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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 12:19 GMT
The Palestinians under closure
Woman and child receive emergency relief supplies in Rafah Gaza
More and more Palestinians are dependent on aid
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

For almost the entire period since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, the Gaza Strip and large parts of the West Bank have been under closure.

Their parents are out of work and there is no money coming in. Kids don't understand why there may not be chicken or sometimes bread on the table at night

Said Talib, Gazan teacher
The Israeli army says the closure is a security measure designed to stop attacks inside Israel and against soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories.

Palestinians say the closure is a policy intended to impoverish them and destroy the symbols of self-determination - and eventually to drive them out of the West Bank and Gaza.

In Gaza where the effects of the closure are most severe, the standard of living has plummeted and the numbers of those unemployed has increased dramatically.

Making ends meet

Before the intifada, 45,000 workers crossed from Gaza into Israel every day. This number is now down to a trickle of about 1,500 people.

The Erez crossing, the main entry point into Gaza from Israel, is silent now - only a few soldiers from both sides marking time. In more peaceful times more than 25,000 people would pass through every day.

Jabalia in the Gaza Strip
About 80% of Gazans are living bellow the poverty line
In an economy where one worker fed six or seven relatives, the effects of this have been disastrous.

Said Talib is a deputy headmaster at school for 14 and 15-year-olds in Jabalia in Gaza.

"The closure causes a lot of suffering for people here. I see this in the eyes of the children I teach - the fear that is in their eyes and their inability to concentrate in class.

"We used to ask students to buy books and pencils. Now they just can't do it. Their parents are out of work and there is no money coming in. Kids don't understand why there may not be chicken or sometimes bread on the table at night," Mr Talib says.

The World Bank estimates that 60% of the working population is out of work and 80% of Gazans are living below a poverty line set at $2 a day.

Emergency aid

The United Nations describes the situation in Gaza as a humanitarian emergency.

Unrwa, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, estimates that 25,000 tonnes of extra food aid are needed every day and the organisation is feeding 627,000 people above and beyond those it would ordinarily be feeding.

Because we are facing a day and night war against terrorism we have to be prepared to prevent and deter to the maximum the possibility of attack

Israeli Defence Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rafowicz Olivier
On certain days, the Gaza strip is cut up into three sections, locking Palestinians into the area they are in at the time. The only people who move are settlers and the Israeli army.

Unrwa is experiencing problems getting aid supplies into Gaza from its West Bank warehouses.

The shipments are subject to security restrictions and since the start of the intifada fees have been levied against the aid shipments.

"We are not unaware of Israeli security concerns, but normally humanitarian agencies should benefit from easy passage," says Lionel Bisson, the head of Gaza field office of Unrwa.

"It seems that for security reasons the Israelis do not trust us. It is debatable as to whether this is legal under international law."

Security measures

For the Israeli Government the closure is a military question. As long as Israelis are under attack, officials say, measures will be taken to stop Palestinian attackers.

You feel that an outside body, the Israelis, are interfering with your life, with your self. That is occupation

Ramallah resident Aref Hijjawi
"The checkpoints are not the goal or the objective. They are a consequence of something," says Israeli Defence Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rafowicz Olivier.

"When the threat is so big, we have to take global measures. These global measures are not the goal, they are the result of a non-alternative position."

The problems of restricting the movements of the whole Palestinian population for long periods of time are not lost on Colonel Olivier.

The Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza
Ordinarily 45,000 people would pass through the Erez crossing every day
"It is a mistake to prevent everyone crossing, because you have many humanitarian cases and because most of the people are innocent...but because we are facing a day and night war against terrorism we have to be prepared to prevent and deter to the maximum the possibility of attack."

'Living in cages'

In the West Bank major cities can be cut off from each other for long periods of time by Israeli roadblocks. Many Palestinians cannot get to work and farmers who supply food to the cities are unable to get their produce to market.

Israel's occupation of Palestinian areas is not a primitive thing. They have created a regime that in the end threatens our presence here

Palestinian political analyst Salah Jawwad
"It feels like the Palestinian people are put into small cages in their villages and towns. It affects every aspect of life. Freedom of movement is very narrow now," says journalist and academic Aref Hijjawi, a resident of Ramallah.

"You feel that an outside body, the Israelis, are interfering with your life, with your self. That is occupation. They have brought occupation to an extreme point. They dictate whether you move or not."

Salah Jawwad is a professor of political science at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah. By this stage in the academic year he should have completed 85% of the year's teaching. Because of the closure, he has taught about 20% of his classes.

The Qalandia, the crossing between Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled Ramallah
Israeli checkpoints are one of the most visible aspects of the Israeli occupation
For the last six months he has been on a half salary and, he says, he is one of the lucky ones.

"The way I look at it, the closure and its effects are not strictly speaking anything new. They are a continuation and completion of what we had before," Mr Jawwad says.

"Israel's occupation of Palestinian areas is not a primitive thing. It is very intelligent and sophisticated. They have created a regime that in the end threatens our presence here.

"I've written about this and I call it "sociocide". This is a phenomenon like genocide, but without the direct violence and killing. "Sociocide" just makes life hell - economic life, social life, the lot - so that a person loses all pleasure in life and chooses by his own accord to leave," Mr Jawwad says.

Human rights concerns

B'Tselem is an Israeli human rights group which monitors the activities of the Israeli army in the occupied territories.

According to B'Tselem's research director Yael Stein, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians is the most severe human rights abuse committed by the Israel.

Ramallah in the West Bank
Israeli tanks are now a common sight in the West Bank city of Ramallah
"While we can talk about many other violations, like illegal killings, excessive use of forces, settler violence, issues of water, cases of beatings, there is a very long list... this specific violation, the restriction of movement, has the greatest effect because no Palestinian can escape it," Ms Stein says.

One of the most problematic effects of the closure has been on the sick and those needing emergency medical treatment. On Many occasions, the roadblocks have meant that people have not been able to get to hospital.

B'Tselem has documented cases of severely ill people dying at checkpoints and of pregnant mothers losing their children because of birth complications and the delay in getting to hospital.

The Israeli army says that the closure does not affect Palestinian access to medical treatment, and that there are procedures in place to ensure that this does not happen.

A recent B'Tselem report into the closure simply states: "These declarations are not consistent with reality."

From a human rights perspective, Yael Stein argues, Israeli security measures are illegally targeting civilians.

"International humanitarian law was framed for exactly this kind of situation. It is acknowledged in this law that there might be war and that people might be killed, but there are still limits. One of the very clear limits is that you are not allowed to target a civilian population."

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