Gaza's dilemma: buildings or bread

Late last June, residents of Gaza received some long overdue good news. Israel declared a change in the closure policy: it promised to expand the operation of the active border crossings, open additional border crossings “if there is a need to further increase the capacity of the border crossings” and to allow the transfer of building materials for projects undertaken by international organizations. The Turkel Commission’s interim report published this week determined that these “easings” made the closure, which, according to the commission, was already kosher, more kosher still.

But the news turned out to be not so good after all. The transfer of building materials into the Gaza Strip came at the expense of the transfer of wheat, causing a severe shortage of the basic food product. Last week, reserves of wheat ran out almost completely. UNWRA also announced in the middle of last week that the organization’s wheat reserves were about to be exhausted. It appears that Israel is in no hurry to translate the urgent need for wheat (as well as other goods) into an increase in the capacity of the crossings, as it had previously announced. However it did consent to open the Karni crossing additional times this week – having closed it for a week earlier this month – to ease the shortage.

A bakery in Gaza. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

On the other hand, UNRWA reports that the amount of gravel Israel allows to transfer at the expense of wheat are insufficient. Three months ago, UNRWA already predicted that at the current pace of transferring gravel, the organization’s plan to rebuild Gaza would be completed in 75 years.

And that’s not the end of the “good” news. It turns out that Israel is planning to close the Karni crossing and move its operations to Kerem Shalom, through which UNRWA is already forced to transfer humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza, the majority of whom are dependent on its services. Kerem Shalom is farther from Gaza City than Karni, raising transport costs.

The Turkel Commission claimed that “the combined purpose of the closure is… to strategically limit Hamas’s ability to attack Israel and its citizens”. Unless its ammunition is made out of wheat and gravel, it is not clear how the commission reached that conclusion.

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