Israel bans workers from Gaza as border tensions escalate

Nidal al-Mughrabi

Reuters  /  September 20, 2023  

GAZA – Israel closed crossing points with Gaza on Wednesday, preventing thousands of workers from getting to their jobs in Israel and the West Bank, following days of border demonstrations that saw Israeli forces open fire and kill a protester a day earlier.

The move stops more than 18,000 Palestinians from crossing for work, depriving the blockaded territory’s ailing economy of around $2 million a day, according to local economists.

Protests backed by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, have been held for days, against issues ranging from the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to Jewish visits to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces during the protests and 11 others were wounded, according to Gaza health officials.

A spokesperson for Cogat, the Israeli Defence Ministry agency that coordinates with the Palestinians, confirmed that the Erez crossing into Gaza was closed and said it would be re-opened “in accordance with situational assessments.”

The border closure, which follows a brief ban on exports from Gaza earlier this month after inspectors found explosives in a consignment of goods, will add pressure to an economy already under strain due a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

“We are too afraid the crossing won’t open anytime soon and I go back to living in poverty and need,” said one Gaza father of five, who has been sleeping at the Palestinian side of Erez crossing since Sunday evening.

The 18,000 workers permits allowed by Israel bring in significant quantities of cash to a territory where according to IMF figures, per capita income is only a quarter of the level in the West Bank and where unemployment is running at nearly 50%, according to the World Bank.

Ayman Abu Krayyem, the spokesman of the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Labour, said that as a result of the closure 8,000 workers who returned to Gaza because of Israeli Jewish holidays have been stranded in the territory since the ban.

“Those are losing 3.2 million shekel ($842,000) a day. These are important money by which they could help their families and improve their economic conditions…. This is a collective punishment,” said Krayyem.

Over the past few weeks, the military said its soldiers had been using riot dispersal means against Palestinians throwing explosives at the border fence along the Gaza Strip.

Egypt and Qatar, two key mediators in previous rounds of fighting, were talking to the two sides in a bid to avoid sliding into a new wave of armed confrontation, said one Palestinian official familiar with those efforts.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, editing by William Maclean