Gaza: Marking Seven Bad Years of Closure

If we’re looking to perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians, to guarantee misery for a population of millions - then yes, we should indeed be satisfied with the closure of Gaza as Israeli policy.

Amir Rotem
Amir Rotem
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An IDF tank on the Gaza border this week.
An IDF tank on the Gaza border this week.Credit: AP
Amir Rotem
Amir Rotem

Any reasonable person follows the news about the young men kidnapped in the West Bank with concern. What is less reasonable is how this incident is being used by the Israeli hasbara campaign that began with the rejection of the Palestinian reconciliation government, launching a Pavlovian chain reaction prolonging the political standstill between Israelis and Palestinians, and bringing more suffering to millions.

Pundits will continue to debate Fatah-Hamas unity, the motivations for it, what it means: Only time will tell who among them is right. What’s clear at this point is what we are letting slip through our fingers as we zoom past another crossroads in the history of the conflict, without stopping, without considering which would be the right way to go.

Last November, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted in Haaretz saying, “Who does Abu Mazen (Abbas) represent? […] I still don’t understand." Lieberman then added: “He doesn’t represent the residents of Gaza.” And if he does now, does it make a difference? For years now, Israel has been employing a “separation policy” designed to split the two parts of the Palestinian territory. This policy guides every single move, even if the explanations for it shift back and forth between security and diplomatic needs, and even though no one has clarified how exactly it was decided.

The separation policy is implemented through a series of procedures meant to severely limit travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. On the ground, these procedures are interpreted even more narrowly: A brother cannot visit his widowed sister; a mother cannot visit her son if he, heaven forbid, has lost his own child; when there is a death, or a celebration, in the family, applications made by non-immediate relatives are not considered. A survey conducted for Gisha last year revealed that about a third of Gaza’s residents have relatives in the West Bank and Israel. More than 400,000 have relatives in the West Bank, whom they cannot see, certainly not on a regular basis.

Israel itself acknowledged that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are two parts of a single territorial unit. This fact won’t go away even if politicians close their eyes and pretend it never happened. At some point, they will have to face reality. Economic and cultural ties, as well as a single system of public service, are key aspects of a normally functioning society, and the Palestinians, like the rest of humanity, have a right to live in that kind of society.

We are marking seven bad years of closure, a closure that cuts off Gaza from the rest of the world. If it was meant to bring Israelis security, as champions of the system claim, and if we really are all in danger, why not leverage the new situation for talks that would lead to agreements to refrain from violence and give everyone in the region a shot at a normal life?

But if the desired outcome is a perpetuation of the conflict, making sure it’s here to stay, and guaranteeing misery for a population of millions who live just a few meters away from Israeli residents with no intention or ability to go away – then the government ministers can sit back, relax and carry on doing nothing. Success is guaranteed.

Amir Rotem is the Director of the Public Department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

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