The Defense Ministry opposes a decision to limit truck traffic on the main road near Israel’s border with Gaza.
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Transport and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz had made the decision regarding Route 232 after complaints by residents about heavy congestion and security risks created by trucks delivering and returning goods to and from the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Defense officials fear putting limits will severely retard Gaza reconstruction, worsen the humanitarian situation there and reduce goods deliveries by more than 40 percent.
Dan Harel, the outgoing director general, has expressed concern about the situation since February.
But Katz went ahead and announced plans for truck restrictions in April, which were to take effect on May 2. These plans have been delayed since the Mover’s Association appealed the decision to Jerusalem District Court, which has since postponed its ruling at the request of the state.
Some 950 trucks bring goods to Gaza through Kerem Shalom daily, most of these products originating in the West Bank. The trucks are a main source of food and other deliveries to Gaza. The number of these large vehicles has quadrupled since Operation Protective Edge of 2014.
After residents on the Israeli side protested what they saw as an imposition, Katz ordered Western Negev roads shut to truck traffic for a four-hour period daily, from 7-9 A.M. and 3-5 P.M.
In a letter written in February, Harel expressed his ministry’s “firm opposition” to these traffic limits. “Kerem Shalom constitutes the sole axis for transporting goods to Gaza,” he wrote, and cautioned that such restrictions could curtail vital deliveries by more than 40 percent.
Harel suggested operating the crossing at night, which could increase security risks for Israeli border workers, or building an additional crossing into Gaza, at an estimated cost of 250 million shekels ($65 million). He also warned that limiting traffic would lead to “increased transport costs to Gaza, thereby significantly increasing the costs of the delivered goods.” Harel said that these consequences would harm reconstruction and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Harel’s warning remains all the more relevant now because of the deteriorating economic situation in Gaza and tension between Israel and Hamas regarding the Israeli army’s efforts to locate attack tunnels. The last military confrontation broke out against the background of the severe financial crisis within Hamas and its inability to pay salaries to government workers in Gaza. Since the war, Israel has increased deliveries across the border in an effort to prevent another crisis which could usher in another round of fighting.
The Transportation Ministry's director general, Uzi Yitzhaki, said Katz’s decision was made “from the systematic viewpoint that the safety and wellbeing of Israeli citizens surpasses any other consideration.”
The Mover’s Association asserts in its petition that the limits on truck traffic into Gaza were disproportionate and in violation of their freedom to do business and freedom of movement.
Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, filed an amicus curiae brief to represent Gazans. The NGO asserts the decision would severely hurt 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza, and ignores Palestinian needs to fix the road and open an additional crossing. The limitations also generate fears there will be serious difficulties in supplying fresh goods to Gaza and exporting its products.