By Tania Hary
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which, among others things oversees what and who comes in and out of Gaza, recently published its monthly report for July. The numbers published in the report reveal that, given the closing of tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border and a subsequent drop in the underground transfer of goods, COGAT oversaw a 34% increase in goods entering Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing from June to July. More fuel, cooking gas and basic food items entered the Strip than during the previous months of 2013.
While access at the Rafah Crossing was restricted for pedestrians on the Gaza-Egypt border, according to Gisha’s data, COGAT also facilitated a 15% increase in the passage of Palestinians at Erez Crossing, which connects the Strip to Israel and the West Bank, from the month of June to July. More medical patients and their companions as well as businesspeople traveled through the crossing, as did more people in a category the army calls “other”, which includes first degree family members who are permitted to visit one another in four circumstances: the death, severe illness, imprisonment or wedding of a loved one.
As we’ve written previously, it makes us new shades of happy to see COGAT boast about increased access. That’s what we’re all about! It also makes us happy to be able to say we told you so…we told you it’s possible, we told you it’s consistent with your policy goals, not to mention that we told you it was the right thing to do.
Just recently, we published a new position paper that might seem a little crazy on the face of it. It essentially says that Israel – or COGAT, which implements Israeli policy vis-à-vis Gaza – should strive for the maximum possible access given the security situation. In other words, security should be the only basis for restrictions on movement, rather than political goals to weaken Hamas or pressure the government to achieve certain political concessions, as is currently the case. It counters what has become the status quo on Gaza (preserve the status quo until there is some kind of political breakthrough) and precisely at the time when peace negotiations are being re-started and political breakthroughs are all anyone wants to talk about, not human rights.
We write what we write not because we are naïve or crazy, but because a realist analysis shows that the past six years of closure have not achieved the stated goals to cajole, coerce, weaken, or displace the government in Gaza. Instead, the restrictions have had a concrete impact on the ability of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents to fulfill their basic rights and to live their lives with dignity. The position paper asks what price has to be paid and by whom for the continuation of a bad policy, while at the same time presenting a new approach that just might need to be a little nuts or far-reaching in order to work in this crazy place.
The increases in movement of people and goods which took place last month should serve as a reminder that Israel recognizes the need for civilian access, that the army can facilitate access when it is instructed to do so at the political level, and that more can be done even in the current circumstances. More individuals can travel in categories that don’t consider “urgent humanitarian circumstances” as the only possible point of departure. If four truckloads of spices from Gaza can transit through Israel to reach Europe, Israel can reverse its ban on sale of goods from Gaza, allowing those products to be unloaded and sold in their traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank. That is what the “maximum possible” is about: transitioning from a “humanitarian minimum” discourse to which we’ve grown accustomed when it comes to Gaza to discussing what can be done to maximize well-being and security for everyone in the region. Once you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem so crazy anymore, does it? In fact, it’s hard to think of a saner approach at the precise time we are hoping for breakthroughs.