January 5, 2017

As previously reported, in April 2016, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation decided (Hebrew) to limit truck traffic to and from Kerem Shalom Crossing on roads in Israel’s southern region, the Negev desert, between 07:00 and 09:00 AM and 3:00 and 5:00 PM.  Given the many objections voiced by the security establishment, transporter organizations and Gisha, and following a petition which Gisha asked to join as amicus curiae (Hebrew), the Ministry of Transportation has for now backed down from the decision, and has not implemented it to date.

Once court proceedings ended, the Ministry of Transportation issued a new, similar, proposal (Hebrew) whereby trucks weighing more than 12 tons would be prohibited from using three western Negev roads leading to Kerem Shalom between 7:30 AM and 9:00 AM and between 3:30 PM and 4:30 PM. The ministry asked relevant parties and stakeholders, including Gisha, to provide their comments on the proposed arrangement, in writing, before a final decision is made.

On December 11, 2016, Gisha provided its comments (Hebrew), strongly objecting to the proposed arrangement, due to the serious disruption it is expected to cause to the supply of basic, essential goods to Gaza residents. Gisha’s letter notes that Kerem Shalom is the only commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip, and therefore, Israel must ensure its consistent, proper operation. Gisha stressed that reducing truck travel to the crossing would effectively reduce its hours of operation, increase the costs of the goods themselves and the shipping involved, and would particularly harm the ability to send agricultural products and fuel into Gaza.

Gisha noted that other, less harmful alternatives must be explored before implementing a decision with such serious ramifications for the lives of Gaza’s two million residents, who rely on the smooth operation of the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing. One proposed solution was to open an additional commercial crossing into Gaza, for instance, at Erez Crossing, which is currently used for pedestrian travel only. This solution is supported by both the security establishment and western Negev residents. It would help reduce the safety hazards posed by heavy truck traffic on the roads leading to Kerem Shalom, as well as the financial costs incurred from having to transport goods from central Israel (as well as the West Bank and the Ashdod port) all the way to Kerem Shalom, the southernmost tip of the border between Israel and Gaza. This solution is already undergoing initial consideration by decision-makers, and Gisha believes it should be advanced as quickly as possible.

On January 4, 2017, Gisha sent further comments (Hebrew) to the Ministry of Transportation, following a safety report prepared and provided to all stakeholders. In its second letter, Gisha emphasized that this report also seemed to indicate that the safety issues on western Negev roads would be best, and most quickly and cost-effectively, resolved by upgrading infrastructure on these roads and opening an additional commercial crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.