As the situation in Gaza deteriorates, another step to limit movement: Israeli Transportation Ministry to restrict truck traffic on Negev roads leading to Kerem Shalom Crossing

Thursday, October 25, 2018. On Tuesday (October 23), the Israeli Ministry of Transportation announced that its plan to restrict movement of trucks on the roads leading to Kerem Shalom Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel during the morning and afternoon rush hours will be enforced starting December 2. The Transportation Ministry’s plan to restrict the movement of trucks to and from Gaza’s sole commercial crossing with Israel was formulated two years ago, in response to safety hazards posed to local residents by truck traffic on the western Negev roads. The original plan faced opposition by heads of regional councils in the area, the Israel Road Transport Council, and Gisha, representing residents of Gaza.

In May 2016, the Israel Road Transport Council filed a petition against the implementation of Transportation Ministry’s restrictions on traffic. Gisha also filed an objection with the Transportation Ministry, expressing strong opposition on behalf of Gaza residents. In addition, the Director General of the Ministry of Defense at the time, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel wrote to the Transportation Ministry, stating (Hebrew) that “restricting movement on the roads to and from the [Kerem Shalom] crossing has far-reaching implications for the civilian and humanitarian needs that Israel is obligated to supply to the Gaza Strip.” The Defense Ministry estimated that the traffic restrictions would curtail the volume of goods entering Gaza by more than 40% and exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

Contrary to the Transportation Ministry’s estimate, according to which about 2,000 trucks carry goods to Kerem Shalom per day, the average number of truckloads passing through the crossing in both directions is far lower. The daily average number of trucks carrying goods to or from Kerem Shalom between January and September 2018 did not exceed 425 truckloads per day. Given severe restrictions enforced by Israel on export and marketing goods from Gaza in Israel, the West Bank and abroad, the volume of goods exiting the Strip is miniscule: Even during periods when relatively large quantities of goods, mainly agricultural produce, exit Gaza, the daily average number of exiting truckloads did not exceed 12.

In February 2018, Gisha, the Israel Road Transport Council board director, Gabi Ben Harush, and the heads of three regional councils in Israel – Alon Shuster of Sha’ar Hanegev, Yair Farjun of Hof Ashkelon, and Gadi Yarkoni of Eshkol – sent an urgent letter (Hebrew) to the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, demanding that they take immediate action to advance the opening of a commercial crossing in the north of the Gaza Strip.

It is clear that the government must act urgently in order to invest in the development of infrastructure and roads leading to Kerem Shalom, for the benefit and safety of local Israeli residents. Nonetheless, the most rational and economically-sound solution to the safety hazards posed by traffic on Israel’s southern roads is to execute the Israeli Defense Ministry’s existing plan to open a commercial crossing in the north of the Strip. A commercial crossing in Gaza’s north would immediately abate traffic on the roads leading to Kerem Shalom Crossing, located at the southern tip of the Gaza-Israel border fence;  it would also significantly reduce the cost of transporting goods to and from the Strip. Thus, it would not only contribute to economic development in the Strip, in keeping with Israel’s obligations and self-professed security interests, it would also help the numerous Israeli businesses that have trade relations with Gaza.

Gisha reiterates that the implementation of the traffic restrictions on the western Negev roads could lead to reduction in the volume of goods entering the Strip. Any further disruption of the supply of food, medicine, fuel and other vital goods to the Strip via Kerem Shalom could have a severe impact on the civilian population in the Strip, and their basic human rights. In light of the dire humanitarian situation in the Strip, Israel must refrain from any actions that could further impair the living conditions of Gaza residents.