Ilana Feldman, from George Washington University, recently wrote a piece that provides essential background to the current crisis in the Gaza Strip.
She argues that mobility management has been a longstanding Israeli tactic in Gaza.
Mobility management started right after the 1948 conflict when thousands of Palestinian refugees were separated from their homes and possessions by the “provisional” border defined by the Egyptian-Israeli armistice. During the twenty-years of Egyptian rule, Palestinians in Gaza were allowed to cross —with a permit—the southern border into Egypt.
In 1967, Israel occupied Gaza. Palestinian movement was relatively unimpeded for the first twenty-five years of the occupation. Israel wanted Palestinian cheap labor, so people were allowed to cross the border from Gaza into Israel to work and visit – though not to reclaim their former homes. A few years into the first Intifada (late 1980s), Israel began to impose restrictions on Palestinian movement from the Occupied Territories (while simultaneously bringing in foreign laborers to take the place of Palestinian workers). The first steps in developing a comprehensive “pass system” required Palestinians who wished to move to get a security-services approved magnetic card (in addition to the ID card required of everyone). Israel developed a full “closure policy” in 1991 according to which any Palestinian movement required a permit.
The 1993 Oslo Accords that were signed between Israel and the Palestinians consolidated such restrictions. The Strip was fenced off and movement between the West Bank and Gaza became impossible for most Palestinians. Freedom of movement for goods was still allowed but people could no longer reach the other parts and people of Palestine.
The beginning of the new millennium has witnessed increasing restrictions on Palestinian movement. During the second Intifada (early 2000s) Israel began also to restrict foreigners’ entrance into Gaza. After the organization Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, Israel, with Egyptian backing and US support, imposed a full blockade on Gaza. The blockade stopped the entrance of many goods into Gaza, along with the export of Gazan products abroad. The “tunnel economy” that has emerged since then is one Palestinian response to such restrictions.
Professor Feldman concludes by painting a dire picture:
…Gazans are immobilized in every sense: cut off from other members of their community, isolated from the “international community,” deprived of economic opportunity, basic goods, and access to advanced medical care…