Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011

Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 2011
04. Gaza Strip
  • .1

    Despite withdrawal, Israel maintains control in the Gaza Strip

    Erez Crossing, northern Gaza Strip. Currently open only to merchants and to people with special humanitarian permits. Photo: Anne Paq,, 1 February 2012

    In September 2005, Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, which increased Palestinians' control over their lives, primarily with respect to their ability to move freely throughout most of Gaza. However, Israel continues to hold decisive control over major aspects of people's lives there. Israel maintains full control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, and most of the land crossings to and from Gaza. Gazans who want to go to the West Bank must pass through Israel, for which they require a permit which Israeli authorities only grant in very rare humanitarian cases. In addition, Israel still controls the Palestinian population register and taxation under the customs union, both of which cover the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip.

    In May 2011, Egypt declared that the Rafah crossing would remain open permanently for Palestinians to cross. The opening of the crossing improved Gazans’ freedom of movement, and most people can now leave for Egypt and from there to other countries, without Israel’s approval. However, Rafah Crossing does not enable the transfer of goods, so that Gazans still rely on Israel for imports and exports. In addition, residents of the Gaza Strip cannot reach the West Bank via Rafah Crossing because Israel does not allow them to enter the West Bank via Jordan.

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  • .2

    The siege on the Gaza Strip

    Sewing shop in the Jabalya refugee camp that was closed following the siege on the Gaza Strip Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 2 August 2011

    In June 2007, after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed a siege on the area, in which it enforced harsh restrictions on imports and exports. According to Israeli officials, the objective of the siege was to bring down the Hamas government and bring about the release of the soldier Gilad Shalit (who was ultimately released in October 2011). The siege thus constitutes a kind of collective punishment of the civilian population and is, therefore, unlawful.

    The result: Economic collapse and severe poverty

    Israel’s policy has led to economic collapse in Gaza. The prohibition on importing raw materials and on exports led to the closing of 95 percent of the factories and workshops. As a result, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. In December 2011, unemployment stood at 28 percent, compared to 18.7 percent in 2000. More than 70 percent of the population depends on food aid from international organizations.

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  • .3

    Gaza Exports: Is there such a thing?

    A farmer picks strawberries for export, Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. Photo: Ibrahim Abu Mustafa, Reuters, 7 December 2011. The export permit in this case was one of a small number of permits that Israel issued

    Prior to the siege, Gaza exported such items as furniture, textiles, and agricultural produce. According to figures of the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, in the four years prior to imposition of the siege, an average of 40 truckloads of goods left Gaza every day. daily. About 85 percent were intended for Israel and the West Bank.

    In June 2007, Israel completely prohibited all exports from Gaza, except for a few shipments of agricultural produce. In the entire three year period from June 2007 to June 2010, a total of 255 truckloads of strawberries and flowers left the Gaza Strip for European markets – less than a single month of exports prior to the siege.

    In late 2010, Israel eased restrictions on agricultural produce. From November 2010 to April 2011 – the agricultural export season – Israel allowed the export of some 300 truckloads of produce (70 percent strawberries, 27 percent flowers, and the remainder cherry tomatoes and peppers).

    On 27 November 2011, Israeli officials met with the Gaza Farmers Committee ahead of a new export season. Israel announced that this season – November 2011 to May 2012 – it will allow 580 trucks of exports from Gaza (51 percent strawberries, 22 percent cherry tomatoes, 17 percent flowers, and 9 percent peppers).

    According to B’Tselem’s figures, in 2011, 233 trucks (carrying 493.5 tons) of strawberries, 12 trucks (34 tons) of peppers, three trucks (11 tons) of cherry tomatoes, and 9,578,040 flowers left the Gaza Strip.

    These quantities are miniscule compared to the amount of exports prior to the siege and clearly do not meet the population’s needs. In addition, Israel permits exports only to Europe, and not to the West Bank or to Israel. Export of produce to Europe is barely profitable, and is only possible thanks to the involvement of the Dutch government, which administers and finances the project.

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  • .4

    Imports to Gaza: Food is IN, Building Materials are OUT

    Truck carrying fruit to the Gaza Strip. Photo: Ibrahim Abu Mustafa, Reuters, 13 April 2011

    In May 2010, after the Israeli navy intercepted the Turkish flotilla, Israel eased restrictions on imports into the Gaza Strip. Prior to that, all items were prohibited, with the exception of a specific list of goods. The change reversed this policy such that all items are now allowed, with the exception of goods that Israel contends are used, or might be used, for military purposes – fuel and building materials among them.

    In 2011, Israel allowed an average of 4,170 trucks a month of imports to Gaza. This was twice the number that entered before June 2010, but is only 40 percent of the goods that entered Gaza prior to the siege. There is no food shortage in Gaza, but there is still a severe shortage of construction materials. In 2011, the amount of building materials allowed into Gaza amounted to 17 percent of the average monthly quantity of goods that entered Gaza from 2005 to 2007, before Israel imposed the siege.

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  • .5

    Difficulties rebuilding all that was destroyed

    'Abd Rabo family from 'Izbet 'Abd Rabo, northern Gaza Strip, living since Cast Lead in a temporary home, part prefab, part improvised. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 2 February 2012

    Israel’s prohibition on importing construction materials prevents Gazans from rebuilding all that was destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008 and January 2009. In the operation, 3,500 houses were totally destroyed and thousands were partially damaged. Infrastructure and many public buildings were also severely damaged.

    Israel currently allows into Gaza only building materials intended for projects under international supervision. Since June 2010, when Israel announced the easing of import restrictions, some 160 such ventures have been approved: for infrastructure construction, renovation of hospitals, housing, and so forth. Dozens of ventures await Israel’s approval, some of them for over a year.

    In this context, in 2011 an average of 685 trucks carrying construction materials entered monthly, compared to an average of 5,000 trucks per month in the two-year period preceding the siege.

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  • .6

    Shortage of classrooms

    Classroom in a school in Bashir a-Rayes, a girls' school, Gaza City. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem, 26 October 2011

    The Gaza Strip has 450,000 elementary and high school students, a number that grows every year. Israel's prohibition on import of construction materials prevents the rebuilding of schools that were damaged during Israeli military operations, renovation of schools following normal wear and tear, and construction of new schools.

    According to figures of UNRWA and the Ministry of Education in Gaza, for the 2011-2012 school year, there was a shortage of 1,000 classrooms for 40,000 pupils. There are also dozens of classrooms that need to be renovated. To meet this shortage, most of the schools run on shifts. In 2011, some 197,500 pupils studied in the afternoon shift.

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  • .7

    No lights, bad water, raw sewage

    Sewage flowing into the sea in Gaza. Photo: Anne Paq,, 2 February 2012

    The many years of the siege have also severely impaired Gaza's electricity supply. The crisis began with Israel's bombing of the Gaza power station following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, in June 2006. In September 2007, after it declared the Gaza Strip a “hostile entity,” Israel reduced the supply of industrial fuel, which is needed to operate the power station. Following a petition filed by the NGOs Gisha and Adalah, the state agreed to supply some 63 percent of the fuel needed. In practice, however, it provides less. In addition, in 2010, a controversy arose between the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank regarding payment for the fuel. The controversy led to further reduction in the fuel supply. In early 2011, the energy authority in the Gaza Strip began to bring industrial fuel from Egypt, at a lower cost, through the tunnels running under the Egyptian border.

    At the end of 2011, more than one million Gazans still rely on electricity from Israel. When there are problems with the Israeli supply, it takes a long time to coordinate repairs. For example, on 17 November, one of the power lines – serving 120,000 Gazans – malfunctioned. It took three weeks before Israel allowed the repair.

    The situation has created a continuous gap of more than 30 percent between electricity demand and supply. At times of high demand, the gap can reach 45 percent. Due to the shortage, the authorities cut the power up to eight hours a day in some areas.

    The permanent shortage of electricity prevents the proper operation of water wells and desalination plants. All the water in Gaza is pumped from the Coastal Aquifer, whose water quality is poor due to years of over-pumping. Also, irregular operation of the desalination plants has resulted in improper desalination of some of the water supply. According to figures of the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH), in July 2011, only 5-10 percent of the water from the Coastal Aquifer met the WHO standard for water quality. The rest of the water was polluted with chloride and nitrates, several times higher than the recommended levels.

    The electricity shortage also affects wastewater treatment, with up to 80,000 cubic meters of untreated, or partially untreated, wastewater flowing into the sea daily.
    The water supply is also disrupted. According to EWASH, in January 2011, 45 percent of the residents had running water only 6-8 hours every two days. Thousands of others were not hooked up to a water system, and had to buy water. Some residents who are connected to a water system buy treated water for drinking purposes, but 17 percent of Gaza’s residents do not have enough money to buy the treated water.

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  • .8

    Can't fish, can't farm

    Fishermen spread nets in Gaza Port. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem,, 1 November 2011

    Agriculture has been hit hard by the siege, resulting in thousands of persons losing their source of livelihood. This is due, in part, to the prohibition on the entry of basic items such as pesticides and spare parts for irrigation systems, as well as the prohibition on exports. In addition, Israel has declared about one-third of Gaza’s farmland adjacent to the Israel-Gaza border, a “security strip” to which access is forbidden or restricted, and in which Israel has relaxed its open-fire regulations. Farmers therefore cannot access these lands.

    Israel has also restricted the area in which fishing is allowed. In 1994, fishermen were allowed to go 20 nautical miles from shore. In 2006, the distance was reduced to six nautical miles, and since Operation Cast Lead, fishermen have only been allowed to fish within three nautical miles from the coast. At the end of 2011, the Israeli navy placed five buoys along the coastline, from Beit Lahiya to Rafah, three nautical miles from shore. According to information B'Tselem obtained, on a number of occasions, naval vessels fired towards fishermen who approached the buoys. As a result, fisherman are afraid to go close to the buoys, further limiting the fishing area available to them.

    The waters in this range yield a meager supply of fish, and fishermen find it difficult to make a living. According to the UN agency OCHA, the restrictions on fishing resulted, in 2011, in the smallest crop of sardines in 12 years. In 2009-2011, the catch was 437 tons a season, less than one-quarter that of 2006-2008 (1,817 tons).

    In some cases, the Israeli navy seized boats and equipment from fisherman. Often it did not return all the equipment; in some cases, it returned the boats, but not the engines. As far as B'Tselem knows, in 2011, 24 fishing boats had been confiscated, as had nets, GPS devices, other equipment, and fish. Only nine of the boats were returned to their owners, without the equipment that was on board.

    Due to these difficulties, many fisherman have stopped fishing. Only 3,700 fisherman are now registered in the Gaza Strip, compared with about 10,000 in 2000.

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  • .9

    Family of fishermen lose their livelihood

    Khader Baker. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem

    Khader Hassan Khader Baker, 29, married with three children and living in a-Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, is a fisherman. He described to B'Tselem the repercussions of Israel’s restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast.

    For 14 years, I’ve worked with my father fishing on a motor boat in the sea off Gaza’s coast. My grandfathers, too, were fishermen. Despite the difficulties and restrictions on fishing, we managed to make a living from fishing.

    On 11 September 2011, I was fishing in the sea off Beit Lahiya, opposite a-Sudaniyya, with my father and six other people. We were in two boats. The Israeli navy detained us and took us in for questioning at Erez Checkpoint. They released us shoeless late that day. They confiscated the two boats and the motors, nets, navigation devices, and other fishing equipment. I was in shock and felt like our house had been destroyed.

    I haven’t worked since then. My father has heart problems, and now we don’t have the money to buy his medication, so he goes to the UNRWA clinic. Since I’m not working, I buy fruit only once a month, meat or chicken once or twice a month. I don’t have money for clothes for me and my family. The ‘Eid al-Adha holiday was especially hard for me. I stayed at home, like it was an ordinary day, didn't slaughter a sheep, and did not visit relatives. My sons and brothers also felt things were missing on the holiday, since they didn't buy things like their friends did. They were sad because they wanted to enjoy the holiday like everyone else.

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  • .10

    The "tunnels economy"

    Smuggling tunnel in Gaza. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 16 February 2009

    As a result of the siege policy, an extensive network of smuggling tunnels have developed between the southern Gaza Strip and Egyptian Rafah. Since the siege began, large quantities of goods have been imported through these tunnels. The Hamas government supervises the operation of the tunnels and collects taxes from the operators. In addition to consumer goods and other basic supplies, Palestinians also smuggle in weapons, including rockets. The Israeli Air Force has bombed the tunnels many times, causing the operation of some to shut down.

    With the easing of restrictions on imports, the scope of commercial activity through the tunnels diminished. Now, they are primarily used to bring in construction materials, fuel, and goods that cannot pass through the official crossings. The tunnels economy provides a livelihood for about 1,000 persons. Clearly, tunnels are not a proper substitute for a stable system of imports and exports in an economy of over 1.5 million persons.

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  • .11

    Restriction on travel between Gaza and the West Bank

    Erez crossing, Gaza Strip, Anne Paq,, 14 February 2012

    Since 2000, Israel has acted in a variety of ways to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and to split the Palestinians into two population groups. Since November 2007, Israel has forbidden Palestinians registered as residents of the Gaza Strip from remaining in the West Bank without a special permit, which is granted for only three months. The prohibition also applies to Palestinians who have lived in the West Bank for years. Permits to cross from Gaza to the West Bank are given sparingly and entail many demands and difficulties, such as the requirement that a high monetary guaranty be posted.

    Most Palestinians allowed to pass into Israel through Erez Crossing are merchants or are persons on their way to medical treatment in the West Bank and in Israel, together with relatives escorting them. According to WHO figures, in the period January-November 2011, 9,800 persons submitted requests to cross Erez to obtain medical treatment. Of these, 89.3 percent were approved (compared to 81.6 percent in 2010). Two hundred and thirty-three requests (2.4 percent) were rejected, including one request of a minor, and 744 requests (8.3 percent) were delayed (168 involving minors). Because Israel requires that the requests be submitted no more than ten days prior to the day of the appointment, patients whose request was delayed usually lost their appointment and had to schedule a new date and then submit another request to cross.

    Other delays in medical treatment resulted from restrictions, not related to Israel, imposed by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah.

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  • .12

    Gaza resident separated from her family in the West Bank

    Suha Abu Jaber. Photo: Khaled ‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem

    Suha Qassem Hassan Abu Jabber, 33, lives in Khan Yunis with her husband and five children. She was born in Hebron, married at age 15 and moved to the Gaza Strip. In 1998 and in 2000, she and her children visited her family in Hebron. Since then, she has not been allowed to visit her family.

    In 2002, my brother Mu’ataz got married and I couldn’t go to the wedding. Since then, he’s had two children, and I haven’t seen them. In 2007, my brother Akram died while in surgery to remove his gall bladder. I didn't manage to see him or say goodbye or go to his funeral. I asked my family not to bury him until I saw him. I didn't function for three days. I was in shock and felt I was imprisoned in Gaza and couldn’t see my family.

    In 2008, my brother Muhammad got married. He has a daughter. About three years ago, my father tore his retina and was hospitalized in Hebron for about two months. I didn't know about it until he had been in the hospital for 15 days. I called every day to ask how he was. My family doesn’t tell me everything that is happening with them so as not to make things hard for me and so I won’t worry.

    In June 2011, I managed for the first time in 11 years to see my mother, brothers and sisters and their children. I did that via the Internet. I spoke with them for 40 minutes. When I saw them, the only one I could recognize was my sister Samira, and I asked the others to identify themselves.
    It is so painful to be far from my family. The pain grows at holiday time, when I see my in-laws’ families visiting them, and not me. I cry when I think of my family.
    Over the years, I have gone more than once to get a permit to cross through Israel to go to the West Bank, but the coordination and liaison office in Gaza told me that that I’m forbidden to enter because I am young. After a few attempts, and due to the frustration I felt when I was refused a permit, I stopped submitting requests.

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  • .13

    Rafah Crossing

    Palestinian women returning from Egypt to Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. Photo: Ahmed Zakot, Reuters, 18 February 2011

    In late May 2011, after almost four years in which it restricted use of the crossing, Egypt announced the official and permanent opening of Rafah Crossing to Palestinian movement. Following the announcement, the crossing was open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for Fridays and official holidays, when the crossing was closed. Egyptian authorities stated that women, minors, and men over age 45 would not require a permit to enter Egypt, and that up to 600 persons would be allowed to cross each day.

    In the first few months that followed the announcement, persons wanting to leave Gaza via the crossing had to register at the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior. Due to the great demand to cross, primarily during Ramadan, which fell in August, only urgent medical cases, students whose studies were about to start, and holders of foreign passports were allowed to cross into Egypt. It was reported that Palestinians close to the Hamas government received permits on the spot. In December, it was announced that persons could go directly to the crossing and did not have to register in advance. As far as B'Tselem knows, since then, people have been able to cross freely.

    According to the Palestinian Crossings Authority, from June to December 2011, an average of 14867 persons passed into Egypt via Rafah Crossing each month, and 14,372 entered Gaza via Rafah. This is a significant increase. In March 2011 for example, 5,561 persons exited and 4,064 persons entered via the crossing. However, before 1997, when the crossing was operated in accordance with the US-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access, an average of 40,000 persons crossed monthly.

    Egyptian authorities have a list of persons "forbidden entry" to Egypt. The head of Rafah Crossing on behalf of the Hamas government stated that they do not know how many persons are on the list or the criteria. In 2011, the Egyptians prohibited 8,037.

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  • .14

    Gilad Shalit goes free

    Gilad Shalit at the Kerem Shalom crossing, on the Israeli-Egyptian border, on the day he was released. Photo: Reuters, 18 October 2011

    After being held hostage in Gaza for over five years, Cpl. Gilad Shalit was freed on 18 October 2011. Those holding him did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet with him nor his parents to be in contact with him or know the conditions in which he was being held. Throughout his captivity, B'Tselem demanded that the Hamas leadership, which controls the Gaza Strip, release Shalit unconditionally and treat him humanely until his release. B'Tselem also demanded that representatives of the Red Cross be allowed to visit him.

    Following his release, media reports indicated that, during the early part of his captivity, Shalit was treated harshly, but the treatment subsequently improved. It was also reported that, during the entire five-year period, the captors did not supply Shalit, who is nearsighted, with eyeglasses, and that he lost about 10 kilograms as a result of poor nutrition.

    Seizing a person (civilian or soldier) and holding them against their will in order to pressure the adverse side to agree to demands is deemed, under international law, the “taking of hostages” and is absolutely forbidden. The offense is greatly aggravated when the captors threaten to kill or injure the hostage if the demands are not met. The circumstances of Shalit’s capture and captivity clearly indicate that the act was a “taking of a hostage.”

    Five years and four months after Shalit’s abduction, Hamas and Israel reached agreement on an exchange, achieved with the aid of German and Egyptian mediators, that was signed in Egypt on 11 October. A week later, Shalit was taken to Egypt and then, upon the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, to Israel. In the second stage of the agreement, Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners on 18 December 2011.

    B'Tselem welcomes the release of Shalit, who was held in blatant breach of his rights.

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