Gaza Strip

Israel's control of the airspace and the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip

Published: 
1 Jan 2013

The disengagement plan states: "Israel will hold sole control of Gaza airspace and will continue to carry out military activity in the waters of the Gaza Strip." Therefore, Israel continues to maintain exclusive control of Gaza's airspace and the territorial waters, just as it has since it occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967. 

Control of the airspace enables Israel, among other things, to monitor the actions on the ground, and to interfere with radio and TV broadcasts. Control of the waters enables Israel, for example, to limit the activity of Gaza fishermen.

Due to Israel's control of Gaza's air and sea space, the Palestinian Authority cannot, on its own initiative, operate a seaport or airport. This situation infringes the right to freedom of movement to and from Gaza and impairs the ability of Gazans to carry out foreign trade.

Control of airspace

Israeli combat and intelligence-gathering aircraft fly daily over the Gaza Strip. By these and other means, Israel can monitor the activity on the ground and attack targets whenever it wants.

The Oslo Agreements Israel gave Israel full control over Gaza's airspace, but established that the Palestinians could build an airport in the area. Gaza Airport was duly built and opened in 1998, providing a limited number of weekly flights to Arab countries. Passengers leaving from the airport were transported by bus to Rafah Crossing, where they were checked by Israel in the same manner as those leaving for Egypt by land, before being taken back to the airport.

On 8 October 2000, immediately after the outbreak of the second intifada, Israel closed down the airport, and it has not opened since. In December 2001, the Israeli Air Force bombed the airport's runways. From the beginning of the second intifada to the completion of the disengagement plan in 2005, the airport served as an Israeli military base. When the soldiers left and after the disengagement plan was implemented, it was found that soldiers at the base had vandalized and destroyed the buildings. In the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA), which Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed in November 2005, Israel recognized the importance of the airport in Gaza, and made a commitment to discuss arrangements to reopen it with the Palestinians. No discussions on this matter have ever been held.

Control of territorial waters

While there is no fence along Gaza's coastline, residents do not have open access to the sea. Palestinians wanting to go to sea need to request a permit from Israel, and those who obtain a permit are restricted in the distance they can go from shore. Israeli patrol boats have at times fired at boats that exceeded the distance allowed.

In the Interim Agreement, signed by Israel and the PLO, Israel agreed to allow fishing boats from Gaza to go some twenty nautical miles (about thirty-seven kilometers) from the coastline (except for a few areas, to which they were prohibited entry). In practice, Israel did not issue permits to all applicants, and allowed fishing up to a distance of no more than twelve nautical miles. Following the disengagement, Israel reduced the fishing area even more, and since the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit, on 25 June 2006, fishermen have not been allowed to go further than three nautical miles from shore. As a result, the fishing sector in Gaza, which provides a livelihood to many families and is an important source of food for residents of the area, suffered a harsh blow.

In the agreements signed by the parties since the beginning of the Oslo peace process, the sides repeatedly agreed to work toward building and operating a seaport in Gaza. In the summer of 2000, infrastructure work for the port began, but in October of that year, following the outbreak of the second intifada, Israel bombed the seaport construction site. As a result, the donor states ceased funding the project, and no work has been done on the seaport since then. In the AMA of November 2005, mentioned above, Israel agreed to allow renewal of the construction work. Moreover, in order to assure that foreign donors and investors would be willing to invest in the project, Israel promised that it would not strike the port again and would cooperate in establishing the security and other arrangements needed to operate it. To date, no action has been taken in this matter.