It doesn’t take a Wikileaked cable to tell us that Israel’s policy towards Gaza has been one of economic warfare for the past several years, but yesterday’s article in Haaretz spelled it out again for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.
The article quotes a cable written by officials at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and also quotes a 2008 speech by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Just in case that’s not enough, the state said the same thing in official documents submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court. The message is clear: push the economy to the brink without going over. But then again, how do we know when it’s “gone over?” Guy Zohar asked the same question on an Israeli television news program on Channel 10 last night.
There’s something else that’s no secret but that hasn’t seemed to penetrate yet. Ready? The closure isn’t over and neither are restrictions paralyzing economic activity, namely the ban on export and construction materials and on the movement of people.
A case in point: this week the Jerusalem Post reported that trade of fruit from Israel to Gaza was up 25% in 2010, putting Gaza on par with the consumer markets in the Netherlands, France and Spain and suggesting this is an indication of economic revitalization in Gaza. It’s well known that Israel has allowed agricultural products in to Gaza to help Israeli farmers get rid of excess produce – it’s what made kiwis a luxury one week and then permitted another – before civilian goods were allowed into Gaza on a more regular basis, beginning this past summer. The Israel Fruit Growers Association chairman Ilan Eshel says so much in the JPost article.
Unlike the Netherlands, France, and Spain, however, farmers in Gaza are barred from selling most of their products outside of the Gaza Strip, because Israel won’t let the goods through the crossings. In addition, the article neglects to mention the tremendous losses to the agricultural sector in Gaza over the past several years when transport of inputs for the sector were limited and a ban on export shrank profits for Gaza’s farming families, which account for 25% of the population. Since late November, Israel has allowed limited export, but it benefits a small fraction of the agricultural sector; just three kinds of products have been let out so far – carnations, strawberries, and peppers – at a rate of about four trucks per day versus 70 per day before the closure. The article also didn’t point out that limitations on movement in the buffer zone have prevented access to about 35% of Gaza’s agricultural lands, making it hard for farmers to tend to their fruits and vegetables. This in addition to destruction caused to agricultural lands and infrastructure in these areas during Operation Cast Lead, which have since not been rehabilitated since they cannot be accessed.
If we want Gaza to be more than a dumping ground for Israeli consumer products and if we want an increase in trade to truly benefit “both sides”, as Chairman Eshel says, steps should be taken to actually end the closure – the only real way to end the war on the economy.