This summer’s terrible war again focused the world’s attention on the blockade of the Gaza Strip – or, more correctly, the closure. It’s therefore important to write about it again and again while the iron is hot (for the millionth time) until it is totally lifted.
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Just as Israelis do, Hamas has also been confusing and blurring the facts. So let it again be said in a loud voice that the closure doesn’t only involve barring the import of raw materials into the Strip, and the export of agricultural and industrial goods, and the absence of a port in the territory. Above all, the closure affects the right of people to freedom of movement and to study where they choose and to live in their own country. It affects their right to be with family and friends, to look for work and to weekend recreation at a location of their choice in their homeland.
Therefore these are the major components of the closure that must be lifted:
* Israel’s scandalous designation of the residents of the Gaza Strip as being “illegally present in the West Bank.” Such a designation first surfaced in 2000, when Israel expelled or threatened Palestinians in the West Bank with expulsion to Gaza just because they had a Gaza address listed on their identity card.
A twisted tourist visa
* “Permits to stay” for Gazan-born Palestinians permitting them to stay in the West Bank: It’s a kind of twisted tourist visa allowing people to be in their own country. It’s yet another outrageous document that was devised at the end of 2007 by the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories without any legal process or advance notice. And here for the first time, I will disclose the background behind the document. To its shame, it was actually the Palestinian Ministry for Civil Affairs, the counterpart of the Israel Defense Force’s Civil Administration, that asked Israel to create it.
These were the times of war between Fatah and Hamas, when the latter took control of the security agencies in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Fatah members, particularly members of the Palestinian Authority security forces, fled from Gaza to the West Bank, with Israel’s approval, of course. But due to Israel’s designation of Gazans as illegal residents of the West Bank, every Israeli soldier or policeman who stops a Gazan Palestinian at a West Bank checkpoint could then expel him from the West Bank.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry is one of the feudal strongholds that the Fatah movement received as a fee for its participation in the Oslo Accords with Israel, even when it was quickly shown that Israel was using the accords to deepen its grip over the territories. The concern for Fatah members superceded that of the obligation of the PA Ministry for Civilian Affairs to understand the Israeli policy to cut off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. This policy has aimed at eliminating one of the few positive provisions of the Oslo Accords: the recognition of Gaza and the West Bank as one unit. And that’s the shameful aspect of this: that the subjugated party gives the subjugator ideas about how to strengthen its domination, assisting it in the bureaucratic evolution of orders that curb its own people’s rights.
* “Residency Procedures in the West Bank,” a policy developed in 2009, is a means through which Israel bars Palestinians who were born in Gaza to move to the West Bank unless – and this is not a joke – they are orphans or chronically ill elderly people in need of custodial nursing care and have no family in Gaza. Marital and parental ties are not considered reasons justifying residency in the West Bank. A more lenient version of the policy was enacted in 2013 as a result of a persistent legal battle by the Israeli organization Hamoked – The Center for the Defense of the Individual. It makes special provisions for Gazans who have been living in the West Bank for an extended period. To remain in the West Bank, however, they must prove that the focus of their lives is there and begin the odyssey of obtaining six-month “permits to stay” over a period of three years. Otherwise it would remain up to the military commander to either approve the change of address – or not.
* Israeli appropriation of the authority that the Oslo Accords had bestowed on the Palestinians to change the “address” on identity cards: The Oslo Accord states that Palestinians need only inform Israel of such a change. And indeed, Israel does not intervene in changes of address within the West Bank, from Jenin to Tul Karm, for example. Nonetheless, since 1996, without any explanation, Israel has maintained its power to control changes of address from Gaza to the West Bank, meaning continued power to decide if and when such an address change would be granted and to whom. Yes, since 1996. It is proof of Israel’s far-reaching intention to sever the connection between the two parts and their populations.
* The ban since 1997 on residents of Gaza entering the West Bank from Jordan via the Allenby bridge
* The comprehensive ban on residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from entering the Gaza Strip via Erez checkpoint at the northern end of the Strip.
* The comprehensive ban on Gaza residents’ leaving Gaza via the Erez crossing point other than the following limited categories of people: merchants, national league soccer players, critically ill patients and their immediate relatives, immediate relatives of people who just passed away, immediate relatives of people who are getting married, people with ties to the Palestinian Authority, and collaborators with Israel.
One goal: To cut Gaza off
* The sweeping ban on Israeli citizens, both Jewish and Arab from entering the Gaza Strip. All the bureaucratic inventions (on the premise that “Israel has the right to decide who enters its territory”) as well as security-related ones (on the premise that it is dangerous to be in Gaza) have one purpose: to sever the Gaza Strip from the entire world, particularly from other Palestinians. Hamas, which treats Gaza as its own feudal stronghold, knows that its activists won’t get Israel’s permission to enter the West Bank. It therefore doesn’t take any particular interest in the details of the closure regarding freedom of movement of individuals, but rather only the movement of goods and raw materials.
Fatah, the Siamese twin of the security forces that meets regularly with its Israeli counterparts, has always relied on its people being able to pull strings when it comes to getting travel permits, even if those strings are few. And when it was clear that those strings were useless, Fatah relied on the mantra that once there is an independent Palestinian state, all of the restrictions will be rescinded in any event.
In short, the representatives of the Palestinian people, from each of its two segments, have not fought for the exercise of its right to freedom of movement. That fight should start now. It’s late, but not too late.