Ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, several Israeli media outlets reported that tens of thousands of lulav holders (made of palm leaves and used in Jewish liturgy) produced in Gaza were cleared for exit from the Strip via Kerem Shalom Crossing for sale in Israel. The source of the reports was the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the branch of the Israeli military overseeing civilian policy. “This is a great example of steps that we’re taking every day of the year,” COGAT’s agricultural coordinator, Uri Madar, was quoted as saying, “steps that are good for agriculture and helping markets on both sides: the Israeli and the Palestinian.”
The facilitation of exit of goods from Gaza is clearly a good thing and vital for its economy, but while COGAT frames this as “routine,” the truth lies elsewhere. Since it tightened restrictions on movement to and from Gaza to the point of closure in 2007, Israel has generally blocked the sale of Gaza-made and -grown goods in Israel and in the West Bank, with rare exception. You guessed it, lulavs were allowed out even when nothing else was.
Sweeping restrictions on exit of goods caused debilitating harm to Gaza’s industries and economy, contributing to unemployment and poverty. In the past few years, Israel has allowed limited marketing of goods from Gaza outside the Strip, mainly agricultural produce going to the West Bank. At the same time, it holds steadfast to other restrictions, stifling the efforts of those trying to access markets outside the Strip, like Sarayo Al Wadia, the company that wants to sell cookies in the West Bank. Information about what is allowed out and not and the means by which to market goods are impossible to find. COGAT does a good job of painting over this reality, but there remains a vast discrepancy between Israel’s public statements whereby it appears to actively encourage economic activity and prosperity in Gaza and its policies on the ground.
Some two weeks ago, at the bi-annual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in New York, Israel’s ambassador to the UN argued that “the humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip is a clear result of the Hamas regime’s control over the Strip,” positing that “the international community needs to connect the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip with the humanitarian needs of Israeli prisoners and civilian captives. This tactic of increasing pressure will contribute to efforts to return our sons home.” As usual, Israel wishes to justify the deliberate pressure it places on Gaza’s civilian population even as it denies all responsibility for the situation created in the Strip as a result of this pressure.
Israel allows shipments of lulav holders from Gaza because it serves its own interests, but Gaza’s economy and its residents’ quality of life do not belong to Israel, they are not a resource to be tapped or neglected at whim. The significant control Israel wields over so many aspects of life in Gaza comes with a duty to enable normal living conditions for its residents, including allowing access for civilians and civilian goods. Not only does Israel systematically evade this responsibility and avoid actions that would guarantee real improvements to the Palestinian economy (such as lifting the restrictions on the sale of Gaza-made goods outside the Strip), its representatives engage in misleading attempts to obfuscate the outcome of the closure it enforces. Happy holidays to you too.