Israeli authorities have sealed off the occupied West Bank and the already besieged Gaza Strip for 11 days, as Jewish celebrations for the Sukkot holiday commence. At midnight on Tuesday, all crossings to the West Bank and Gaza Strip were closed off to some four million Palestinians in the territories. Many of those affected by the move hold Israeli work permits and cross over to go to their jobs daily. Banned from entering Israel, they now stand to lose their livelihood for the next 10 days.
But Kamal Haddad, a local official in Beit Iksa, a village northwest of Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera that workers in the area have already been denied entry into Israel and settlement construction sites for several days. "They [Israeli soldiers] roam around settlement construction sites in the West Bank and if they see anyone there, they immediately send them back to their villages," he said. Al-Haq, a human rights NGO based in Ramallah, said that the closure is considered illegal under international humanitarian law and may constitute a war crime. "The closure does not only prohibit Palestinians from entering Israel. Instead, it also denies them access to occupied East Jerusalem, and sets obstacles and hinders Palestinians' movement within the West Bank," Maha Abdullah, a legal researcher at Al-Haq, told Al Jazeera. Described the closure as collective punishment, Abdullah said the move "has serious repercussions on Palestinians' livelihood, and infringes on their right to access medical care, health facilities and their right to education".
The closure will last until October 14, but will allow humanitarian and medical emergency cases to pass, the Israeli defence ministry said on Monday. Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is an agricultural festival and one of the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays. Israel regularly seals off the territories for Jewish holidays, but for week-long celebrations such as Sukkot, the military usually only seals off border crossings for the first and last day of the holiday. The decision to extend the closure to 11 days was approved by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, local media reported.