Israel has closed the Erez crossing point with the Gaza Strip, preventing thousands of Palestinian workers and traders from entering Israel and the occupied West Bank. The decision, announced last week, was taken in response to a series of violent protests along the separation fence between Israel and Gaza, where Israeli forces have killed at least one Palestinian and wounded several others.
The closure of the Erez crossing, which is the only passage for people between Gaza and Israel, has left around 18,000 Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel or the West Bank without a source of income. Many of them are employed in construction, agriculture, health and other sectors that are vital for the economy of Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007.
According to the Israeli NGO Gisha, which advocates for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza, the closure of the Erez crossing constitutes “illegal collective punishment” and a “blatant violation of the law”. The organization has sent a letter to Israel’s Minister of Defense, urging him to reverse the decision and allow the workers and traders to resume their travel.
“Blocking travel through Erez in response to demonstrations by Gaza’s perimeter fence harms Gaza workers and their families, as well as other permit holders who need to travel for humanitarian needs,” Gisha said in a statement. “The intention and result of the decision is to cause deliberate harm to the civilian population, stemming from prohibited, punitive objectives and constituting abuse of your control over the crossings.”
The protests along the fence have been organized by Palestinian youths who say they are responding to Israeli provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, which is revered by both Muslims and Jews. The site has witnessed an increase in visits by nationalist Jewish activists who seek to assert their right to pray there, despite a longstanding arrangement that forbids non-Muslim worship.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, has expressed its support for the protesters and warned Israel against any further escalation. “As long as these provocations continue, the protests will continue,” said Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem.
The tension along the fence recalls a bloody campaign of weekly demonstrations that Hamas launched in 2018 and 2019, during which over 350 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Those protests ended after mediators, including Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, brokered an unofficial deal in which Israel eased some economic restrictions on Gaza and allowed Qatar to deliver monthly payments for needy families and Hamas salaries.
However, this month, following a visit by the Qatari envoy to Gaza, the territory’s finance ministry announced it would have to slash the salaries of thousands of civil servants by almost half. The Qatari government has not commented on the reason for the reduction in funds.
The closure of the Erez crossing also comes amid a surge in violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israeli forces have killed at least 185 Palestinians this year, including 38 children. Another 37 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip.