In a story published last week, Reuters reported about Hamas’s efforts to prevent Egypt from closing down the tunnels in the Sinai desert. The story includes quotes from “tunnel owners” who say that “80 percent of food sold in Gaza comes through the tunnels”. Since the reporter did not qualify these statements, we wish to clarify the facts, and it won’t be the first time.
Most of the food that enters the Gaza Strip actually arrives via Israel. For example, in the month of June, 1,327 truckloads of food entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Only about a quarter of this quantity entered through the tunnels.
So, what does come in through the tunnels? Mostly construction materials and fuel. People in the Gaza Strip obviously need these commodities too, and if the tunnels were to be shut down, it would bring Gaza’s recent construction boom to a halt. However, there is a big difference between a food shortage and a shortage of construction materials. It is quite clear that those who profit from the tunnels have a vested interest in ignoring this difference. What is less clear is why a news agency would do the same.
It may be because many in the world still imagine the Gaza closure to be what it was before the summer of 2010 – with restrictions on bringing various products into the Gaza Strip, anything from food to toys. Since then, the question of whether there is or isn’t a closure is considered at times only from the point of view of what enters Gaza, without considering the restrictions placed on movement in the opposite direction. This confusion is not exclusive to the foreign media. For example, Haaretz readers recently read Zvi Bar’el demanding that the Gaza closure be lifted, and at the same time, Avi Issacharoff (Hebrew) claiming, once more, that what is going on in Gaza “is certainly not a siege, nor is it a closure”. His reasoning? About 250 trucks carrying goods enter Gaza every day.
There have been no restrictions on bringing food into the Gaza Strip via Israel since 2010, however, Israel continues to impose restrictions on sale of goods outside the Strip and on travel between Gaza and the West Bank. The myth that Israel is still preventing food from entering the Gaza Strip has to be shattered; if not for the sake of accuracy, then because it diverts attention away from Gaza’s real problems. Gaza may not have a food shortage, but employment is certainly in short supply. Israel may now allow coriander into the Gaza Strip, but it still makes it very difficult for Gaza residents to maintain normal family ties with their relatives in the West Bank, or take advantage of the higher education, employment and business opportunities available there. These problems are serious enough. They can and should be addressed, but it is difficult to have a serious discussion about them when the same myth needs debunking over and over again.