Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed on Monday that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip had been “largely lifted” as part of the newly-inked reconciliation deal between Israel and Turkey.
The normalisation of Turkish-Israeli relations, six years after Israeli forces killed 10 Turkish citizens aboard a ship bound for Gaza, will see Ankara deliver humanitarian aid to the fenced-in enclave, as well as “build a 200-bed hospital, a housing project and a desalination plant in Gaza” – though “under the condition that materials go through the Israeli port of Ashdod first.”
Unfortunately, none of this constitutes a lifting of the blockade. No amount of aid can alter the core elements of the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the Gaza Strip and its 1.8 million inhabitants. So here are five ways in which the blockade remains unaltered.
- Restrictions on what enters Gaza.
A weekly average of 2,145 truckloads have entered the Gaza Strip in 2016 (almost half of it construction materials), 76 percent of the pre-blockade figure. Israel maintains an “extensive” list of ‘dual-use’ items, including items “whose use is overwhelmingly civilian and critical for civilian life.” Reconstruction after Israel’s 2014 offensive has made slow progress; it was only in October last year that the first home was rebuilt, and some 90,000 Palestinians remain displaced.
- Restrictions on goods exiting Gaza.
The exit of goods from the Gaza Strip for sale either abroad, or, more importantly, in the enclave’s key markets of the West Bank and Israel, remains highly restricted. In the week of June 14-20, for example, just 26 truckloads of goods left, a mere one tenth of pre-blockade levels. Last year, a senior World Bank official said that Israel’s blockade and the 2014 war had meant that “Gaza’s exports virtually disappeared” (he’s not exaggerating – exports fell 97 percent between 2007 and 2012).
- Restrictions on the movement of people – including to and from the West Bank.
Even after ‘concessions’ made by Israel after ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the rate of travel at Gaza’s Israeli-controlled Erez crossing is still just 3 percent of the figures in September 2000. Moreover, Israel continues to prevent Palestinian families visiting each other, and studying in West Bank universities is off-limits for Palestinian students in Gaza. Israeli permit-holders are thus primarily a restricted number of “medical and other humanitarian cases, merchants, and aid workers.”
- Israeli forces’ attacks on fishermen and farmers.
Israeli occupation forces continue to routinely attack Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, especially fishermen at sea, and farmers working their land near the border fence. Just since Monday, Israeli forces have opened fire at Palestinian fishermen and (twice) at farmers. Between June 7-20, according to UN figures, Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinians in these so-called ‘Access Restricted Areas’ at land and sea on 32 separate occasions.
- Egypt keeps the Rafah door shut.
While Israel controls almost all of the Gaza Strip’s crossings (and is the occupying power), the Egyptian authorities play a key role in maintaining the chokehold on Gaza. This week, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing for five days, in both directions, but this is the exception, rather than the rule. For example, in the UN’s update for April – a month in which the Rafah crossing was closed entirely – it was recorded that the crossing had been closed since October 24, 2015, “except for 42 days.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Gaza yesterday that “the closure of Gaza…is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability.” Many Palestinians, however, see the UN – and perhaps now Turkey – as helping Israel to “administer the siege rather than challenging its continuation.” Sadly, in terms of its impact on the ground, the Turkey-Israel deal appears to be “more noteworthy for what it doesn’t achieve than what the agreement actually entails.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.