For fourteen years, Israel has maintained a comprehensive land, sea, and air blockade and closure over the Gaza Strip. The closure, rooted in stringent restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza through the Israeli-controlled crossings, directly impedes the full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms of Gaza’s two million residents, notably freedom of movement.
With the Rafah Border Crossing—the sole crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt—being closed in both directions for the third consecutive day, thousands of Palestinians who temporarily returned home from work or school abroad are now stranded in Gaza. Similarly, patients seeking medical treatment otherwise unavailable in Gaza face yet another threat to their lives and health. Even more alarmingly, the abrupt closure of the border left hundreds of Palestinian travelers stranded on the Egyptian side in inhumane conditions as most reported running out of money for accommodation.
The Rafah Crossing Border is Gaza’s only exit point not controlled by Israel after Gaza International Airport ceased operation in late 2000 following the Israeli military’s bombardment and destruction of its radar station, control tower, and runway. Citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities have since prevented the building of an operable seaport in Gaza and tightly restricts movement via its crossings. When Israel launched its full blockade and closure against the Gaza Strip in 2007, movement restrictions became more systematic. Palestinian residents of Gaza seeking to travel through Israel are forced to obtain the requisite Israeli-issued crossing permit under a capricious and discriminatory permit regime.
In maintaining these sweeping restrictions, Israel violates the full spectrum of Palestinians’ human rights, as the enjoyment of the rights to education, highest standard of health, and work, for instance, correlates highly with freedom of movement. Israel also has legal obligations as an occupying power vis-à-vis the protected Palestinian people and its stifling closure of Gaza is the source of many humanitarian law violations. Article 35 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War preserves the right of all protected persons to leave the territory during a conflict, and likewise Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “[e]veryone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” Further, Israel’s closure practices amount to unlawful collective punishment under international law.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council calls on the international community to swiftly and effectively intervene to end Israel’s blockade and closure of the Gaza Strip and otherwise pressure Israel to enable Palestinians residing in Gaza to freely move into and out of the territory.
The Council also appeals to the concerned Egyptian authorities to facilitate the movement of the stranded Palestinian travelers on both sides of the Rafah border crossing.