Trump and Israel’s Gaza policy

Under current Israeli policy, families split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank or Israel have little hope of family reunification, despite the short distance separating them.

A palestinian woman sits on a suitcase at Israel’s Erez Crossing after leaving Gaza on Sunday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A palestinian woman sits on a suitcase at Israel’s Erez Crossing after leaving Gaza on Sunday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries (including Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Syria) and the 120-day disruption of the US Refugee Admissions Program will cause irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of individuals, ripping apart families, ruining opportunities for students and professionals, and endangering the lives of refugees seeking asylum in the US.
As an American-Israeli working at Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that focuses on freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially Gaza residents, I cannot help but note the similarities between Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” and what has been Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip for the past decade. Israel’s access restrictions violate Gaza’ residents’ most basic rights – freedom of movement, the right to access medical care, the right to education, the right to livelihood, the right to family unity and the right to freedom of religion.
Gisha’s clients, residents of Gaza who require Israeli travel permits to exit Gaza, could speak very well to the impact the Muslim ban will have on the lives of those affected by it. Under current Israeli policy, families split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank or Israel have little hope of family reunification, despite the short distance separating them. Gaza residents know all too well that their only chance of visiting relatives in the West Bank is if a first-degree relative has died, is gravely ill or is getting married – or what Israel calls exceptional humanitarian circumstances. Even then, Gaza residents must jump through multiple hoops to obtain Israeli travel permits.
Students are another group that has already been affected by the US ban. Students from the seven countries included in the ban who are currently studying in American universities are at risk of deportation while some have already been refused re-entry to the US. Students in the Gaza Strip are well aware of how slim their chances are of pursuing a degree outside Gaza. Israel bars all Gaza residents from studying in West Bank universities, even in cases when the desired program of study is only offered there.
Israel also places restrictions on students from Gaza who want to study abroad, including placing arbitrary security blocks on them, making it difficult to visit consulates to obtain proper visas and travel documents, and sometimes causing students to miss their studies by not responding to their requests for a permit in a timely manner or at all.
According to Trump’s new executive order, individuals from the seven Muslim-majority countries will no longer be able to obtain US visas for pursuing professional or employment opportunities in the US. Similarly, Israel – by maintaining a narrow list of criteria for travel – also regulates which individuals from which fields and sectors in the Gaza Strip are eligible to apply for travel permits to pursue professional opportunities. For example, while some businesspeople are able to travel, others are not and no criteria exist for staff of civil society organizations to travel for meetings, trainings, or seminars, or for any other reason relating to their work.
It is important to mention that both the Muslim ban and the Israeli- imposed closure on Gaza do not serve the security interests of US citizens or Israeli citizens, respectively.
Senior Israeli security officials have publicly stated that Israeli policy in Gaza is not consistent with Israeli security interests and that promoting freedom of movement that would allow for economic development in Gaza would lead to greater regional stability. In the US, Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement making a similar point, arguing that “this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” National security experts have also weighed in to assert that the ban poses potentially disastrous immediate and long-term security threats to the US and its personnel overseas.
Aside from these similarities, the most striking resemblance between these two sets of policies is the way in which wide-sweeping policies to restrict freedom of movement essentially label a whole population as a threat. The Trump administration has decreed that all refugees are suspect; all citizens of the seven Muslim-majority countries listed in the ban are a threat to national security, guilty until proven otherwise.
In the past decade, the Israeli government has successfully applied the same logic to Gaza residents: under Israeli policy, all Gaza residents – men and women, young and old – are banned from travel, with few exceptions as determined by Israel’s narrow criteria. In the past decade, each and every Gaza resident has been labeled a threat to Israeli security merely by existing, justifying the extreme restrictions placed on their freedom of movement. The numbers speak for themselves; the monthly average of exits of Palestinians in 2016 was about 3% of the monthly average in September 2000.
When Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer was asked whether the Muslim ban should apply to children, after a five-year-old boy whose mother is Iranian was detained for hours by himself at Dulles Airport near Washington, DC, his answer was unequivocal: yes. “To assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong,” he added. Israel is also in the habit of looking at Palestinian children – and adults – and seeing them as a security threat first, people later (if at all).
I refuse to believe that my security, or anyone else’s, is threatened by allowing a five-year-old boy to reunite with his mother or letting a 16-year-old Palestinian girl pass through Israeli territory on her way to pursue studies abroad. However, security is threatened by the perception that certain people – Muslims, Palestinians or anyone else – are inherently dangerous simply by virtue of belonging to a certain group.
At Gisha, we believe that Israel has the moral and legal responsibility to facilitate travel for Gaza residents, subject to individual security inspections. Banning people from travel or from entry is a foolish, cruel and dangerous thing. Freedom of movement is a basic human right and human rights are not a toy to be tossed around in an effort to score political points, not in Israel or in the US.
In the US, people are flocking to airports to protest the ban, carrying signs that say “we are all Muslims” and “refugees are welcome here.” American-Jewish organizations across the political spectrum are voicing their opposition, adding our unique perspective as a group that holds intimate knowledge of what happens when a certain group is targeted because of their religion and what happens when countries close their borders to refugees.
Indeed, it is a moral obligation to resist such measures, whether they happen in the US or in Israel, whether they target Muslims or residents of the Gaza Strip.
The author works in the international relations department of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.