The number of trucks carrying food into the Gaza Strip last week was the lowest it’s reached in several months. According to Defense Ministry figures, in the 24 hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing to goods, 193 trucks entered the Strip, 171 of those carrying food, medicine and hygiene products.
According to figures obtained by Haaretz, on July 5, several days before this decision was taken, 508 trucks went in, with the highest number in June standing at 434. The average daily number is June was 360 trucks a day, a low number that worried the army. In January there was one day in which 325 trucks went in, causing a senior officer at Southern Command to say that “up to now we had between 800 and 1,200 trucks carrying food and equipment going in every day. Now there are 300, which demonstrates a sharp drop in the purchasing power of Gazan residents – this definitely concerns us.”
According to a document prepared in 2008 by the Coordinator of Government activities in the Territories at the Defense Ministry, the number of trucks going in that are needed in order to prevent malnutrition from setting in is 170.4 food trucks a day, for five days a week.
The Kerem Shalom border crossing is the entry port for basic products serving two million Gazan residents. The IDF position in recent months has been not to hamper operations at this crossing in order not to negatively impact the humanitarian crisis there. In February, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned at a cabinet meeting that “the Gaza Strip is on the brink of collapsing due to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis.” At that meeting Eisenkot estimated that further deterioration could lead to a confrontation in 2018, adding that Israel should take significant measures in order to prevent the Strip’s collapse.
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Last week, Defense Ministry officials presented the results of the harsher policy adopted after the launching of kites carrying torches from Gaza. On Wednesday, 641 trucks were slated to enter Gaza, but the entry of 418 of these was cancelled, leaving only 193 that ultimately went in. Along with the 171 food-carrying trucks there were 22 tankers carrying fuel and cooking gas for hospitals and infrastructure installations such as power, water and sewage facilities. The same number of trucks went in the next day. Not everyone in the defense establishment agreed with the politicians to limit the supply of goods. Some believed that harsher measures would cause the opposite effects to the ones Israel expected to achieve.
“It doesn’t really matter how many trucks you let in” counters someone familiar with the details. “They currently have no purchasing power. They have no money to spend on anything except food, and there too it’s the most basic items. The little citizen in Gaza isn’t feeling the shortage, since for a long time he’s been living on one poor meal a day, and for him this is merely a continuation of that situation. No furniture, sweets or other items are going in.”
These days, Israel is preventing the transfer of building materials into Gaza, as well as electric items and furniture, considered luxury items for Gazans, most of whom are unemployed, with those who do work not making enough to purchase these.
Anyone visiting the Kerem Shalom crossing in recent days can see building materials standing there with no buyer, since poor purchasing abilities in Gaza are not allowing anyone there to build or upgrade their homes. Although Hamas rushed to declared the closing of the crossing a “crime against humanity,” it too realized that the closure is not a reality-changing measure, not even an edict which would bring Gazans to take to the streets against their leadership.
In the last two months Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing, announcing that it would leave it open for the transfer of goods at least until the end of August. There too there are piles of goods from Qatar which still have no buyers. Most of the goods passing through are fuel products meant to provide humanitarian assistance. For Egypt, opening the crossing is a way of pressuring Hamas, whether on the inter-Palestinian reconciliation process or in negotiations over a ceasefire with Israel, as happened over the weekend.