A Lion in Zion: Israel Must Let Gazans Live a Normal Life

Instead of the current policy of closure and isolation, we must move in the opposite direction and maximize traffic to and from the Gaza Strip.

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Ibrahim Al-Jamal, 17, carries Mona, the female lion cub, to see her off before the two lion cubs depart from Gaza to the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza, July 3, 2015.Credit: AP

A year after the bloody fighting in the Gaza Strip, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories took to Facebook to report on the operation to rescue Mona and Max, a pair of lion cubs transferred from the Gaza Strip to a zoo in Jordan. The COGAT is right: The two are lucky in more senses than one.

When the cease-fire came into effect in August 2014 – as hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza began to return to their homes (those whose homes were still standing) and the bereaved families were only beginning to deal with their losses and the wounded were beginning to assess their chances of rehabilitation – the leaders of the defense establishment announced that Israel would help to rehabilitate the Strip.

The defense minister, the previous chief of staff, the current chief of staff and COGAT all spoke of the need for rehabilitation, emphasizing that by providing economic hope for civilians living in the Strip, Israel would also contribute to its own security interests by preventing another conflict.

The consensus included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennet, who said only recently that Israel has a great interest in rehabilitating the Gaza Strip.

Israel did in fact take several steps to improve the situation, but it is still preventing any traffic to or from Gaza by sea or by air. The only access to and from the Strip is via the land borders controlled by Israel and Egypt, which permit meager amounts of traffic – not as a right, but as an exception.

Although Mona and Max were allowed to cross the land border between Gaza and Israel, most of the human beings who want to do the same are not permitted to do so, because Israel has imposed sweeping and arbitrary restrictions on the movement of people and of goods.

In the conditions of isolation and separation that have been created as a result, it is impossible to conduct normal civilian life. A year after Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip is still sown with destruction and far from rehabilitation. There is economic stagnation and rising unemployment, with most of the residents suffering from poverty and deprivation.

In addition, the imposed separation between the Strip and the West Bank separates people from their relatives and unravels the shared fabric of life. These conditions arouse frustration and despair, leading to anger and hatred – and threaten to ignite another violent outburst which will harm both Palestinians and Israelis.

In order to prevent that, senior army officers are now recommending a partial opening of the border crossings between Gaza and Israel. However, in the context of the present policy, partial improvements will not suffice. In order to rehabilitate Gaza and fulfill Israels legal obligations, we have to adopt a policy that is the direct opposite of present practice. Instead of a policy of closure and isolation, we must act to maximize traffic to and from Gaza.

Of course we should not give up on the monitoring and restrictions required for security reasons, but prohibiting movement should be the exception rather than the rule. Restrictions on movement that make life disproportionately hard for the civilian population, beyond what is necessary for security, do not conform with the demands of international law, are not bringing any benefit to Israel and are even causing damage in terms of security, diplomacy and our image.

At the time the restrictions were imposed we experienced repeated rounds of combat and saw how the extremist groups in the Strip (and in Israel) increased their strength. We can expect this situation to continue, unless the countrys leaders back their words with action and adopt a new path, which will release Gaza from its straitjacket and give us all hope.

Let the animals live, but let the human beings live too.

Attorney Diamond is the executive director of Gisha, a human rights organization that deals with freedom of movement

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