The Coronavirus Gave Israel Another Reason to Choke Gaza

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The Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza last year.

In March 2020, the Gaza Strip was placed under the traditional Purim lockdown, but this time it didn’t come out of it, not even to the status of the everyday lockdown that Israel has imposed on the Gazans for years.

At the end of the holiday, under the pretext of the fight against the coronavirus, Israel locked the Erez crossing – the main gateway to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan – almost completely. Tens of thousands of people were stuck, both inside and outside Gaza, unable to return to their homes, families and jobs.

A year later the coronavirus lockdown is still in place. Among those stuck in Gaza is A., 20, who recently celebrated a remote wedding with N., a Palestinian with American citizenship. N. doesn’t appear as a resident in the Palestinian population registry, which is controlled by Israel, so as far as Israel is concerned, she’s not allowed to unite with A. in Gaza.

If they are to live together in the United States, A. must obtain a residence permit at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. But, citing the coronavirus, Israel denied his request to go through the Erez crossing for his appointment at the embassy.

Over the past year, health experts and senior Israeli officials have met almost daily to discuss the restrictions that would stop the virus from spreading. In the past 12 months Israel has made more than 60 changes regarding the restrictions on movement and possibilities for letting West Bank residents enter Israel for work.

But whether there was a need to continue the suffocating lockdown on Gaza was discussed zero times. If Israel’s internal policy is a volatile chart like the product of an echocardiogram, Gaza policy has flatlined.

If there’s a plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown on Gaza, it’s not in sight. Exceptions committees at Ben-Gurion Airport are set up and disbanded, more than a third of the country’s people have been vaccinated, the streets are rife with declarations that we’re “getting back to life,” but at the Erez crossing only those needing critical medical care and a few others are allowed through.

This week, three and a half months late, the country seen as the world’s vaccination champion began letting laborers from the West Bank be vaccinated at checkpoints. This too is being done only because of Israel’s narrow interest, because it understands, partially, that the virus can spread through fences.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to ignore its duty to vaccinate the rest of the Palestinians, whom it tries not to see even though they share the same piece of land between the river and the sea. Among them are thousands of permit holders in Gaza, but Israel is blocking their exit to make a living in Israel and the West Bank, contributing directly to a further deterioration in the Strip.

The past year has been a magnifying glass on Israel’s infringement of the rights and basic needs of Gaza’s 2 million people, half them children. Israeli rule affects almost every aspect of their lives, but Israel continues to renounce its responsibility and obligations under international and Israeli law.

There is no way to solve this moral and legal failure in whose name Israel is willing even to risk its people’s lives without understanding that its Gaza policy isn’t viable and must change.

Noa Galili is the public advocacy coordinator at the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

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