Following rising tensions on the Gaza-Israel border, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon discussed the extension of his October 13th decision to stop all sales of construction materials to international organizations and to the private sector in the Gaza Strip: “When we realized that the concrete that’s transferred there, or the cement, or other construction materials, are ultimately used as a means to attack us – I also stopped, in a decision, the transfer of cement and other construction materials “. “That’s the price that, unfortunately, the population will have to pay for this thing, but it is also a response to it”, Ya’alon said (Hebrew).
Ya’alon’s statements are both strange and regrettable. Strange, because it is not at all clear that it was, in fact, Israeli cement that was used to build the tunnel. The military has yet to respond to some questions that have been raised about the affair. It is also unclear why the ban on transferring construction materials also applies to international aid organizations, considering they have to undergo a long and arduous approval process in order to receive permission to buy these materials and must provide visual proof that the materials are being safe-guarded and used as they are intended to be used.
Regrettable, because the defense minister’s statements show that he is fully aware that the ban on bringing construction materials into the Gaza Strip, which is presented as a preventative security measure, harms Gaza’s entire population. What does this decision mean? According to estimates made by Gaza’s Contractors’ Union, between 60% and 80% of the companies that belong to the union, which are already experiencing difficulties due to the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the tunnels, are either working at a limited capacity or are not working at all. About 70,000 individuals in Gaza depend on the construction industry for their livelihood. It is one of the only sectors that have managed to thrive under closure.
Considering the certain harm that would be done to the civilian population in Gaza, it is worth asking whether the benefits gained by the restrictions justify the price and whether the Israeli authorities have considered alternatives that do not include punishing the entire population, whose only crime is living in Gaza.