For the most part, Israel’s military
controls the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza
. Although Gaza and the West Bank were deemed one territorial unit under the Oslo peace agreements
, residents of Gaza are cut off from both Israel and the West Bank
, and need to gain special permission from the Israeli military in order to pass through Israel into other regions of the occupied territories. Egypt administers the Rafah pedestrian crossing
into Gaza, which was closed to ordinary travelers in June 2007 following the establishment of Hamas control in the coastal territory.
June 1989: Israel began restricting the movement of people between the Gaza and Israel by instituting a magnetic-card system for Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. The cards were not issued to Palestinians who had spent time in Israeli jails.
1991: Israel began requiring Palestinians to apply for personal exit permits. The permits controlled who was allowed to enter or leave the occupied territories, and the length of time they were able to stay in Israel. Over the years, the number of permits given to Palestinians gradually decreased.
March 1993: Israel first imposed an overall policy of closure
on the occupied territories after the killing of several Israelis by Palestinians.
1994: Israel began constructing a fence between Israel and Gaza, controlling the flow of people with its checkpoint system. Israel also established the Karni
crossing in order to control the flow of goods into the territory.
2000: Following the outbreak of the second intifada
, Israel established a comprehensive closure of the Gaza Strip, almost completely barring Palestinians from entering Israel or traveling between Gaza and the West Bank. Though the Gaza fence was largely torn down at the beginning of the uprising, Israeli forces rebuilt it between December 2000 and June 2001, adding a buffer zone where infiltrators are fired on.
2004: Egypt built a wall along the Egyptian border of Gaza, effectively enclosing the territory from all sides.
August 2005: The Israeli military left the Gaza Strip as part of its unilateral disengagement plan. Israel signed the Agreement on Movement and Access
three months after the withdrawal of Israeli troops, allowing Rafah crossing to be operated by the Palestinian Authority with EU monitors. Rafah remained open until Palestinians captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, when Israel closed the crossing.
2006: After Hamas won January general elections and with increasing clashes in Gaza, the Israeli military severely curtailed the flow of goods and the movement of people into the Gaza Strip.
June 2007: Hamas overran Palestinian security installations in clashes with rival faction Fateh
. This effectively ceased the influence of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
December 2008 – January 2009: Israel carried out a 22-day military offensive, “Operation Cast Lead,” in the Gaza Strip. Subsequently, the Israeli army continued a land blockade at the Erez
, Sufa, Kerem Shalom
, and Karni
crossings, while the Israeli navy maintained a blockade of the sea region.
May 2010: Israel “eased” the blockade following criticism of its attack of a flotilla trying to reach Gaza by sea. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the raid, one of whom was an American citizen. Most food stuffs were subsequently allowed into Gaza, and building materials were said to be permitted through international agencies.
May 2011: Post-revolution Egypt announced that it would open the Rafah crossing to general travel. But by June 1, three days after opening the crossing, Egyptian officials adjusted their policy, again limiting the number of people who could cross to 350-400.
July 1, 2011: Greek commandos turned back to Athens a vessel of 50 American activists seeking to spearhead a flotilla of ten boats to the Gaza Strip seeking to break the sea blockade of Gaza, as had previous flotillas.
IMPACT OF THE BLOCKADE
The Israeli blockade on all but basic goods has severely impacted the economic health and infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. The blockade has prevented most exports from leaving Gaza, and only certain goods are allowed to enter. “Dual use” items (materials that Israel says can be used to make weapons) are completely banned. During most of the life of the blockade, however, Israel refused to publish lists of banned items, forcing importers or exporters to request whether an item was allowed. No explanation was provided as to why certain items were banned and others allowed.
In July 2010, Israel published a "black list" of items that were banned from import into Gaza and began permitting most foodstuffs. International organizations began to be allowed to import construction materials. However, months after the new system went into effect, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that the “easing” had not significantly altered the Gaza Strip’s dire economic conditions.
The inability to import building materials has blocked large-scale public works programs, impacting services. For example, UN officials in Gaza have been unable to implement school building projects for primary school children. Forty-thousand students eligible to study at UN schools in September 2010 had to be turned away due to a lack of materials needed to build school facilities. Construction of a typical school takes about 220 truckloads of construction materials, so 22,000 truckloads are needed in order to build the 100 schools necessary to meet the enrollment demands of the children of Gaza. By September 2010, Israel was letting in 240 truckloads of construction materials a month, still only four percent of the pre-closure levels.
Access to adequate healthcare
has also been severely inhibited by Israel’s blockade. For example, radioactive isotopes, which are used in examinations such as bone mapping and radiation treatments, are not allowed to enter Gaza. There is a severe shortage of sophisticated surgical equipment for complex medical operations, such as those needed in orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery.
Infrastructure problems such as frequent power outages result in frequent breakdowns in medical equipment. The power outages result in part from restrictions on the import of fuel to Gaza’s only electricity plant. Although Gaza residents are able to apply for permission to enter Israel for health treatment, permits are often delayed and are sometimes denied. According to a fact sheet compiled by the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL), 88 people died waiting to for permission to leave Gaza for treatment between October 2007 and December 2009. A World Health Organization report said that in 2010, more than half of the young men were denied or delayed in receiving permission to leave Gaza to seek medical treatment.
The blockade of Gaza has had a severe impact on the private sector of the Gaza Strip. A UNDP report noted that before January 2006, median monthly sales per business reached $18,500, and by December 2007, following the June 2007 ascension of the Hamas government, median monthly sales had fallen to $3,000.
Until June 2010, dry goods, tomato paste, juice, and other basic foods were banned from entering into the Gaza Strip. Many other materials, such as batteries, wheelchairs, cement, glass products, and even crayons and paper products were often restricted from entering into the territory. Israel decided to ease restrictions on most food goods after June 2010, although a wide range of chemicals and fertilizers, along with machetes and hunting knives, and construction materials such as cement, concrete and steel remain restricted, affecting Gaza’s agriculture production.
TUNNELS & SMUGGLING
The blockade of Gaza created demand for black market products “imported” through smuggling tunnels between southern Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The tunnels are constructed under the Philadelphi Corridor, a 14 km long strip of land along the Gaza-Egypt border beginning at the Mediterranean Sea and ending at Kerem Shalom crossing. Until 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza, this route was controlled by the Israeli military.
With the cooperation of the United States and France, the Egyptian government began constructing a subterranean barrier under the corridor in 2009 in an attempt to block the smuggling tunnels between Rafah, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The hundreds of tunnels continue to bring goods and people in and out of Egypt, however, with Hamas officials levying taxes and maintaining some control over their use. After Israel began allowing in basic foodstuffs in 2010, the tunnel trade shifted to cement and other raw materials, causing a small construction boom in the private sector.
LEGAL STATUS OF THE BLOCKADE
According to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other international organizations, Israel remains the occupying power of the Gaza Strip. Despite its disengagement from the territory in 2005, Israel continues to control Gaza’s borders, airspace, and international waters. As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and has been charged with levying “collective punishment” of Gazans through its blockade. Collective punishment is illegal under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
The blockade has also impeded Palestinians’ ability to move between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which, according to peace agreements with Israel, are two parts of a single territorial unit. Beginning in 2003, Israel began arresting Palestinians in the West Bank whose registered address was in the Gaza Strip, even if they had lived and worked in the West Bank for several years. Israel’s forced separation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip undercuts the continuity of any future Palestinian state.