Since Israel sent a search and rescue team and doctors to help earthquake-devastated Haiti, op-eds and articles have praised Israel’s important provision of relief and also attempted to hold up a mirror to the country, showing closure-devastated Gaza just over our shoulder. Some in Israel asked, how is it that aid is rushed half a world away when children are living in half-destroyed homes just an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv? Others argued that Israel’s positive actions in Haiti should stand alone, even if the Israeli government over-publicized the efforts (in his blog this week, Ami Kaufman adds English subtitles to a popular Israeli satire spoofing the over-focus on Israeli rescue efforts in Haiti – worth watching!). Israel’s Foreign Ministry justifiably expresses pride in Israel’s humanitarian actions in Haiti, but it also boasts, for example, in the MFA round-up for 2009 that aid to the Gaza Strip increased by 900% in 2009. Is that really something to be proud of?
On average, 2,500 trucks of goods enter the Gaza Strip each month. This is roughly 25% of the amount that entered prior to the June 2007 closure of the Strip (10,400/month). The items permitted entrance are limited to basic goods “necessary for the survival of the population” (to quote a recent letter Gisha received from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)). Items like flour, grain, and sugar are allowed. Every month new items appear among those allowed in and others items are mysteriously rejected: coffee this month yes, but cardamom to flavor it, no. Anise yes, and black pepper too, but vinegar no. Significantly, there is a total ban on raw materials that would permit Gaza residents to engage in production and commerce, allowing for economic independence. Clarity regarding the policy requires no less than a court order.
Israel does not provide the aid transferred to Gaza. In fact it earns on each truck that passes and each ton of aid bought or shipped, stored, and transferred through its territory. After closing all of Gaza’s other crossings, including the airspace, territorial waters, and indirectly – Rafah Crossing – Israel partially opens its side of the gates to Gaza to allow others to bring in aid and other items. More often than not, Israel blocks the movement of goods in to and out of Gaza and of course the movement of people who in most parts of the world travel into and out of their countries for simple, every day things like work and school and weddings.
These restrictions – and the policy underlying them, limiting Gaza residents to a “minimal” existence – are what have helped make Gaza residents dependent on international aid, whose provision Israel burdens.