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From the field

One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan

March 2005, Joint report with HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Summary

For the past four and a half years, Israel has severely restricted freedom of movement to and from the Gaza Strip. These restrictions further strangled the Gaza Strip, so much so that the area resembles one gigantic prison. Israel's policies have reduced many human rights - among them the right to freedom of movement, family life, health, education, and work - to "humanitarian gestures" that Israel sparingly provides.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are almost completely separated from each other, and Palestinian travel between the two areas has been drastically reduced. Gazans are not allowed to enter Israel to visit relatives or to live with their spouses, and family visits by Arab citizens and residents of Israel are kept to a minimum. Israel places hardships on Palestinians wanting to leave the region, and prohibits many Palestinians from leaving. The import and export of goods is limited and often stops altogether. A small number of Gazans are allowed to work in Israel, and tens of thousands have lost their jobs.

Detachment of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world has exacted a price from each and every Palestinian living there. The restrictions on the movement of goods and laborers has created a deep recession, the loss of work, and a dramatic deterioration in living conditions. Over the past four and a half years, the poverty rate has increased by more than 40 percent. Going abroad to obtain medical treatment or to study entails long waits. Severance of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and Israel results in painful separation from loved ones, and in some cases the separation of children from one of their parents.

Palestinian workers waiting to the Israeli controlled industrial zone in Erez area between Israel and the Gaza Strip February 13, 2005. Photo: Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters
Palestinian workers waiting to the Israeli controlled industrial zone in Erez area between Israel and the Gaza Strip February 13, 2005. Photo: Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters

Israel's policy did not come out of the blue, but was a response to the wave of attacks that has struck Israel and the Occupied Territories since the outbreak of the intifada. Attacks aimed at civilians are "war crimes" according to international humanitarian law and are unjustifiable in all circumstances. Israel is entitled, and required, to protect its citizens from such attacks. However, in doing so, Israel does not have the right to trample on the human rights of an entire population.

Israel implements its separation policy in a patently arbitrary and indiscriminate manner. Almost all restrictions are imposed on entire groups of people, based on sweeping criteria, without examining the threat that the individual person poses. The proof is that Israeli authorities have often chosen to reverse their refusal of a person's request for a movement permit once an attorney or human rights organization intervenes, rather than face an embarrassing legal challenge. Most elements of Israel's policy are illegal under international law and Israeli law.

In approving the disengagement plan, the government of Israel stated its intention to evade its responsibility for the human rights of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. However, all the human rights violations discussed in this report are likely to continue, and even worsen, after disengagement.

B'Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual urge the government of Israel to end its siege policy on the Gaza Strip and to respect the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement and those rights dependent on freedom of movement.