|In the context of increasing unrest in Egypt, for the second successive month, the Egyptian authorities restricted the operation of the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, which are used for the entry of construction materials, fuel and goods otherwise unavailable or available at a higher price from Israel. The Egyptian authorities also tightened controls on the Rafah passenger crossing, Gaza’s main access to the outside world. The crossing was closed entirely for six days, before reopening partially for the rest of the month, with passage limited to certain categories of people. Combined, these measures resulted in a sharp slowdown in construction activities leading to layoffs in the construction sector, one of the few functioning outlets in the depressed Gazan economy. The Rafah closure also resulted in less than half the normal number of Ministry of Health (MoH) referred patients travelling to Egypt and the MOH’s restricting X-rays and certain drugs to emergency use only, due to low supplies and the unreliable flow of medical supplies via the Rafah Crossing.
Fuel shortages in July, triggered by the clampdown on tunnel activities, led to Ministry of Agriculture-imposed quotas on fuel purchases for fishing boats in Gaza, and a decrease in the number of active fishing boats, the main source of livelihood for 3,500 registered fishermen. In the context of incidents affecting fishermen at sea, in the first half of 2013 the number of violent incidents, including shootings, significantly increased compared to the previous six months, resulting in the first injuries recorded in over a year. The number of incidents in which fishing equipment was damaged or confiscated also increased, and while the number of boats confiscated by the Israeli authorities decreased, new requirements regarding the recovery of such boats will make their return to Gaza prohibitively costly.
In the West Bank in July, damage to more than 1,150 olive trees belonging to the village of ‘Awarta highlight ongoing concerns regarding settler violence and restricted access to private Palestinian land located within settlements and nature reserves. There are an estimated 90 Palestinian communities like ‘Awarta which have land within, or in the vicinity of, Israeli settlements and whose access to such land is subject to “prior coordination” with the Israeli authorities, generally only granted for a limited number of days during the annual olive harvest. In addition to placing the onus on farmers to adapt their access to a limited schedule, the ‘Awarta case demonstrates that the prior coordination system is largely ineffective in preventing attacks by settlers against Palestinian trees outside the times allocated.
On a more positive note, in July, the Israeli authorities opened up two key roads leading into the cities of Ramallah and Hebron for Palestinian traffic, facilitating the access of tens of thousands to services and livelihoods.
These measures are consistent with a trend observed since mid-2008 entailing improved movement between the main Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Access to East Jerusalem for West Bank ID holders continues to be restricted by the Barrier, the checkpoints and the permit system. However, this month, on the occasion of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities implemented significant measures that facilitated Palestinian pedestrian access to the city from the remainder of the West Bank; Palestinians from the Gaza Strip continued to be denied access to the city during Ramadan. Such easing of restrictions can significantly contribute to Israel meeting its obligations on freedom of movement were they to be applied throughout the year, allowing Palestinians better access to services in East Jerusalem.