Al-Mawasi is a narrow strip of coastal land one kilometer wide and fourteen kilometers long. Gush Qatif settlements lie to its east. The area is rich in water and its residents’ main source of income is derived from agriculture and fishing.
Since the founding of the Gush Qatif settlements, the IDF has restricted the movement of al-Mawasi’s residents. The severity of the restrictions has grown during the al-Aqsa intifada, effectively imprisoning the Palestinians in their community. The army changes the criteria for allowing the residents to move to and from the nearby cities, Khan Yunis and Rafah, without informing the residents. At times, the army completely prohibits movement in or out of al-Mawasi; as a result, dozens of residents of al-Mawasi find themselves stuck in Khan Yunis without food, a change of clothes, or a place to spend the night. Consequently, they have to rely on the kindness of relatives and friends to meet these needs.
The restriction on freedom of movement, itself an infringement of human rights, has also resulted in the violation of other human rights. With regard to the right to work and earn a living, the IDF’s restrictions have reduced the movement of goods from al-Mawasi to Khan Yunis by ninety percent in comparison with the pre-intifada period, creating a huge loss of income for the farmers, who have been forced to throw away much of their produce or simply let it rot. Farmers who purchased fertilizer and equipment with the intent of paying for them from the revenues derived from the sale of the produce find themselves unable to pay their debts or buy new equipment.
The restrictions infringe the right to education. They severely hamper the educational system in the area, primarily by making it impossible for teachers to reach the schools for days at a time. The IDF has also restricted the entry of electronic equipment and computers to the schools, and only allow other school supplies to enter in limited quantities. In the health field, the restrictions have created a shortage of medicine in the area, and there have been cases in which women have given birth while waiting at the checkpoint and patients have been late for surgery after being delayed at the crossing points.
The widespread restrictions on the freedom of movement and their extensive and harsh consequences on the Palestinian residents constitute collective punishment, which is prohibited by international humanitarian law, with which Israel has promised to comply.
In response to a query by B’Tselem, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office did not mention any incidents or dangers directly related to al-Mawasi’s residents. Rather, the reply stated that the measures were taken following warnings the army had received. However, it appears that the IDF’s arbitrary restrictions result from the proximity to the settlements and the army’s continuing control over security matters in the area, which is not the case in the rest of the Gaza Strip.
In conclusion, B’Tselem demands that the IDF change its policy regarding movement in al-Mawasi. The army must allow residents of al-Mawasi to conduct their lives in a normal manner, to move about freely without fear, to receive proper medical treatment, to work and to market their produce, and to educate their children.