East Jerusalemites in a position to improve the economic or humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip are now eligible to apply for Israeli permits to enter the Palestinian enclave.
The new policy, which went into effect Monday, was announced on the Facebook page of Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who runs COGAT, the Defense Ministry agency that liaises with the Palestinians on civil affairs.
“Access is allowed to businessmen and others who want to improve and strengthen the economy, infrastructure and humanitarian conditions of the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.
It added that no more than 150 such permits will be granted at a time.
Prior to the new policy, East Jerusalemites could only enter Gaza strictly on humanitarian grounds and with individual coordination, a spokesperson for COGAT said.
The Palestinian terror group Hamas seized Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces in June 2007, leading Israel to impose a blockade that critics say punishes of the Strip’s two million residents indiscriminately. Israel has defended the blockade, saying it is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring the weapons and military infrastructure it uses to attack the Jewish state.
Since 2013 Egypt, the only other country with which Gaza shares a border, has largely closed off its crossing and destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels that provided a vital lifeline for the economy while also being used by Hamas to bring in weapons.
The new policy is aimed at improving the dire economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza, COGAT said.
According to Gisha, an Israeli NGO that deals with Palestinian freedom-of-movement issues, East Jerusalemites, who are considered residents of Israel, formerly had the same access rights to Gaza as Israeli citizens, meaning that they were only granted access on humanitarian grounds, for the reunification of divided families, as employees of international organizations, or as diplomats.
Palestinians living in the West Bank have almost the same limitations for entry into Gaza, but can also apply for permits to settle in the Strip.
The new East Jerusalem policy is intended mostly for businesspeople and physicians who can contribute to Gaza’s economic development and the improvement of its civilian infrastructure.
The entrance permit for residents of East Jerusalem will enable them to stay in Gaza for between a week and a month, a Gisha spokesperson said.
The spokesperson questioned the decision to limit the new policy to East Jerusalemites.
“Senior military officials and politicians have repeatedly recognized that improving living conditions in the Strip falls well within Israel’s security interests. What remains unclear to us is, if this is Israel’s self-professed objective, why is this new category limited only to residents of East Jerusalem, rather than any other experts and professionals in Israel or the West Bank? What stands behind the decision to differentiate between Palestinians in terms of access to Gaza?” the spokesperson said.
Unemployment in the Strip is above 44 percent and among youth it is 60%, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
A 2012 UN report predicted the Palestinian enclave would be “unlivable” by 2020 if nothing was done to ease the blockade. In July, Robert Piper, the UN’s top humanitarian official in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, warned that Gaza had already become “unlivable” in some senses.
“We predicted some years ago that Gaza would fast become unlivable on a host of indicators and that deadline is actually approaching even faster than we predicted — from health access, to energy to water,” he said.
A UN report released in July, “Gaza — Ten Years Later,” said more than 95% of Gaza’s water is now unfit for drinking, while electricity flow has been critically lacking in recent months — falling to only a few hours a day.
Abbas’s government in the West Bank began earlier this year to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza. The power cuts have crippled important Gazan infrastructure such as water desalinization and waste treatment plants.
In addition to power cuts in Gaza throughout most of the day, recent months have seen a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.