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Why is Israel tightening the Gaza blockade?

Due to lack of building materials being allowed into the Gaza Strip, there has been little progress in the reconstruction of Gaza. The photo shows Palestinians having to pray in a heavily damaged mosque.
Due to lack of building materials being allowed into the Gaza Strip, there has been little progress in the reconstruction of Gaza. The photo shows Palestinians having to pray in a heavily damaged mosque.

Let us begin with the facts: Israeli authorities have, over the course of the last year, tightened the long-standing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Even before these more recent restrictions, the Israeli blockade – an illegal policy of collective punishment in the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – was continuing to severely harm the lives of Gaza’s two million residents, furthering the enclave’s de-development.

In April of this year, the UN was clear that the most urgent step required for the reconstruction of Gaza remained “the removal of [Israeli] restrictions on the import of building materials, towards a full lifting of the blockade.” Instead, things have gone backwards.

In July, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported how “restrictions have been tightened on Palestinians seeking to depart the Gaza Strip and on imports permitted into the territory”, including a prohibition on “certain businessmen from importing their merchandise into Gaza.”

UN data confirmed that the blockade tightened in July, while in August, just 110 truckloads of goods exited Gaza, less than half of January’s figure (and 14 per cent of 2005 levels). August also saw a seven-year low in the Israeli approval rate of patient permit applications to leave Gaza for treatment.

Then in September, Israeli NGO Gisha published statistics showing that “1,211 Gazans were summoned to the Erez border crossing for Israeli security interrogations during the first half of the year” – around 2.5 times the number of people interrogated during the same period a year earlier.

In early October, a senior official at the Gaza Chamber of Commerce and Industry described the current situation as “the worst ever”. On 13 October, UN official Nickolay Mladenov warned those “who believe that it’s possible to punish the Gaza Strip and keep it under blockade.”

Meanwhile, however, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed the Israeli military to tighten the blockade, particularly with regards to so-called restricted “dual-use items”. According to Gisha, this list “includes items whose use is overwhelmingly civilian and critical for civilian life.”

In addition to the above, a senior UN official recently described how “conditions have become much more difficult” for the “humanitarian community.” In January, three per cent of requests for permits to enter Israel from Gaza were denied to its Palestinian employees; in August, this had risen to 65 per cent.

His words were echoed this week by UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, Bo Schack, who also wrote an op-ed urging an end to the blockade. Speaking to me by phone, Schack confirmed that Israeli restrictions on the entry of cement are delaying the pace of reconstruction.

According to Schack, 400 families whose homes are yet to be rebuilt are still pending approval (as part of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism). Furthermore, for the last six months, since May of this year, “we have not received any clearance for any of the cases we’ve submitted”, Schack said.

The Gaza-based UN official also affirmed that, along with “increasing restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza”, there are also “increasing restrictions for movement of staff from the UN – to a much, much larger extent than there was before.”

To Gaza’s traders and humanitarian workers we can now add senior Palestinian Authority officials, with the recent news that the Shin Bet rescinded the permanent exit permits for 12 out of 14 individuals responsible for mediating between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli authorities. In other words, the officials in charge of securing exit permits lost their exit permits.

A number of observers have insisted that Israel has no desire to initiate a new offensive on the Gaza Strip anytime soon, and that Lieberman has – if not changed his stripes – moderated his previous bellicosity and vows to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza now that he occupies the defence ministry.

But then what explains the clear crackdown? It’s not as if the consequences of the blockade are a big mystery. Israel’s “security establishment” itself is reportedly concerned about “instability” in Gaza, citing a growing crisis for Hamas, and staggering levels of poverty.

One Palestinian Authority spokesperson believes that Lieberman, in rescinding the 12 officials’ Gaza exit permits, is implementing his stated policy of disconnecting Israeli communication with institutions under Mahmoud Abbas, “and creating direct communication with Palestinian residents”.

Amira Hass, writing this week on the denial of exit permits for Palestinians in Gaza, noted with withering sarcasm how the Shin Bet “wants me to be persuaded that a female banker has turned dangerous and a teen with cancer, who has been treated in Israel since childhood and currently needs a jaw transplant in Haifa, has become dangerous.”

The Shin Bet knows “it’s all nonsense”, wrote Hass. But what’s behind it all? “We don’t need to wait for the archives to be opened to answer our initial question,” she said. “The Shin Bet and those in charge of it are interested in another terrible round of blood-letting – because the Gaza Strip isn’t obeying its orders and insists on remaining part of Palestinian society and geography.”

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  • wuffwuffwuff

    It’s simple. Hamas is funding terrorism, and smuggling money.

    You’re welcome

    A better question is “why aren’t the Palestinians interested in peace? why did Abbas refuse to meet with Netanyahu?”

    • Dipak Rajgor

      Because there is NO peace to talk about. The recent Wikileaks e-mails regarding Hillary Clinton show quite clearly how their agenda is to talk peace for the sake of it. There is NO good intention and the Palestinians know it.

      • Mike Abramov

        Dipak – did you want to see a divided India in 1947? Where there is dialogue, there is hope.

        • Dipak Rajgor

          India was about partition. A decision made by the people of the land. Israel this about taking over other peoples land by deceit and violence. Israel has prooved time and time again that it has no intention of giving Palestinians just rights. The “peace” talks, as we all know, are a total facade. What is there to talk about? The only way this will be resolved is when the US and Europe say to Israel, “the game is over”
          and thus get them to live in the real world and observe international laws.

          • Mike Abramov

            Dipak – I must disagree with you. From outset, the issue here was the Jewish homeland and not the way Palestinians are treated. Israel was formed by UN resolution. 6 Arab countries disagreed and invaded in 1948. Had they not invaded there would not have been the the Palestinian refugee problem. Had the Arab countries won that war, hpwever Palestine would still not exist because Southern Israel would have become Northern Egypt and Northern Israel would have become Southern Syria.

            Arabs governing Arabs does not seem to be a problem. Jews governing Arabs does seem to be a problem.

            I put it to you that Mohammed Ali Gina went against everything Mahatma Gandhi and turned the Punjab in to racially divided country. Wrong.

          • Dipak Rajgor

            Hello Mike,
            Forget Jinnah (not Gina) I have a lot of interesting views on this subject but it is totally irrelavant. In any case i am a British by birth and have no interest or connection with India or its politics. Jewish homeland was established via deceit and extreme violence. Google past Zionist and Jewish terorism please. You will see from here how Zionist and Jewish terrorism had commenced well before 1948, against the indiginous people of histotric Palestine AND the British. The War was only instigated by the Arabs because they were witnessing the total domination by the Jewish immegrants from all across Europe. Their argumeny was very sumple. Why should the Palestinians have to give up their land to the persecuted and homeless Jews when their predicament had nothing to do with them. No people on earth would give up their land in similar circumstances. It beggars beleif that the Jews cannot see this simple logic!! The Arabs could not possibly win the war as Jewish fighters who fought in the second world war were well trained and had the benefit of a hugh stockpile of weapons conviently left behind by the dishonourable British after the disgraceful withdrawal from Palestine. In addition the Americans not only supplied state of the art weapons to the Jews but also enabled the setting up of arms production in Jewish populated areas. The deceipt was via Jewish infulence over the British government (The Balfour Declaration) and America using pretty heavy arm banding in the UN to get the resolution passed on establishing the STATE OF ISRAEL ie. NOT a Jewish state. This and the Balfour declaration clearly granted Palestinians many rights, and acknowledged by Ben Gurion, none of which were honoured. Yes Jews governing Arabs is a big problem because the way the Jews lied, deceived and used extreme violence to obtain total control over the Palestinians.

  • ILIVETHERE

    And to think, all this blockade could have been (and still could be) avoided if the government of Gaza ended its policies of war and genocide against the Israelis!

  • Mike Abramov

    My learned colleagues ILIVETHERE and wudffwuffwuff have hit the nail on the head. Does Mr. White really believe lifting the restrictions on building materials will result in the creation of more homes? If he does, he is even more naiive than I originally thought.

    Hamas is the Arabic word for resistance. Maybe they have a word in Arabic for dialogue and co-existance?

    • Helen4Yemen

      Why can’t the European Ashkenazi coexist with his own European peoples?