by Syarif Hidayat
Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire agreement on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. Both the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, claim victory in the ceasefire. Speaking in Gaza City on Thursday, Haniyeh said that all of Hamas’s demands had been met, whilst in Jerusalem, Netanyahu insisted that Operation Pillar of Defense had reached its goals.
Hamas leaders and thousands of flag-waving supporters declared victory over Israel on Gaza’s first day of calm under an Egyptian-brokered truce Thursday, as Israeli officials flew to Cairo for talks on easing a blockade on the battered Palestinian territory.
Eight days of punishing Israeli air strikes on Gaza and a barrage of Hamas rocket fire on Israel ended inconclusively. While Israel said it inflicted heavy damage on the militants, Gaza’s Hamas rulers claimed that Israel’s decision not to send in ground troops, as it had four years ago, was a sign of a new deterrent power.
“Resistance fighters changed the rules of the game with the occupation (Israel), upset its calculations,” Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who attended the rally, said later in a televised speech. “The option of invading Gaza after this victory is gone and will never return.” At the same time, Haniyeh urged Gaza fighters to respect the truce and to “guard this deal as long as Israel respects it.”
The mood in Israel was mixed. Some were grateful that quiet had been restored without a ground operation that could have cost the lives of more soldiers. Others — particularly those in southern Israel hit by rockets over the past 13 years — thought the operation was abandoned too quickly. Thousands of Israeli soldiers who had been sent to the border during the fighting withdrew Thursday, the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive’s aims of halting Gaza rocket fire and weakening Hamas were achieved. “I know there are citizens who were expecting a harsher response,” he said, adding that Israel is prepared to act if the cease-fire is violated.
Despite the tough talk, the cease-fire raised hopes of a new era between Israel and Hamas. A senior Israeli official and three aides arrived in Cairo late Thursday and were escorted to Egypt’s intelligence headquarters, according to Egyptian airport officials, presumably to hammer out the details of a deal that would include easing a blockade of the territory.
However, the vague language of the agreement announced Wednesday and deep hostility between the combatants made it far from certain the bloodshed would end or that either side will get everything it wants. Israel seeks an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas wants a complete lifting of the border blockade imposed in 2007, after the militant group’s takeover of Gaza.
Israeli opportunity to end Gaza closure
The “Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement,” an Arab Non-governmental organization in Israel says in its analysis: “As the ceasefire agreement takes force, Israel has an opportunity to finally end the civilian closure of Gaza and enter into regional arrangements that will allow residents of Gaza the freedom of movement to which they have a right, while protecting the security to which residents of Israel are entitled.”
According to a Gisha analysis titled: “Gaza Gateway: Facts and Analysis About The Crossings – Gisha Response to Ceasefire: A Opportunity to End The Gaza Closure,” the Israeli government maintains three restrictions on Gaza’s land crossings that must be removed to protect the rights of Palestinians to reach family members and access educational and economic opportunities, subject to individual security checks:
1. Entrance of construction materials for the private sector in Gaza is banned. Israel claims the restrictions are necessary to prevent the Hamas regime from building bunkers. Each month, an estimated average of 3,600 truckloads of construction materials for the private and governmental sector enter Gaza via underground tunnels, compared with just 1,100 truckloads via the crossings with Israel. The materials entering via Israel must be pre-approved for international organizations, causing burdensome and expensive delays.
2. Israel prevents goods from Gaza from reaching their markets in Israel and the West Bank. Although tiny quantities of export abroad transit via Israeli ports, Israel prevents farmers and manufacturers in Gaza from selling their goods to their traditional customers in Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the ban imposed in June 2007, more than 85 percent of goods leaving Gaza were sold in Israel and the West Bank. Today, Israel conducts security checks of goods transiting via Israel to markets abroad (18 truckloads per month on average, just two percent of pre-June 2007 levels) but does not allow those goods to remain in Israel or the West Bank.
3. The Israeli government restricts travel between Gaza and the West Bank to “exceptional humanitarian cases”, mostly medical patients, their companions, and senior (male) merchants buying goods from Israel and the West Bank. Each month, Israel allows 4,000 entrances of Palestinians via Erez Crossing, compared with more than half a million in September 2000. Israeli officials say the restrictions are part of the “separation policy”, which restricts travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even where no individual security claims are raised. The ban separates children from their parents, prevents students from studying, blocks economic opportunities and exacerbates the fragmentation of Palestinian society.
Opening Rafah Crossing for goods, while important, is not responsive to the need to allow access between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel. Currently, most of the markets for goods from Gaza are in Israel and the West Bank, and the relatively low cost of living in Egypt would make it difficult for Gaza’s export – mostly low-cost, labor intensive items like furniture, textiles and produce – to be competitive.
Rafah does not provide a solution for travel between Gaza and the West Bank, especially as Israel’s military does not allow Gaza residents to enter the West Bank via Egypt and Jordan.
More than 47 percent of civilian goods entering Gaza – enter via the tunnels.
Any change in access arrangements would need to take into account the high volume of civilian truckloads entering Gaza via the tunnels: an estimated 4,100 truckloads per month (primarily construction materials but also small quantities of snack foods, spare parts, and others), compared with 4,700 truckloads per month via Kerem Shalom.
In addition, most of Gaza’s fuel is piped in via the tunnels. Since 2007, Israel has closed three of Gaza’s four goods crossings, leaving just the limited capacity of Kerem Shalom. If all of Gaza’s incoming and outgoing goods are to be transferred above ground, arrangements must be made to meet demand. Most civilian goods transiting via the tunnels are goods banned by the Israeli government: more than 80 percent of civilian tunnel volume is construction materials, according to a Gisha analysis received Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).
What is the Closure of Gaza?
In light of reports that lifting the closure of Gaza is part of negotiations for a ceasefire, Gisha clarifies what the closure of Gaza consists of today. Since June 2010, changes in Israeli and Egyptian policies have made the Gaza Strip more open to the outside world, but the restrictions that sever it from the West Bank and Israel remain almost unchanged. These primarily include the ban on marketing goods from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank and restrictions on travel of people between Gaza and the West Bank. Both are explained as part of what Israel calls the “separation policy”.
Transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip:
The only crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, except for the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, is the Kerem Shalom crossing that connects Gaza with Israel. Israel allows the transfer of all kinds of goods except for materials it defines as dual use and basic construction materials.
Transfer of goods out of the Gaza Strip:
Since June 2007, Israel has prevented Palestinians in Gaza from marketing their goods in Israel and the West Bank, where most of the demand is. The export of agricultural produce abroad is allowed in negligible quantities, mainly as part of a project subsidized by the Dutch government. Formally, the export of furniture and textile from Gaza abroad is allowed, but demand for these goods outside of Israel and the West Bank is minimal. Since the beginning of 2012, an average of 18 truckloads of goods were permitted to leave the Gaza Strip each month, which is just 2% of the level prior to June 2007.
Access to land, sea and air space of the Gaza Strip:
Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Gaza fishermen are allowed to fish up to three nautical miles from the coast. Israel prevents access to a 300-1500 meter “buffer zone” along the border fence.
Travel of people between Gaza and the West Bank:
Movement of people into and out of the Gaza Strip takes place through the Erez crossing with Israel and the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Israel allows passage through Erez only in “exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases”. In practice, Israel has since the beginning of the year allowed about 4,000 entrances of Palestinians a month through Erez to Israel and the West Bank, mostly of senior merchants and patients and their companions, compared to more than half a million entrances in September 2000. Israel does not allow Palestinians from Gaza to enter the West Bank via Jordan, even though in doing so, they don’t seek to travel through Israeli territory.
Travel of people between Gaza and other countries:
Travel occurs mainly through Egypt, in light of Israel’s ban on travel abroad via air, sea, and Israeli ports. The Rafah crossing is open to traffic six days per week. In the last four months, an average of 40,000 people passed through it each month in both directions – a volume of traffic similar to the level during implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access from November 2005 to June 2006. Because it controls the Palestinian population registry, Israeli exercises indirect control over issuing Palestinian passports, which are necessary for exit through Rafah Crossing.
What is the “separation policy”?
In June of 2010, the Israeli government decided, in a formal Security Cabinet decision, to make changes to its policy of closure on the Gaza Strip, which had been in effect since Hamas took over the Strip three years prior. Since the decision, there has been a gradual removal of restrictions on the transfer of goods and raw materials into the Gaza Strip and an increase in travel through Erez Crossing, particularly by businesspeople. Agricultural export from Gaza to Europe via Israel has also increased somewhat and Egypt’s opening of the Rafah Crossing for travel has provided a route for Gaza residents to travel abroad.
Gaza is less isolated from the outside world than it was two years ago, however the road to development and economic stability in the Strip remains blocked. Gaza’s connections with Israel and the West Bank, vital for its economy and the welfare of its residents, are still subject to sweeping restrictions on movement. The two main restrictions are the prohibition on marketing goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank and the narrow criteria for travel by individuals between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These restrictions have remained almost entirely unchanged, even after the release of Gilad Shalit from captivity in Gaza in September 2011.
When asked why these restrictions on movement remain in effect, security officials explain that they form part of the “policy of separation” between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This term reappears in official statements but has never been explained: Is there a well-defined and carefully considered policy that carries this title? What are its goals? What government branch formulated it? Has it been brought for debate in any political forum – the government, the cabinet, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee?
The Israeli separation policy contains three parts: Part A deals with restrictions on transfer of goods, particularly the sweeping prohibition on marketing goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank; Part B deals with restrictions on travel to and from the Gaza Strip and illustrates the two guiding principles of these restrictions, minimizing the number of people who are eligible for travel and preventing Gaza residents from settling in the West Bank, and; Part C looks at the economic, political and security implications of the “separation policy”, relying on the opinions of various experts.
The policy that emerges from the three parts is one that has far-reaching implications, raises more than a few questions and has not been well-documented or discussed in the media or among security, economy and legal professionals. We hope to help bring the “separation policy” up for public and parliamentary debate in the framework of which it would be weighed against alternatives for regulating civilian movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that both allow Gaza’s residents to lead normal lives and enjoy economic development and safeguard Israel’s security interests.
Gisha’s position is that Israel is responsible for allowing civilian access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which it has officially recognized as a single territorial unit. It must avoid restrictions on movement that are not connected to concrete security objectives, those that disproportionately harm the civilian population or deny residents of the Gaza Strip the ability to lead normal lives and engage in economic development.
Separation and movement of goods
– Since the closure was tightened in June 2007, there has been a sweeping and absolute prohibition on the marketing of any goods originating in the Gaza Strip in the West Bank and Israel. This has been the case despite the fact that until then, 85 percent of the goods exported from the Gaza Strip were marketed in these areas.
– Israel permits negligible amounts of export of agricultural produce from Gaza to Europe as part of a seasonal project financed by the government of the Netherlands.
– In the first six months of 2007, about 5750 trucks carrying goods left the Gaza Strip. During the next three years, from mid-June 2007 to June 2010, a total of 255 truckloads, all of them carrying agricultural produce, left Gaza for Europe. In the winter of 2010-2011, the total was 290 truckloads.
– The amount of agricultural exports planned for this season totals only 561 truckloads.
– Israel claims that it has approved export of furniture and textiles from Gaza to Europe, even though there is not and has never been a market for these Gaza-made products in Europe. On January 22, 2012, the first truck carrying furniture from Gaza crossed through Israel and the West Bank to an exhibition in Jordan. In February and March 2012, six truckloads of tomatoes crossed over from Gaza via Israel to Saudi Arabia.
– All export of goods which has taken place – to Europe, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – has been shipped by sea and air from Israel after undergoing sanitation inspection in Gaza and a comprehensive security inspection at the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
– In March 2012, a shipment of 13 truckloads of date-filled energy bars was allowed to cross over from Gaza to the West Bank as part of a World Food Programme project for school children. This was the first shipment of goods allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank in five years. However, there was no subsequent announcement of a change in policy.
– The Rafah border crossing remains closed for commercial traffic in both directions.
– The export ban has paralyzed the industrial sector in the Gaza Strip. Some 83 percent of factories in the Strip are shut down or are operating at half their capacity or less.
– At the end of 2011, the unemployment rate was 30.3 percent compared with 15.5 percent in the third quarter of 2000, just before the outbreak of the Second Intifada. The unemployment level is particularly high among young job-seekers aged 15-29. It stands at 46.5 percent.
– A long list of Israeli and international economists have determined that the ban on the marketing of goods to Israel and the West Bank is the main impediment to sustainable economic development in the Gaza Strip. They include Yitzhak Gal, Prof. Ephraim Kleiman and a World Bank report published in March 2012.
FiveYears of Closure
In the past five years since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, Israel’s policy of closure on the Strip has undergone important changes. Today Gaza is more opened up towards the outside world, however sweeping and indiscriminate restrictions on travel and on movement of goods between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel remain nearly unchanged.
The following information explains the changes that have occurred over the past five years, providing context for those changes based on data about access before the closure and showing their impact on the economy. We hope this information can serve as a reminder that despite changes in the policy, the civilian closure on Gaza has not been lifted entirely and continues to prevent residents of the Strip from engaging in family life, from accessing opportunities for higher education, and from the possibility of developing a healthy and prosperous economy and society.
Movement of people
Concerning the movement of people there has been a trend of a gradual increase in access starting in 2009-2010. However, while the number of individual exits to Egypt has risen nearly to pre-closure numbers, movement to Israel and the West Bank remains at less than one percent of the volume before significant restrictions were imposed at the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.
Movement of goods
The volume of goods allowed into the Strip increased gradually, particularly since June 2010, after which it stabilized at around 4,000 truckloads per month or roughly 40 percent of the pre-closure average. There are two main reasons for the remaining gap.
– Firstly, severe restrictions remain on the entrance of building materials to the Strip via Israel. In the past, building materials comprised approximately half of all incoming goods. Restrictions via Israel have transferred the supply route of building materials to tunnels from Egypt. There is also a shift in commercial traffic from the Karni and Sufa crossings, to Kerem Shalom Crossing which is located at the southernmost point on the Israel-Gaza border.
– The second reason for the remaining gap in the volume of incoming goods is decline in demand for raw materials due to the paralysis of the industrial sector. This paralysis was caused and has been sustained by the drop in outgoing trade due to the ban on marketing products from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank.
In 2011, the rate of outgoing goods was just two percent of the level recorded in the first half of 2007, prior to the closure. A March 2012 World Bank report notes that without access to Gaza’s traditional markets, “Gaza’s industry will not manage any significant recovery”. While consumption, construction and external aid drove Gaza’s GDP upward, the labor-intensive industrial and agricultural sectors remain far below their pre-closure levels of production. Although GDP has experienced growth in recent years, it remains lower than it was in the year 2005 or even 1994.
Since June 2010, measures introduced to “ease” the closure have had a positive impact, reflected by most macro-economic indicators. However, remaining restrictions on movement of people from Gaza to the West Bank and on marketing of goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank, where changes in policy have been minimal, continue to block Gaza’s economy from achieving sustainable growth and prevent its residents from maintaining their personal, cultural, educational and commercial ties with the West Bank.
These two remnants of the “economic warfare” doctrine of 2007-2010 (which the current government ostensibly renounced) are explained by the term “separation policy” – a policy which in practice deepens the split between the two (Gaza and West Bank) areas, for admittedly political reasons rather than due to security requirements.
According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: “Now is the time for Israel to do what is just, mutually beneficial, and should have been done long ago: remove all restrictions not necessary for security.“
While Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh stressed again that “Our main goal will remain to remove the occupation so that our people would be able to establish their free state on all of Palestine and Jerusalem.”(HSH/R-006)
Sources: 1. International News Agencies
2. Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement:
Gaza Gateway – Facts and Analysis About The Crossings