Gaza on the way to market in Israel. Since 2015, Israel allows limited sales of vegetables from Gaza. Photo by Gisha
Cucumbers from Gaza on the way to market in Israel. Since 2015, Israel allows limited sales of vegetables from Gaza. Photo by Gisha
Part 3
Land, sea and air
Land, sea and air
Fishing boats in Gaza. Fishing off the Gaza coast has become a hazardous occupation. Photo by Asmaa Elkhaldi

Israeli control of the Gaza Strip does not end with the commercial and pedestrian land crossings. Israel also controls Gaza’s sea and air space, as well as a “buffer zone” it established inside the Gaza Strip. This “buffer zone,” also known as the Access Restricted Area (ARA) stretches 300 meters into Gaza from its border with Israel. Israeli officials say farmers are permitted to advance to a distance of about 100 meters from the border, subject to prior coordination. Gisha has found no indication that such coordination is, in fact, obtainable. Conversations with people living and working in the area reveal that people experience a sense of uncertainty and insecurity about the potential for use of lethal force. Tens of thousands of people are directly impacted by movement restrictions enforced near the fence.

According to figures released by Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, between 2007 and 2010, well before the Great March of Return protests, some 1,300 incidents of use of live-fire at farmers, shepherds, scrap metal collectors and protestors were recorded. At least 161 Palestinians were killed in these incidents and more than 3,000 were injured.

In addition to enforcing restrictions on access to the area, in late 2015, the army confirmed, for the first time, that it sprays areas close to the Gaza perimeter fence with herbicides, to maintain a line of vision. In a February 2019 response to a request Gisha filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the state provided information indicating that aerial spraying along the Gaza perimeter fence had been conducted on 18 occasions between 2016 and 2018. The spraying harms crops well beyond the official 300 meters of the ARA and with it farmers’ livelihoods. The long-term effects of the spraying on the health of people, flora and fauna are unknown.

In 2019, for the first time since 2014, Israel did not carry out herbicide aerial spraying. As a result, farmers and shepherds observed a noticeable positive impact on a variety of crops in the area.

Israel restricts Gaza’s fishing zone, making fishing off the Gaza coast a hazardous occupation. Fishermen deemed to have exceeded the boundaries by Israel’s navy are arrested, their boats are confiscated, and they are sometimes shot and killed or injured. Overfishing in the small area where Israel has allowed fishing over the years has depleted fish breeding grounds.

In January 2019, Israel announced it would expand the fishing zone to 12 nautical miles in a narrow strip off the Gaza shoreline, and restrict it to 6 nautical miles elsewhere. Israel also announced the buffer zone between Gaza and the Egyptian border which is off-limits to Palestinian fishermen would be expanded. As of mid-May 2019, this is the permitted fishing zone, with an additional small area, where the military allows fishermen to sail up to 15 nautical miles off the Gaza coast. The Gaza Fishermen’s Union reports continued arrests even within the permitted fishing zone. Reducing the fishing zone is also used as a measure of collective punishment by Israel. From the beginning of 2019 until July, the zone was changed on 15 occasions, including periods of full maritime closure.

Israel forbids the building of a seaport that would allow movement of people and goods and prevents the rebuilding of Gaza’s airport, destroyed in an Israeli air raid in 2001.

Part 4
Electricity
Electricity

Long before the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, Gaza suffered from dilapidated infrastructure that was not developed to meet civilian needs. Though it can still be considered the occupying power, Israel not only doesn’t invest directly in infrastructure, it hinders the maintenance and development of infrastructure undertaken by Palestinians, often with international assistance, by obstructing entrance of equipment, spare parts and sometimes fuel, as well as blocking travel of individuals.  Three major military operations, as well as recurring rounds of violence, wreaked havoc on fragile electrical, water and sewage infrastructure.

For many years, residents of Gaza have endured a chronic shortage of electricity, which results in prolonged blackouts. The supply of electricity sold to Gaza by Israel (and sometimes Egypt), in addition to the electricity produced by the Strip’s sole power plant, are not enough to meet even half of actual demand. The chronic shortage was severely exacerbated when Gaza’s power plant stopped operations in April 2017, due to a dispute over purchase of fuel between Gaza and Ramallah. Even when the plant resumed operations in June, electricity was available to residents of Gaza in cycles of between four to six hours of power per 24-hour period, severely disrupting everyday life and even putting lives at risk.

In January 2018, the Palestinian Authority resumed purchasing the full 120 MW Israel is able to supply to the Gaza Strip. Since late October 2018, thanks to a donation from the Qatari government, Gaza’s sole power plant has run an additional turbine, more regularly, using fuel purchased from Israel. Supply from three turbines is 75 MW, in addition to the 120 MW purchased from Israel. This has improved supply to residents, enabling them to receive up to 15 hours of electricity per day, when weather conditions are optimal and household consumption is low.

365 km2
The area of the Gaza Strip
The population density in the Gaza Strip is among the highest in the world, with 5,154 people per square kilometer.
1.99
Million people
In September, it was reported that the birth of a baby brought the population to 2 Million. Figure above according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
70%
Population receiving aid
According to estimates by the United Nations. Food rations constitute most of the aid.
52.1%
Unemployment rate (2018)
Compared to 17.6% in the West Bank.
68.6%
Unemployment rate among youth (2018)
Unemployment rate among women reached 74.5% in 2018.
47.8%
Population under the age of 17
Those over the age of 65 make up only 2.8% of the population in Gaza.

On a number of occasions, Israel has barred or limited entrance of fuel, such as in the summer and fall of 2018 and more recently in June 2019, which impaired the already meager supply of electricity, and, as a result, undermined water supply, sewage treatment and the orderly functioning of essential infrastructure and institutions.

Funds from Qatar and others help to barely maintain public infrastructure, but sustainable solutions are nowhere to be found.

Part 5
Gisha’s position
Photo by Eduardo Soteras Jalil
A father of 8 children kissing his newborn daughter Gaza, who was born during the war. The family escaped Shujaia neighbourhood.
Photo by Eduardo Soteras Jalil

Israel’s substantial control over so many aspects of life in the Gaza Strip means that under international law, it must facilitate normal life in the Strip, including allowing access for civilians and civilian goods. Alongside this obligation, Israel has the authority to decide by which routes both people and goods enter and leave Gaza and to establish reasonable and proportionate security measures to prevent the transfer of weapons and other military activity. Accordingly, Gisha’s position is that Israel must allow free movement of people and goods to enable economic growth, opportunities for personal development and normal family life, subject to individual security inspections.

Israel has a responsibility to allow regular movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, which continue to share a single economy, a single education system, a single healthcare system and countless familial, cultural, business and social ties.