Israel has barred entrance of tires to the Gaza Strip since April 2018, in a sweeping and punitive response to burning of tires at the Great March of Return demonstrations, which began late March 2018. According to recent media reports, Israel is considering reversing the prohibition on entrance of tires but apparently subject to certain, as of yet unclear, conditions. In 2017, a total of 81 truckloads of tires entered the Strip via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Over the past 19 months, Israel allowed three truckloads of tires to enter Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, as it is not banning entrance for international organizations, and it exceptionally allowed three truckloads to enter for the private sector but no explanation was given for the exception to the general prohibition.
“At first we believed the prohibition would be removed quickly,” admits Mohammed Abu Elba, owner of a tire supply company in Gaza, in a conversation with Gisha’s field coordinator. Abu Elba’s company runs six tire shops in the Strip, and used to purchase tires mostly from Israeli companies. Just before the restriction was imposed, he says, the company purchased 500,000 ILS worth of tires (almost 145,000 USD). “The tires are still stuck in storage in Israel, and every day that passes we lose money on them because we are forced to pay for storage, and because some of the tires have since passed their expiration date.” Abu Elba estimates that other than his company’s purchase, about 1,800 tires for family cars and a further 250 tires for trucks and industrial vehicles were purchased by his colleagues and are also being stored in Israel.
Since September 2018, some tires have entered the Strip via Salah a-Din Gate between Gaza and Egypt. The supply from Egypt has been vital, but insufficient. The Salah a-Din Gate, a small crossing straddling the border between Egypt and Gaza, about four kilometers from Rafah Crossing, is run by two private companies, one in Egypt and one in the Strip, supervised by the Egyptian army and the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza. Its operations as a commercial crossing are one-directional (only for entrance of goods into Gaza), and lacking in transparency. Moreover, the gate is not equipped to be a commercial crossing. According to Abu Elba, all import through the gate is managed by a single trader, who purchases the tires from a specific factory in Egypt. The trader then distributes the imported tires to suppliers in Gaza, who report that the tires themselves are of poor quality, and that not nearly enough of them are entering from Egypt to meet demand in the Strip. Suppliers are not able to order inventory according to customer demand and simply have to make do with whatever comes in.
The price of the tires imported from Egypt is extremely high. On average, a single tire from Egypt is sold in Gaza for 500 ILS (almost 145 USD), double the price of the tires that were entering the Strip from Israel before the prohibition was imposed. The inordinately high cost of the tires is due to the “coordination and transportation” fees taken by the parties involved in their import from Egypt. In the absence of appropriate regulation, the buyer in Gaza is forced to pay five times more for the same tire sold on the market in Egypt.
Abu Elba points to another complication with the tires brought in from Egypt, which is payment method. When he was purchasing tires from Israeli companies, he had the option of paying in installments. Suppliers purchasing tires from Egypt have no such option. Given that they must pay in advance in full, they cannot afford to let their customers (many of whom drive taxis, buses and service vehicles) pay in installments either. Both customers and suppliers can seldom afford to pay the full price at once, so many of them opt for repairing old, worn tires, putting them and the people around them at greater risk of injury and death. Jihad Salim, who heads a union of private transport companies that operate close to 1,200 trucks in Gaza, estimates that half of the trucks’ tires urgently need to be replaced. He says there are hundreds of trucks currently unfit to be on the road, sitting unused in the Strip.
Mouin Abu Rabiya, a vegetable supplier who lives in Gaza City, owns a truck that he uses to transport produce from farms in the southern area of Rafah to clients in the north of the Strip. Abu Rabiya employs two people, who earn 30 ILS per day (less than 9 USD). His profit per truckload is between 100 and 150 ILS (29-43 USD). He says he must replace the truck’s tires at least once a year, as driving through farmland with heavy loads of vegetables wears down the tires quickly. Six months ago, he bought a pair of tires from Egypt for 1,300 ILS (375 USD) in cash. The tires have already been worn down, and he still hasn’t found anyone who will agree to sell him new ones in installments. Before Israel blocked the entrance of tires, a pair would cost him about 600 ILS (about 170 USD), which he would pay in installments. “Does it make any sense that I have to spend a third of my capital on tires?” he wonders.
The acute tire shortage has a ripple effect with far-reaching impact on Gaza’s economy. “We haven’t worked for almost a week,” says Hamuda Sarsur, one of Abu Rabiya’s employees. “I don’t have another source of income, and I can’t ask my employer for money because I see he doesn’t have any either. I only hope we don’t lose our customers, and that we can get back to work as soon as possible.”
Authorities in Gaza should regulate the entrance of goods to Gaza through Salah a-Din gate and work to prevent price gouging. Salah a-Din Gate, however, cannot substitute Kerem Shalom Crossing, which connects Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, its traditional markets and most important supply chains. Imposing a sweeping prohibition on the entrance of vital commodities, necessary for normal living conditions as well as humanitarian needs, is immoral and stands in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. Israel must remove the tire ban immediately, as well as other sweeping restrictions and unnecessary limitations on the entrance of goods, subject only to concrete and reasonable security screening procedures. Given its ongoing and comprehensive control over so many aspects of life in the Strip, Israel has a responsibility to protect the rights of its residents. In light of this obligation, any decision by Israel to remove the ban should not be viewed as a concession or “easing,” but rather as a minimal requirement.