Gaza crossings must remain open continuously
This month, on the occasion of Passover (the Feast of Freedom), the Israeli authorities closed the Kerem Shalom crossing, the single conduit for the entry and exit of goods to and from Gaza, for four days. The crossing was also partially closed on three additional days during the month in response to the firing of rockets at southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups, in addition to the closure on Fridays and Saturdays.
As a result, the volume of goods that entered Gaza during April was the lowest recorded since October 2011, leading to shortages of some essential items, including dairy products and fruits. The closures also exacerbated the pre-existing shortages of fuel, cooking gas and construction materials. The main reason for the shortage of building materials is Israel's longstanding import restrictions in the context of the blockade. This situation has worsened since July 2013 following the halt in the smuggling of building materials from Egypt via the tunnels, driving a steep increase in the unemployment rate to the highest level in four years — 43 per cent (relaxed definition) in the first quarter of 2014. On a positive note, towards the end of April the Israeli authorities announced that most international projects requiring the import of construction materials, including UN projects, would be allowed to resume.
In the West Bank, this month also witnessed negative developments in two fronts, affecting already vulnerable Palestinian communities. Following a significant decline in the previous two months, the number of demolitions and displacements in Area C spiked again in April, including a remarkable increase in the number of donor-funded structures targeted. The Israeli authorities also issued a number of demolition and eviction orders on Bedouin and herder communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem, increasing risks of forcible transfer.
Secondly, in April, the Israel authorities granted final approval for the establishment of a new settlement in the heart of Hebron city and issued a military order declaring extensive areas in the Gush Etzion settlement area of Bethlehem as "state land". The allocation and subsequent development of this land by adjacent settlements is expected to further impede the access of Palestinian farmers to their land and undermine their agricultural livelihoods.
To prevent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the crossing with the external world must be opened continuously and the restrictions on the entry and exit of goods lifted, subject only to legitimate security considerations. In the West Bank, it is imperative to suspend the demolitions and displacement in Area C and ensure that a fair and transparent planning system is put in place. All settlement activities should be halted; "state lands" are a public resource, which, under international law, should be allocated for the benefit of the Palestinian population.