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Belal Dabour

Israel giveth, Israel taketh away: Gazans under Israeli control

Whatever "concessions" Israel made after the war are now gone with the wind [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 5 April, 2016

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Comment: Israel's control over basic rights such as freedom of movement is holding the Palestinian people to ransom, says Belal Dabbour.

For the second Friday in a row, elderly Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip have been unable to reach the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem for their prayers.

Late in 2014, after the Israeli military campaign came to a halt, Israel granted the more than 1.5 million Gazans a weekly quota of 60-200 permits for visiting Jerusalem and praying at the holy Aqsa mosque. This step was publicised as a "concession", aimed at easing tensions and improving living conditions for the population residing in the blockaded Strip.

Permits were, however, restricted to Palestinians aged 60 and over and there have been several delays over the past two years. Two weeks ago, in mid-March, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (or COGAT) finally declared the permits would be officially suspended, and that elderly Palestinians from the Gaza Strip would no longer be able to access Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque.

COGAT is a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defence that manages the civilian aspects of the occupation and liaises with the Palestinian Authority, international organisations and foreign diplomats.

It controls what Palestinians can eat or drink, who can marry whom and their right to travel for study or access medical treatment. Its wide-reaching regulation over the lives of Palestinians even extends to keeping tabs on their calorie intake.

At least 1,500 patients who seek to travel to the West Bank or Israel for treatment still wait in line for permissions that have been stalled for more than two months, longer in some cases, for no apparent reason

According to a senior official in the Palestinian liaison office, the Israeli army has recently revoked hundreds of entry permits from Gaza to today's Israel. Gazan officials speak of even greater numbers. At least 1,500 patients who seek to travel to the West Bank or Israel for treatment still wait in line for permissions that have been stalled for more than two months, longer in some cases, for no apparent reason.

The recently re-imposed restrictions came just a few days after the Israeli publication Haaretz reported an upcoming relaxation of restrictions over Palestinians' travel abroad, or to the West Bank through the Erez crossing. According to the left-leaning newspaper, COGAT established a new policy for the population of Gaza in Febraury, stipulating that patients and students from the Strip wishing to enter Israel for the sake of going abroad via Jordan would be allowed to leave - provided they sign a written agreement stating they would not return to the Gaza Strip via the same route for at least a year.

Israel giveth, Israel taketh away


The newspaper remarked on "a change in a 20 year-old policy", in reference to the long-enforced Israeli practice of isolating Gazans and separating them from the West Bank.

But Palestinians see in this an Israeli bid to evacuate the Strip and speed up the brain drain, which has already intensified under the blockade. In 2014, and especially after the 2014 war, hundreds of Palestinians from Gaza died or went missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean, while more than 10,000 made the journey to the other side.

The emigration trend was only curbed by the near permanent Egyptian closure of Rafah crossing. In spite of the obvious discrimination embodied by this policy, Palestinians who wish to pursue studies or medical treatment abroad have virtually no other options, and they are unlikely to resist Israel's Orwellian conditions.

Israel leverages these laws to pressure Palestinians and maximise the profound control they exert over their lives.

Israel does not usually offer explanations for any such purely vindictive measures, but on the rare occasions it does, these rarely extend beyond invoking the usual "security concerns".

COGAT stated that the reason for cancelling the weekly prayer permits was the alleged "lagging behind" in Israel of some worshippers. While it is not difficult to see why Palestinians might cherish every moment outside the open-air prison that is Gaza, understanding how elderly Palestinian worshippers might pose a security threat to Israel requires something of a leap of faith.

A few days ago, security concerns were again invoked to justify a decision to prevent the entry of building materials needed by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in the Gaza Strip. Israel also banned imports of gold jewellery to Gaza for unclear reasons; a decision that was enforced for nearly a decade and only lifted few months ago. The ban has reportedly been reintroduced this month.

After years of a strict blockade, Israel has learned that making small concessions once in a while plays into the hands of COGAT officers more successfully than maintaining the proverbial 'carrot on a stick' state of affairs.

Such measures are rarely challenged at any stage of the process: not by the media or by officials, not when they are enforced and not when they are magically lifted.

Give them something to lose

The lifting and reintroduction of every Israeli ban or "concession" comes at a price. Israel leverages these laws to pressure Palestinians and maximise the profound control they exert over their lives.

After years of a strict blockade, Israel has learned that making small concessions once in while plays into the hands of COGAT officers more successfully than maintaining the proverbial "carrot on a stick" state of affairs. This, of course, has the added value of free publicity, which Israel exploits fully.

Moreover, this approach gives the impression that Israel is fulfilling its obligations as an occupying power, when in fact basic rights - such as freedom of movement - have become a tool for extortion, prone to suspension at all times, and for any or no reason.



Belal Dabour is a Palestinian doctor in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @Belalmd12

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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