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Following a year of dramatic political shifts around the globe, Palestinians and Israelis are marking 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian territory and 10 years of the closure of Gaza.
These anniversaries have highlighted once again the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the question of what the future holds for its two million-strong population.
Restrictions on access to, and travel from, Gaza is contributing to the crisis.
As an Israeli organisation Tania Hary says it was important for Gisha to concentrate on this and challenge the government.
Since 1967, Israel’s military has developed a complex system of rules and sanctions to control the movement of the Palestinians who live there.
The restrictions violate the fundamental right of Palestinians to freedom of movement. Restrictions on freedom of movement have become one of the most dominant aspects of the occupation, impacting every resident of the Palestinian Territory. Restrictions are imposed collectively on the entire population, even though no security claims are made against most of the people whose movement is restricted.
Gaza is out of sight and out of mind for many people. This is due in part to the fact that there have been these stringent travel restrictions in force for years.
Tania can’t travel into Gaza herself as she is an Israeli citizen. The right to life, the right to health, the right to education, the right to live in dignity, the right to family life, and the right to freedom of worship are all dependent on the right to freedom of movement.
At the moment there are only two crossing points open – one for people and one for goods – and both are controlled by the Israelis.
Meanwhile, the reality on the ground in Gaza is grim, with water and energy sources at crisis levels and worsening movement restrictions crippling economic activity and hope.
Tania says that the Hebrew word for ‘hell’ and the word for ‘Gaza’ are very similar and that in common parlance many people in Israel now say ‘go to Gaza’ instead of ‘go to Hell’. She says this comparison is apt.
Tania’s colleague Mohammed Azaiza lives and works in Gaza. He paints a sad picture of the reality of daily life: “It’s so hot this summer. I have three small children and it is very hard for them to sleep. The electricity is off for long periods so we cannot use air conditioning. My children ask me ‘why do we have no electricity?’ The homes here are suffocating but the seas and beaches are polluted so we can’t even go there for respite. I visited the local hospital recently and was speaking to the nursing staff. They are full of fear of the power cuts. They told me that sometimes it can take up to ten minutes for the back-up generators to come on when the power goes off. They have to resort to pumping oxygen by hand to critical patients including little premature babies in the neo-natal ward.”
Gisha works to obtain respect for and compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and believes that promoting and allowing the functioning of normal civilian life is key to a better future for the region and part and parcel of Israel’s legal obligations.
Gisha, which means both “access” and “approach” in Hebrew, uses legal and public advocacy to protect the rights of Palestinian residents, representing individuals in Israeli courts, reaching out to opinion-makers and lobbying decision-makers in Israel and abroad to promote policies that respect human rights.
Since its founding in 2005, Gisha has helped thousands of people overcome travel restrictions to access education, jobs and professional opportunities and to reunite with family members.
Tania says that despite the awful situation on the ground she has hope for the future. The population is young. 50% of the two million population is under 18 and 70% is under 30. Tania says young people are the future and they have huge potential.
Gisha has been a partner of Irish Aid since 2007 and Trócaire since 2010.