The gender-specific impact of movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territories
The Right to Freedom of Movement
The right to freedom of movement is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It states that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State and that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. The right to freedom of movement is furthermore reiterated in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightswhich entered into force in 1976 and was ratified by Israel in 1991. The Covenant asserts that all individuals within the territory of a State have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence, everyone shall be free to leave any country and no one should be deprived of the right to enter his own country. These rights shall not be subjected to any restrictions, except those provided by law and still consistent with the other rights recognized in the Covenant .
Since its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has been in continuous violation of international law and international humanitarian law. The latter applies to situations of armed conflict and foreign occupation and is mainly based on rules defined in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In the context of Palestine particular relevance is given to the Fourth Geneva Convention which deals specifically with the protection of civilians during war or under foreign occupation. The Convention addresses a number of issues pertaining to the reality of Palestineand clearly defines the duties and responsibilities of foreign powers towards the population of the territories they occupy. Among others, it prohibits forcible population transfer, systematic demographic change in the occupied territory, measures of collective punishment and acts of retaliation towards the occupied population. The Convention also affirms the responsibility of the occupying state to protect the occupied population, ensure family unity, give adequate medical care and food supply, securing freedom of movement and preventing deportation.
This paper will provide an overview of the restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel on the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and the scale of their gender specific impact on women; it will focus on two examples pertaining right to health and protection from gender-based violence. It is imperative to highlightthat women and girls endure specific gender-based violations which are often overlooked or summarized under the general umbrella of human rights breaches by the occupying forces. Yet, the prolonged military occupation has had a particularly negative impact on women, exacerbating the pressure and constraints imposed upon them by traditional patriarchal structures within their own society.The spiral of violence and frustration generated by the occupation has severe consequences on family life, seeping in and destroying the fabric of Palestinian society.Continuous policies of settlements expansion, land confiscation, arbitrary detentions and large scale military aggressions are not onlymeans of psychological and physical terror, but also of economic strangulation. Palestinian women losing their male counterparts as a result of the above mentioned policies are often required to become income providers without having the necessary skills and means to do so.
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that:
“Theeradication of apartheid, all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women”
“that the strengthening of international peace and security, the relaxation of international tension, mutual co-operation among all States irrespective of their social and economic systems, general and complete disarmament, in particular nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control, the affirmation of the principles of justice, equality and mutual benefit in relations among countries and the realization of the right of peoples under alien and colonial domination and foreign occupation to self-determination and independence, as well as respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, will promote social progress and development and as a consequence will contribute to the attainment of full equality between men and women”.
In line with MIFTAH’scommitment to this vision, it is essential to document the gender specific struggle of women under occupation and how restriction of movement obstruct their access to a range of civil and political rights such as education, health, employment and family unity.