opportunities By Jillian
JERUSALEM - As the
ceasefire between Israel and Hamas seems to be
holding, many are hoping that one of the
agreement's main points - the easing of
restrictions on people and goods coming in and out
of the Gaza Strip - signals a new era for the
besieged Palestinian territory.
people of Gaza cannot go back to the situation as
it was before. This cycle of violence and
de-development must end," Ramesh Rajasingham, head
of the United Nations Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied
Palestinian territories told IPS via e-mail.
"Lifting of the blockade and allowing the
free movement of people and goods to and from the
Gaza Strip is the only way to address
the chronic humanitarian
needs amongst so many Gazans, and facilitate
sustainable economic growth that benefits the
population as a whole."
Israel and Hamas
on November 21 signed a ceasefire agreement,
mediated by Egypt and the United States, to bring
an end to eight days of Israeli air strikes on the
Gaza Strip and Hamas rocket fire on Israeli
According to a transcript of the
agreement released by Agence France-Presse, in
addition to halting violence on both sides, the
agreement stipulated that further discussions
would be held to open the border crossings between
Israel and Gaza, and ease current restrictions on
"the movement of people and transfer of goods"
According to local reports,
Palestinian fishermen have been allowed to fish at
a distance of six miles (9.65 kilometers) from the
Gaza shore, up from three miles (4.8km), for the
first time in three years, and farmers allowed to
work their lands within 300 meters of the border
fence with Israel.
Israel has gradually
implemented a closure policy on the Gaza Strip
since the early 1990s, with strictly enforced
restrictions on travel and on transfer of goods
and services from the Palestinian territory.
Israel adopted more stringent restrictions
in 2006 following the abduction of an Israeli
soldier by Palestinian fighters. When the Islamic
movement Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary
elections and later ousted its rival Fatah party
from Gaza - effectively dividing the occupied
Palestinian territories into two entities, a
Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank and a
Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip - even more Israeli
restrictions were enforced.
"The ban on
goods from Gaza being marketed to Israel and the
West Bank has crippled the agricultural and
manufacturing sector. Unemployment in Gaza is
one-third of the workforce. Humanitarian
assistance is above 70%," said Sari Bashi,
director of Gisha, a legal center backing freedom
Before June 2007, more than
85% of the goods exported from Gaza were sold in
Israel and the West Bank; today, products from
Gaza cannot be sold in either. Israel now allows
an average of 18 truckloads of goods to pass
through its territory to be marketed abroad per
month, only 2% of pre-2007 export levels.
Under the 1993 Oslo agreement, Israel has
a responsibility to treat the West Bank and Gaza
Strip as a single, territorial unit. But Israel
allows Palestinians from Gaza to access the West
Bank only in "exceptional humanitarian cases".
This has largely meant medical patients and their
companions, and merchants.
separated. Students cannot access their studies.
Workers cannot access professional opportunities
and the fragmentation of Palestinian society is
exacerbated. While Israel has a right to conduct
security checks on those seeking to travel through
Israel, it must recognize the right of
Palestinians to travel and choose their place of
residence in Gaza and the West Bank," Bashi told
The closure policy has also had a
devastating impact on healthcare services.
According to Medical Aid for Palestine,
hospitals in Gaza are operating with only 40% of
essential medicines, and 65% of medical
disposables are at zero stock. There is not enough
staff, medical professionals are sometimes forced
to re-use rubber gloves, and equipment is often
broken, outdated, or altogether missing.
In August, the United Nations found that,
should the current Israeli restrictions be
maintained, Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. In
particular, population growth - which would result
in a density of more than 5,800 people per square
kilometer - and lack of adequate access to water,
electricity, health and education are exacerbating
"So far very few details
have been provided about any changes to the
closure policy. Negotiators will negotiate that,"
said Gisha's Sari Bashi, about the potential
changes included in the ceasefire agreement. "But
right now, it's in everybody's interest. Right now
there's a real opportunity to protect the
integrity of Palestinian society in ways that are
responsive to Israel's security needs."