IDF puts Palestinians under closure as Israelis go to the polls

While Jewish Israelis will be able to move freely in and out of the occupied West Bank, millions of Palestinians — even those with entry permits issued by the Israeli army — will be on lock-down.

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers voting at a portable ballot box, near Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers voting at a portable ballot box, near Bethlehem in the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As millions of Israeli citizens head to the polls to vote on Tuesday, the Israeli army will put Palestinians in the West Bank under complete closure and will seal the Gaza Strip entirely. Movement within the West Bank should not be affected.

This means that as Israeli citizens living in settlements across the occupied territories may move freely back and forth across the Green Line separating Israel and the West Bank, millions of Palestinians are barred from doing so.

Even those tens of thousands of Palestinians who have permits to work inside Israel every day — primarily in construction and maintenance jobs — will not be allowed to go to work that day. Unlike Israelis, for whom Election Day is a paid holiday, they will not be compensated for the one-day leave imposed on them by the Israeli military.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, for whom leaving requires months-long processes of applying and waiting for an Israeli military permit, which is often denied, will be entirely stuck.

The closure is scheduled to begin at midnight Monday, April 8, and end at midnight on April 9. The army says it will make humanitarian and medical exceptions on a case-by-case basis out of humanitarian basis.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and most in East Jerusalem — 2,953,000 in total — are not eligible to participate in Israel’s democratic system. That same system, which others get to vote in, rules nearly every aspect of their lives, decides where they can or cannot travel, where they can live, whether they can hold political protests, where they may or may not build, and in some cases even what they can and cannot say. The nearly half a million Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank are not only subject to a different set of laws, they have the right to vote in elections that can change those policies if they have grievances.

In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army decides what goods may be imported and exported, where fishermen can fish, how much electricity is available on a daily basis, who can enter and exit the territory, and who can travel between different areas of the occupied Palestinian territories. None of the 1,961,000 people living there have a say in those policies.

Closures during elections, as well as Jewish and Israeli holidays, are a routine procedure that Israeli authorities say is intended to prevent terror attacks. As Israeli sociologist Yael Berda told +972 earlier this year, the closures were first introduced as a punitive policy with the beginning of the First Intifada. The suicide bombings of the 90s increased those closures as preventative measures during holidays or visits by major world leaders, and there were times when closures on all of the occupied territories could last between 70 to 80 days.

Trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, July 24, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, July 24, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Curiously, the more-than 36,000 Palestinians who work inside Israeli settlements in the West Bank — where they have direct contact with Israeli citizens — will not be affected by the closure.

While Palestinians in the West Bank are barred the right to vote and the ability to travel freely, the soldiers tasked with carrying out the day to day of military occupation were given the privilege of kicking off the 2019 elections.

In the run-up to the elections, the IDF established 130 makeshift polling stations for soldiers on duty. At Ofer Military Base, which houses an infamous military court and prison, Israeli soldiers took part in the early voting process, allowing them to enjoy the fruits of the democratic process.