In September 2005, Israel completed its unilateral ‘disengagement’ plan; it evacuated the Israeli settlements that had been built — in violation of international law — during the almost 40 years of occupation, and withdrew the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) from within the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government then claimed that the implementation of this ‘disengagement’ plan would “invalidate the claims against Israel regarding its responsibility for Palestinians within the Gaza Strip”.
Since then, the State Attorney’s Office has also argued that, with the termination of the military government of the Gaza Strip, Israel has no obligations whatsoever towards the citizens of Gaza, who should now direct their claims to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
However, both legal and factual accounts have indicated to the contrary. As Al Mezan and other human rights organizations continue to assert, Israel has retained full control over Gaza, and hence its illegal occupation. The military control of Gaza has simply changed forms; while Gaza was once controlled from within the Strip, it is now controlled from around it, through its borders, airspace, and sea space – as well as by frequent incursions.
In its continued occupation of Gaza, the Israeli government and armed forces have repeatedly and routinely violated both international humanitarian law and the non-derogable human rights of the 1.4 million residents of Gaza. The almost continued closure of Rafah Crossing Point (RCP) is one of the most insidious examples of this, and, as one of the biggest disappointments following the ‘disengagement’, is the focus of this study.
That Israel retains full control over RCP and can close it at will is a fact that has been proven over time. Israel has consistently shown that the opening of RCP relies wholly on its own whims. Israel has been able to simply issue security warnings or close the Kerem Shalom crossing that the EU workers need to access RCP in order to prevent them from being able to do their work. While RCP was largely open for the first few months after the agreement, for the last seven months (since June 26th and the commencement of “Operation Summer Rain”), the opening of RCP to Palestinian civilians has remained highly erratic and largely closed.
With the commencement of the Israeli June invasion, the Government of Israel closed RCP, and has since opened it on a highly limited basis. Between June 26th 2006, and the end of the year (December 30th 2006), RCP was only open 14 percent of days. In January 2007, Rafah Crossing did not open for one full day (RCP was closed for 22 days and only partially open on the other 9 days in January). When open, the hours have been limited, and, perhaps worse, the opening of the terminal has only been announced a few hours in advance, preventing people from making plans and leaving Palestinians fearing to use the Crossing should they not find it open again for several weeks. For weeks following the Israeli commencement of Operation Summer Rain, thousands of people found themselves, trapped either with in the Strip, unable to reach the outside world, or in Egypt, living in squalid conditions, unable to return home. This included a significant number of Palestinians returning from medical treatment and surgery abroad.
Indeed, during this time, six Palestinians, including three children, died as they were left at the crossing, unable to return to the Strip for weeks. The continued closure of Rafah, and the unpredictable nature of its opening, has resulted in the majority of Palestinians feeling that they cannot return to or leave the Strip, for fear of loosing their residency visas in countries were they work and live while being stuck in Gaza, or of being stuck outside for weeks on end.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights considers Israel’s practices in the RCP as a source of suffering to the civilian population of the OPT. The prohibition and restriction of Palestinian movement and travel constitute a violation of international and human rights law, particularly of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, as the closure of RCP impacts severely on the ability of Gazans to unite with their families, access healthcare, education and work.
Al Mezan reiterates that Israel’s procedures in the RCP constitute only part of its massive violations of human rights, in contravention to its obligations under Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law, especially those pursuant to its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Israel’s constant and continuing violations constitute disregard of the human rights law and standards.
Moreover, the Centre sees Israeli’s continuing control over Rafah Crossing Point as a form of retaining effective control of the population of Gaza, and thus as one tool in which Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip.
The Center emphasizes that Israel’s acts in the RCP are alarming and are in part allowed by the international community’s tendency to address the Israeli occupation and Palestinian rights from a political perspective, which contravenes their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War.
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