Palestinians waiting to fill containers with fuel after Israel stopped the transfer of fuel and cooking gas into Gaza, July 17, 2018. \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

Rights Groups Petition Israel’s High Court to Re-open Gaza Border Crossing

Petitioners are demanding that Israel reverse restrictions imposed a month ago on the entry of fuel and export of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing

Six human rights organizations have asked the High Court of Justice to overturn the restrictions Israel imposed on the movement of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip last month and order fuel to be allowed into the territory immediately.

The petition was filed last Thursday, and Justice Daphne Barak-Erez ordered the state to respond by this coming Sunday.

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On July 9, Israel announced that it was closing the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza to all merchandise except food and medicine. This means that Gazans are no longer able to export their wares to the West Bank, Israel or the rest of the world.

From 2007 to 2017, Gazans were completely barred from exporting. When Israel finally permitted a partial resumption of exports, under pressure from several European countries and the World Bank, Gaza’s economy rebounded a bit. From the start of the year to the beginning of July, Gaza exported some $11 million worth of agricultural produce.

But the ban on exports which began last month created huge surpluses, which sent produce prices in Gaza plunging and caused enormous losses for farmers, who were forced to destroy some of their produce. Moreover, the fact that raw materials can no longer enter the territory is preventing farmers from readying the ground for the next growing season.

>> 'Israel's closure of Gaza crossing is like shooting a dying man'

Gaza’s economy is almost entirely dependent on Kerem Shalom, so every restriction Israel imposes on the transport of goods through that crossing directly and immediately worsens the already dire humanitarian situation of Gaza’s civilian population.

A Palestinian security officer closing the gate at the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah on July 24, 2018. Adel Hana,AP

Textile and carpentry companies have also suffered heavy losses over the last month, as they have been stuck with almost three million shekels ($800,000) worth of goods that they are unable to export. Moreover, they may well have to pay compensation for the delay in supplying the promised goods.

A report by the Gaza manufacturers association warns that Kerem Shalom’s continued closure will result in the closure of hundreds of companies from a wide variety of industries, either due to a lack of raw materials or the ban on exports. Some 350 companies have already stopped working over the last month, and the association says that if the closure continues, about half the 1,800 companies now operating in Gaza will shut down and more than 1,500 workers will be dismissed.

Even before Kerem Shalom’s partial closure, Gaza’s unemployment rate was already 57.3 percent.

For most of the past month, Israel has also barred the entry of generator fuel and cooking gas, which are vital to the operation of public institutions like hospitals and infrastructure like the water and sewage systems. Last week, the UN and medical and environmental organizations issued an urgent call for fuel to be allowed into Gaza to prevent the closure of at least five hospitals and overflows of untreated sewage.

On Sunday, Israel permitted the entry of four truckloads of fuel for UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, and last week, it permitted the entry of a few truckloads of equipment for USAID projects in Gaza. But according to Gisha – the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, whose attorneys drafted the petition, this is merely a drop in the ocean that doesn’t change the situation for most Gazans.

The petition was filed after Gisha’s written appeals to the Israeli authorities failed to produce a change of policy. In addition to Gisha, the other petitioners are the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and four other Israeli groups: Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The petition names four respondents – the prime minister, the defense minister, the coordinator of government activities in the territories and the authority in charge of Israel’s land crossings, which runs Kerem Shalom.

“Even before the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing was announced, the crossing didn’t supply the population’s minimal needs,” the petition said. “Yet instead of taking steps to prevent the collapse of a population of two million people, the respondents are working to worsen the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian and economic situation ... while completely ignoring the devastating impact of their decision on the civilian population.”

It also noted that Israel explicitly said the sanctions were meant to punish Gaza’s civilian population so that it would pressure Hamas. But collective punishment of a civilian population for actions that aren’t in their control is both immoral and illegal, the petition argued, and it is driving Gaza toward a predictable humanitarian disaster.

The closure violates both international law and Supreme Court rulings, it added, as well as Israel’s obligation to maintain an acceptable standard of life for Gaza residents, which derives from its control of the border crossing.

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