Since the start of occupation in early twentieth century and its recognition in 1948, Israel has put restriction on one of the most basic rights of the Palestinians: freedom of movement.
Israeli military interventions govern almost every aspect of life in the occupied Palestinian territories. These laws limit the right to move besides isolating and harassing civilians. Closures in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as frequent curfews, roadblocks, barriers, automated fencing, walls, and other physical and administrative obstacles affect Palestinians’ everyday lives, limiting their freedom of movement.
Technically, since 1948, when Israel announced independence, the conflict has included restrictions on Palestinian movement. Following the 1948 war, Israel enacted legislation restricting Palestinians’ rights within the country, most especially their freedom of movement, which was limited by permission requirements and curfews. The majority of Israel’s prohibitions on Palestinian residents of Israel under these laws were repealed in 1966, but the regulations themselves remained in effect.
Those provisions were adopted into the military laws used to govern the occupied Palestinian territories during Israel’s takeover of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The Israeli military proclaimed the occupied Palestinian territories a closed military region from 1967 to 1972, restricting certain liberties, including citizens’ freedom of movement.
Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Israel tightened its grip on the occupied Palestinian territory, expanding control over Palestinian travel and formalizing an internal regime of movement controls that included permanent checkpoints, roadblocks, exits, blocked paths, fences, and the Wall.
Blockade of Gaza
Israel controls the majority of Gaza’s borders, with Egypt controlling the narrow southern frontier. Egypt receives one of the largest US foreign aid packages, and Egypt, not coincidentally, follows Israeli policy on the Gaza blockade. Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters are under Israeli sovereignty. Israel has placed a near-total blockade on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza since 2007.
Israel has made it impossible for Palestinians to move between Gaza and the West Bank since 1988. In August 2009, 80% of Gaza residents were poor, with 60% of the population unemployed. Permits to leave Gaza were denied to 18.5 percent of patients seeking emergency medical care outside of Gaza in 2007.
Checkpoints, roadblocks, and other physical obstacles are an ongoing problem in Palestinian life, especially in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of these impediments are not on Israel’s border with the Palestinian territories, and hence are not for Israel’s protection. They are installed in the West Bank, isolating Palestinian populations and rendering everyday life difficult for Palestinians.
Checkpoints control or fully block Palestinian traffic on 74% of the key routes in the West Bank. The majority of main highways in the West Bank are only accessible to Israelis.
Israel has been constructing a wall within the West Bank since June 2002, reportedly for security purposes. If the wall were being built on Israel’s recognized territory, this would be possible and legal (the borders established by the Armistices of 1949, also known as the Green Line). The Separation Wall, however, is a breach of international law and human rights because of its position – 85 percent of its route is within occupied territories.
The Separation Wall causes great suffering and serious violations of Palestinian rights by demolishing homes, seizing land, bulldozing crops, isolating neighborhoods, and distancing people from essential resources.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing the city in 1967. The international community has not acknowledged or approved the annexation, and appears to regard East Jerusalem as part of the occupied Palestinian territory. Since Palestinian residents of Jerusalem declined to recognize Jerusalem’s annexation, they did not become full Israeli citizens. About 14,000 Palestinians have had their citizenship rights revoked in the city since 1967.
Israel suspended the family reunification process in 2002, which enabled Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to win Jerusalem citizenship rights by marrying a Palestinian from the city. In 2003, the Military Order that imposed the freeze was renamed “The Nationality and Entry into Israeli Law.”
As a result, while Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have more freedom to travel than Palestinians from other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory for the most part, their right to change their residence and leave Jerusalem for an extended period of time is heavily restricted.