Gaza: UN urges lifting of Israeli restrictions on land and sea access

The United Nations has issued an urgent call for the lifting of Israeli military restrictions on civilian access to the Gaza Strip. Over the past 10 years, the Israeli military has expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and Gaza—also known as the “Green Line”—and to fishing areas along Gaza’s coast, with the stated intention of preventing attacks by Palestinian militants. “This regime has had a devastating impact on the physical security and livelihoods of nearly 180,000 people, exacerbating the assault on human dignity triggered by the blockade imposed by Israel in June 2007,” states the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP), which carried out a study on the impact of the restrictions.

Most farmers interviewed for the study reported that their income from agriculture had been reduced by less than a third of the previous amount since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, while others said their incomes were wiped out. In addition, the income lost in the fishing sector as a result of the access restrictions is estimated at some $26.5 million over a five-year period.

According to OCHA, the IDF uses live fire on individuals who enter restricted zones. Though in most cases the troops fire warning shots, 22 people have been killed and 146 have been wounded in such incidents since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The report states that this method of enforcement violates international humanitarian law, and that the local Palestinian population was never informed by Israel of the exact nature of the restrictions.

The OCHA research also indicates the IDF has leveled farmland and destroyed personal property within restricted areas in efforts to keep Palestinians out. The farmers who own the lands have tried to make up the lost income with alternate forms of farming, the report states, but their ability to harvest their crops is limited and the profits from the alternate methods comprise a fraction of the income generated on the original land. OCHA estimated some $308 million in losses as a direct result of the Israeli restrictions.

The restrictions also affect access to schools, seven of which are located within the restricted areas, and have significantly impeded the maintenance and upgrade of existing wastewater and electricity infrastructure, negatively impacting the provision of services to the entire population of Gaza, according to the study. The report is based on over 100 interviews and focus group discussions carried out during March-April 2010.

The restrictions have become harsher beginning with Operation Cast Lead. Since late 2008, Palestinians have been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the Green Line, and sea areas beyond three nautical miles from shore. Overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17% of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35% of its agricultural land. At sea, fishermen are totally prevented from accessing some 85% of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements.

An estimated 178,000 people—12% of the population of the Gaza Strip—are directly affected by the access regime. “To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible,” OCHA and WFP stated. (UN News Centre, Palestine News Network, Haaretz, Aug. 19)

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