April 5, 2016. The Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories (COGAT) announced Friday that it would suspend the transfer of cement to the private sector in Gaza on the accusation that the Ministry of Economy, controlled by Hamas, purchased cement from individuals in the Strip for other purposes. As part of agreements reached after Operation Protective Edge in late 2014, Israel and the Palestinian Authority established a mechanism, under United Nations supervision, meant to regulate the entrance of construction materials to Gaza, including how and for what these materials are used.
Of the construction materials that entered the Strip since the end of Operation Protective Edge to the end of February, about half were destined for the private sector. Of the cement that entered, the majority went to the private sector. The rest of the materials entered for projects managed by the international community, including UN agencies who undertake and manage extensive construction projects for the benefit of the civilian population. The devastation caused over the course of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 significantly augmented a pre-existing shortage of housing units, classrooms, health clinics and more – basic needs of the 1.8 million strong and young population of Gaza.
Senior Israeli security officials have acknowledged the importance of construction materials to the rehabilitation of the Strip post-Protective Edge and even to Israel’s security interests. Many of them have also acknowledged that the materials would and did end up on the black market for a variety of reasons. When the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) began operation, Gisha cautioned about the likelihood that it wouldn’t be successful in completely controlling the end-use and destination of all construction materials brought into Gaza. Gisha also warned that the GRM would only hold back and increase the costs of the reconstruction process. Israel’s objectives in embarking on the GRM, to paralyze tunnel construction, were not realized, yet entire sectors in Gaza are still unable to get vital construction materials. It is clear that Israel must find solutions to the threats of tunnels, but categorically banning cement from entering the Strip cannot be the answer.
The decision to prevent the private sector in Gaza from bringing in construction materials to Gaza constitutes collective punishment against those who have nothing to do with violations of the guidelines and protocols of the GRM. This measure will not undo past purchases of construction materials or bring them back, and it promises nothing for the future. Instead, it only makes an already complex and challenging situation worse for the people of Gaza, and it must be cancelled immediately.