The border crossings between Israel and Gaza have become a central tool in the struggle against Hamas in the years since it took over the Strip. Security circles claim they have solid proof that Hamas is using raw materials and "innocent" products for the creation of weapons. In addition to the security arguments, Israel makes it difficult for goods to enter the Gaza Strip as a means of punishment and as pressure on Hamas every time it disturbs the peace. Recently Israel added food products, such as pasta, and building materials, such as glass, which are needed for repairing the many buildings destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, to the list of prohibited goods.

The experience from the war in Lebanon and the territories should have taught the decision makers that collective punishment of the civilian population is not merely not moral, but also harmful. The residents do not turn their anger against Hamas but rather against those who prevent the food from reaching their children and even against their Palestinian interlocutors in Ramallah.

The international community, including the moderate Arab states, which is currently enlisting donations for rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, is being forced to condemn Israel for its imperviousness to the humanitarian needs of one and a half million long-suffering civilians. Haaretz reported yesterday that United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded Israel remove the restrictions on the transfer of humanitarian aid to the Strip, and that she plans to address this issue during her upcoming visit.

Israel's legitimate struggle against Hamas does not gain credence from the fact that the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, discovered during his visit to Gaza that trucks loaded with bags of pasta are not being permitted to enter the Gaza Strip because Israel is letting in only rice. The result is that Hamas has chalked up points to its credit in the struggle for world public opinion. The closing of the border crossings has so far not opened the way for Gilad Shalit to be returned and there is not an iota of evidence that tightening the closure will advance his release by Hamas.

It is superfluous to wait for the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and for additional pressure from outside. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak must immediately order the opening of the crossings to enable the orderly, constant entry of essential products into the Gaza Strip.