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Gaza merchants protest Israel's arbitrary revocation of permits at Erez crossing

Aug. 15, 2016 7:47 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2016 5:02 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- A group of Palestinian merchants and businessmen organized a sit-in on Monday at Israel’s Erez border crossing near the southern Gaza Strip to protest against Israel’s policy of withdrawing Israeli work permits without providing reason or justification.

The protesters expressed their frustrations, saying “the policy of withdrawing our permits has increased recently as Israel attempts to weaken the economy of Gaza Strip,” which they highlighted has already been left devastated “by the Israeli siege and previous wars on Gaza.”

Tamer Ajouz, a local automobile businessman, told Ma’an the purpose of the demonstration, which was organized by the Chamber of Commerce in Gaza, was also “to protest against Israeli arbitrary policies of banning merchants from importing necessary goods to the Gaza Strip.”

Ajouz and other protesters were referring to decisions over recent months by Israeli authorities to either cancel or not renew around 1,400 regular exit permits for Gazan merchants, nearly a third of the some 3,700 business people who have received long-term exit permits in recent years.

The revocations began earlier this year, and were numbered in the hundreds, according to a senior official in the Palestinian liaison office.

Despite the usual protocol of making media announcements regarding permit revocations, Israeli authorities reportedly confiscated and nullified the merchants’ permits as they were attempting to pass through Israel’s Erez crossing, and provided no reason to the merchants in question as to why they were getting their permits revoked.

Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) confirmed to Ma’an at the time that a number of permits had been revoked recently, although they would not say how many.

"Due to a decision by security forces, several entrance permits for crossings into Israel from the Gaza Strip have been rescinded due to information indicating improper use of issued permits," COGAT said.

"The aim of this move is to prevent further abuse of permits for malicious purposes."

The body said there were more than 1,000 crossings from Gaza into Israel via the Erez crossing every day, "for the purposes of business and trade, prayers at the Temple Mount, medical treatments, academic studies abroad, and more."

Despite COGAT’s previous allegations, Ajouz reiterated that to him and the hundreds of other merchants whose livelihoods were being affected by the policies, “all Israeli allegations behind withdrawing 1,500 commercial permits are completely invalid,” Ajouz added.

Maher al-Tabaa, head of public relations and media for the Chamber of Commerce said that Israel has enforced multiple policies against countless merchants, the most severe of which has been withdrawing their permits without any reason.”

In addition to the withdrawal of the 1,500 permits, he said that Israel had also revoked permits from merchants who held the coveted "BMC" cards, a card given to prominent Palestinian businessmen by the Israeli Civil Administration that exempts them from needing Israeli entry permits, and allows them to travel via Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Al-Tabaa also stressed the impact of Israel’s bans on the entry of raw materials into Gaza’s industrial sector, and on 150 major companies from exporting goods through the Karam Abu Salem checkpoint on the Egyptian border.

He also highlighted Israel’s ban on cement imports into Gaza earlier this year that lasting nearly two months, which he said has caused the shutdown of more than 400 factories and the unemployment of 3,000 Palestinian workers in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.

The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the blockade, and have suffered from slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 of Palestinians who remain displaced following the last Israeli assault.
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