Over the past few days, there have been some interesting developments to report on with regard to the Gaza closure. The following is a short summary:
Debates in the security sector
Israeli news website Walla! reports that GOC Southern Command Tal Russo recently recommended (Hebrew) “opening the border crossings into the Gaza Strip and allowing unrestricted movement of goods in order to prevent international criticism and fight the de-legitimization of Israel around the world”. In response, top security officials have said that the recommendation “might undermine the strategy of separating Gaza from the West Bank and give rise to criticism in the Palestinian Authority about the possibility of economic growth in Gaza”.
It’s interesting to note that top security officials agree with Gisha that Israel’s policy prevents economic growth in Gaza. If the objective is to undermine growth, how does that match up with statements like this where the army boasts of measures implemented to contribute to economic development? It would appear that there is a real and lively debate about the effectiveness of the closure policy among security officials.
The same article reports on another development in the post-ceasefire negotiations on easing restrictions: Hamas has demanded that Israel open the Nahal Oz and Sufa border crossings and increase the number of merchants entering Israel and the volume of building materials permitted into the Gaza Strip via Israeli crossings. The Egyptians are asking to increase operations at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings “due to fears that the opening of the Rafah crossing would transfer Palestinian dependency from Israel to Egypt”, which brings us to the next news item.
Destruction of tunnels
Over the course of the week, media reports indicated that the Egyptian army had launched a campaign to flood tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border in order to stop smuggling. The Egyptians claimed that the flooded tunnels were located east of Rafah, in an area mainly used for smuggling weapons. Yet it appears that since Monday of last week, tunnels used for transporting construction materials and fuel west of Rafah have also been flooded.
As a result, the price of construction materials has risen in the Gaza Strip. A ton of cement, which cost 380 shekels four days ago, now costs 460. The price of a ton of gravel went from 80 to 100 shekels and the price of a ton of steel rose from 3,100 shekels four days ago to 3,350.
Egypt is also limiting the quantity of fuel that enters Gaza from the Sinai desert. Gas station owners in the Gaza Strip fear that if the trend continues, a gas shortage could be expected within two weeks.
Nearly half of all civilian goods that enter Gaza are transported through the tunnels, the equivalent of some 4,300 truckloads per month: 3,800 of these are construction materials and 550 carry various products, from cigarettes to glue and dyes which are prohibited for import from Israel. There is no longer a ban on import of fuel from Israel, but given that Egyptian fuel is cheaper, approximately 14.3 million liters of diesel and 8 tons of benzene continue to flow through the tunnels every month.
Expansion of Kerem Shalom Crossing
Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency reports that the European Union will fund an expansion of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only Israeli crossing currently used for transporting goods into and out of Gaza. It is worth noting that there have been similar reports in the past about EU funding for the expansion of the Palestinian side of the crossing. It is unclear whether this recent report refers to the same plans and the same funding. Other reports indicate that Israel will allow entry of empty fuel canisters into the Gaza Strip, which were thus far prevented from entering, as well as increase the number of vehicles entering the Gaza Strip to 125 per week and install a new telephone and internet line between Israel and the Strip.