Israel has imposed movement restrictions on the Gaza Strip since the early 1990’s. Restrictions intensified in June 2007, following the takeover of that part of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) by Hamas, when Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, citing security concerns. Despite relaxation of some blockade-related restrictions in recent years, 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza remain ‘locked in’, denied free access to the remainder of the territory and the outside world. The blockade has undermined the living conditions in the coastal enclave and fragmented the oPt and its economic and social fabric. The isolation of Gaza has been exacerbated by restrictions imposed by the Egyptian authorities on Rafah, its single passengers crossing.
Very few of the measures agreed in the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas on 12 October 2017 have been implemented to date and improvements in conditions in the Gaza Strip are extremely limited.
About 2.5 million Palestinians across the oPt, or roughly half of the population, were identified as in need of humanitarian assistance and protection according to the 2018 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) released in December 2017. Of those, 1.9 million, identified as the most vulnerable, will be targeted in 2018 by a range of interventions outlined in the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), at a total cost of $539.7 million, ten per cent lower than the 2017 request.
The number of Palestinians allowed to move in and out of Gaza declined significantly in 2017 compared with 2016. At the Erez crossing, movement via Israel has been in decline since mid-2016. Palestinian access via Rafah, the Egyptian-controlled crossing, also declined during the year from an already extremely low level. As the internal Palestinian divide escalated, access for medical purposes was also restricted during most of 2017 by the PA Ministry of Health, which delayed or suspended payments for patients referred for medical treatment outside Gaza.
November marked the beginning of the peak season for the export of high-value cash crops such as strawberries. Growth in agricultural trade from the Gaza Strip in 2017 is encouraging news within an economic context characterized by sluggish growth and unemployment peaking at 46.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.
Ongoing electricity outages of 18-20 hours a day across the Gaza Strip throughout September and October continue to undermine the provision of basic services. In the water, sanitation and hygiene sector (WASH), sustained efforts by humanitarian agencies to provide 154 critical facilities with emergency fuel to run backup generators resulted in a limited improvement in some key indicators during September compared with previous months. There was a modest increase in the quantity of piped water supplied to households and in the functioning of desalination plants, plus a slight decline in the contamination levels of sewage discharged to the sea. Nevertheless, September indicators remain well below the already poor standards recorded during the first quarter of 2017.
The volume of people allowed to move in and out of Gaza has declined further since the beginning of 2017 in comparison with the previous two years, particularly via the Israeli-controlled crossing (Erez). Movement via Rafah, the Egyptian controlled crossing, also remains at extremely low levels. This has exacerbated the isolation of Gaza from the remainder of the oPt and the outside world, further limiting access to medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, to higher education, to family and social life, and to employment and economic opportunities. The tightening of restrictions in recent months has also obstructed the movement of national staff employed by the UN and international NGOs and impeded humanitarian operations.