End the Blockade of Gaza? First, Define 'Blockade'

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff are back with a new blog. Here, Issacharoff reasons that as there is currently no shortage of goods in Gaza (except for fuel, of course), a clarification of terms may be in order.

Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff
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Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff

Fifty international organizations issued a joint media appeal on Thursday: "End the blockade now".

According to their announcement "For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law"

It's interesting to note that Israel's name doesn't appear once in the announcement.

Was this deliberate? Did the announcement also intend to appeal to the Egyptian regime to open its border crossing and allow the exit/entrance of people and trade into the Gaza Strip and out of it?

Regardless of the fact that the word "Israel" was missing from the announcement, perhaps we should also try reconsider the term "blockade" with regard to Gaza.

First of all, there is currently no shortage of goods in Gaza. Except for fuel, of course.

The source of that problem stems from the Hamas government's refusal to pay the high price for a liter of fuel (like every Israeli citizen pays) and its insistence on receiving smuggled fuel from the Egyptian side at a cheap price, facing off against the Egyptian regime's complete refusal to allow the continued smuggling of fuel into Gaza (also in light of the serious fuel crisis in Egypt itself.

All other goods are available in the Gaza Strip markets, and in abundance. This is the result of the Israeli government's decision, following the flotilla in May 2010, to allow most good into Gaza aside from those that could be used for developing weapons or construction materials.

This of course, is in addition to the intensive activity occurring underground in the Rafah tunnels. For example, the smuggling of building materials that have allowed for a real estate boom over the last few months in Gaza. We're not talking about a small tunnel or two, but about an entire industry that gives income to thousands of people and feeds a significant amount of money into the Hamas government's coffers.

These facts reveal that the term 'blockade' doesn't have anything to do with the flow of goods into Gaza. Also on the Israeli side, there is an overt supplier / covert supplier cooperation cooperation ongoing with Hamas.

An average of 250 cargo trucks pass through the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Gaza Strip from Israel every day. Israeli records show that last April, for example, 4,171 trucks crossed the border.

Indeed, these figures are comparatively much lower than those recorded when the Palestinian Authority ruled Gaza, but when considering the fact that there's a "blockade", supposedly, these numbers are quite impressive.

Moreover, the Israeli side vehemently claims that the numbers are such because there is no demand from the Palestinian side, due to the Hamas government's desire to maintain the high profile of the smuggling tunnels (if more good come in from Israel, there will be less smuggling in the tunnels and less taxes going to the Hamas government).

About a month ago, I took a tour on the Israeli side of the border crossing. At times, I had to remind myself that on the other side, were agents of the Hamas government who were very quietly forming working alliances that serve the interests of both sides: Israel gets its calm, and Hamas gets some sort of profit and financial improvement.

And what about people? Again, according to Israeli figures (Hamas doesn't provide data of the kind), 3,888 people left the Gaza Strip for the West Bank last April. In addition, an average 1,200 people pass daily through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.

But what, in any case, does the blockade mean? First of all, of course, that the passage of people from Gaza into Israel or the West Bank is very limited. Gazans are more likely to go to Egypt – it's the Egyptian themselves that set the maximum quota at 1,200 people per day.

The blockade also extends to a maritime siege, which Israel certainly imposes on Gaza, for security reasons.

In addition, of course, there is hardly any import of goods from Gaza to the West Bank, due to an Israeli decision based on its "separation policy". Something along the lines of "preventing the flow of terror from Gaza into the West Bank".

This argument sounds weak and unconvincing. The transfer of goods that have undergone security inspection from Gaza into the West Bank would not enable the flow of terror, but rather economic development in the Gaza Strip. Perhaps that, in essence, is what Israel wants to prevent, in order to increase the hostility of Hamas.

We can hope that just as Israel decided not to continue its prevention of goods into Gaza, somebody in Israel will soon understand that the prevention of exports and economic development will not actually weaken Hamas, but rather fuel further crisis and hostility toward Israel.

And maybe the time has come for all these international organizations to focus their demands a little better. I propose a new slogan: "Allow exports from Gaza". Though, "end the blockade now" does sound better.

Trucks carrying goods to Gaza.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz / Archive

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