Israel restricts Palestinian movement within the occupied Palestinian territory through a combination of physical obstacles, including the Barrier and checkpoints, bureaucratic constraints, such as permit requirements, and the designation of areas as restricted or closed. This multi-layered system impacts the flow of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the outside world, including the West Bank; into farming and fishing areas within Gaza; and within the West Bank, in particular into East Jerusalem, in areas isolated by the Barrier, ‘firing zones’, the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city (H2), and land around or within Israeli settlements. Combined, these restrictions impede access to services and resources, disrupt family and social life, undermine livelihoods and compound the fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory.
In a positive development, as of 2 January 2019, for the first time since 2000, Israel has partially expanded the fishing limits up to 12 nautical miles (NM) in the middle area off the Gaza coast. However, access along the northern and southern areas continue to be restricted by Israel, citing security concerns, to six nautical miles (NM), well below the 20 NM agreed under the Oslo Accords. In addition to access restrictions, Palestinian fishers remain subject to significant protection concerns, with the number of fisher injuries and shooting incidents rising significantly in 2018.
Palestinians in Gaza who wish to exit the enclave can only do so through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing or the Rafah crossing, which is controlled by Egypt. The Erez crossing is vitally important as it controls the movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank via Israel. Since the early 1990s, Palestinian residents of Gaza have required an exit permit to leave through Erez. Under a policy implemented since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000 - and tightened after June 2007, citing security concerns, following the takeover of Gaza by Hamas - only people belonging to specific Israeli-defined categories are eligible for an exit permit, subject to a security check.
Between 9 July and 15 August, the Israeli authorities severely tightened restrictions on the movement of goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, and further reduced the area permitted for fishing at sea from six/nine to three nautical miles. According to the Israeli authorities, these measures were in response to the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza into Israel that have resulted in extensive property damage. In May, over the course of the demonstrations, the crossing was set on fire and damaged twice by demonstrators, and closed for a few days on each occasion.
The 2018 olive harvest season will last approximately from mid-September to mid-November. However, a pest that infects olive trees, particularly in the norther West Bank, is expected to significantly reduce this year’s yield compared with 2017 (see box). In recent years, the olive harvest has also been affected negatively by Israeli settlers stealing or damaging olive trees, and by restrictions on access by Palestinian farmers to olive groves behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements.
Recent developments have exacerbated the vulnerability of Palestinians living in, or dependent on access to, an area in eastern Nablus governorate designated in the 1970s as closed for Israeli military training: “Firing Zone 904A”. These developments have included military exercises involving temporary displacement, property damage, disruption to life and new access restrictions. In recent years this area has witnessed increasing settlement activities, including violence and intimidation, alongside a reduced Palestinian presence.
In recent months, citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities, and to a lesser extent Hamas, have tightened restrictions on the movement of Palestinian humanitarian staff out of Gaza. Measures by the Israeli authorities include an increase in the processing time for exit permits, a rise in denials and one-year bans, restrictions on the type of items allowed to be taken out of Gaza, and new crossing procedures at the vehicle terminal. The Hamas authorities have established a new registration point at the entrance to Gaza. These measures have increased uncertainty, delays and logistical impediments, and have a negative impact on humanitarian operations. The UN continues to conduct negotiations with all relevant actors in Israel and Gaza to alleviate these challenges.