The border with the Gaza Strip has once again warmed up in recent weeks after a relatively calm period. It started with another round of rocket fire on Israel and Israeli counterattacks, and then continued with the exposure of a large tunnel into the Gaza Strip, designed to provide a path for terrorist attacks inside Israel. The deterioration in the security situation coincides with the deterioration of the economic situation in Gaza. One may thus wonder whether there is some connection between the developments in the two arenas.
The Gaza Strip is in dire economic straits, originating first and foremost in the deliberate Israeli policy regarding the Strip. Add to that the increasing pressure exerted by Egypt on Gaza, and there you have it in a nutshell. In fact, Egypt has almost totally closed the tunnels in Rafah through which goods were smuggled, having discovered that they were used for smuggling weapons as well. The result of these moves is growing pressure on the residents of Gaza and rising unemployment.
10 trucks instead of 250
The policy adopted by the Israeli government is reflected primarily in the virtually total ban on exports from the Strip — in force ever since Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007. Traditionally, the goods manufactured in Gaza, such as textiles and furniture, were targeted at the West Bank and Israeli markets. Alas, these markets are now closed to the manufacturers and traders of the Strip. According to the data released by the nongovernmental organization Gisha, in 2007, about 250 trucks loaded with goods used to leave Gaza each week, and now their number has dropped to less than ten.
Another field affected by the Israeli sanctions is that of infrastructure. In the last five months, the Israeli government has restricted the importation of construction materials into Gaza after realizing that they were used in part for digging tunnels into Israel to enable terrorist attacks inside the country. Thus, the closure of the Rafah tunnels, coupled with the ban on the importation of construction materials, has further deepened the plight of the Gaza Strip residents. According to the data released by Gisha, the number of construction workers in the Gaza Strip has plunged from 70,000 to a mere 40,000.
Furthermore, Israel is stalling the development of the Gaza Marine gas field and preventing the sea ports and airport in Gaza from operating. On top of this, the delivery of fuel to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing has also been restricted. As a consequence, on March 15, the Gaza power plant faced a complete shutdown. At the very last minute, Israel allowed the delivery of fuel to Gaza and the plant resumed activity, though only partially.
Moshe Dayan's insistence
The debate over the effectiveness of economic sanctions against the Palestinians is nothing new. In the days following the Six-Day War, then-Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan gave instructions to open the Allenby and the Damia Adam bridges over the Jordan River to Palestinians passing to and from Jordan, although Jordan was an enemy state at the time. Regardless of the security warnings, Dayan refused to close the border crossings, justifying his decision by noting that closing the border crossings was bound to lead to economic issues in the West Bank and Gaza and thus further escalate Palestinian terrorism.
The current state of affairs in Gaza gives invites similar questions. True, some of the construction materials delivered to the Gaza Strip were indeed used to dig tunnels. However, one may wonder whether the addition of 30,000 Gazans to the unemployed masses is no less dangerous. Likewise, it may be asked whether Israel's security situation is really improving when the electricity supply in Gaza is limited to only eight hours a day.
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