The Myth of the Siege of Gaza

No. 577      May-June 2010

  • Since 2007, Israel has maintained a legal maritime blockade around Gaza whose purpose is to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while letting food and other humanitarian aid in. Yet there have been a wide variety of officials and commentators who insist that Gaza is starving, setting the stage for the repeated efforts of “humanitarian” ships to break the Gaza blockade.
  • Gaza is not cut off from the outside world. In the last year, the markets of Gaza have been flooded with produce and merchandise. In fact, in 2009, a total of 30,576 truckloads of humanitarian commodities passed from Israel into Gaza. From June 2007 (the date of the Hamas military takeover of Gaza), overall monetary transfers to Gaza have totaled over $5 billion from governmental and extragovernmental sources. The governor of the Central Bank of the Palestinian Authority, Jihad al-Wazir, confirmed that 56 percent of the PA budget is designated for Gaza. Gaza receives additional aid funds directly from Iran and the Arab countries.
  • There is also an established economic system of Palestinian imports from Egypt via hundreds of tunnels operating under the control of a Hamas government that grants approval for operating them and collects taxes from their owners. The tunnel network has increased imports from Egypt to Gaza from $30 million annually during the years 1994-2006 to more than $650 million annually. Given the abundance of supply, the price of diesel fuel and gasoline, delivered to Gaza through pipes from Egypt, is half that of the price in Israel.
  • Farid Zakout, director of the Gaza Construction Association, told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam that the price of a ton of cement now stands at NIS 800 as opposed to NIS 1,200 two months ago, and over NIS 3,000 more than a year ago. Cement prices fell after some 80 percent of tunnel owners began to import cement. The renewed surge in construction activity has fostered a rise of 25 percent in the number of those employed in the industry.

Since 2007, Israel has maintained a legal maritime blockade around Gaza whose purpose is to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while letting food and other humanitarian aid in. Yet there have been a wide variety of officials and commentators who insist that Gaza is starving, setting the stage for the repeated efforts of “humanitarian” ships to break the Gaza blockade.

For example, John Ging, the director of operations for UNRWA, told the New York Times in early 2009 that Israel’s blockade was choking off basic humanitarian supplies like medicine, clothing and blankets, as well as food supplies.1 The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory released a report in August 2009 arguing that “the blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.l5 million people.”2 The same report asserted that 75 percent of Gaza’s population is “food insecure.” Recently, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) told Don Imus on the Fox Business Channel that Israel was “preventing food and medicine from going into Gaza.” He said there are “people that are starving,” and closed with a vile suggestion that the situation of the Gazans was “almost like in concentration camps.”3

Are the Gates of Gaza Closed?

The truth is far different from these assessments. Indeed, the repeated claims of a hermetic blockade of Gaza are inconsistent with the figures that emerge from Israeli and Palestinian sources alike. Gaza under Hamas control continues to receive supplies of goods via the border crossings with Israel and the network of tunnels with Egypt, which have become an established import channel on a scale of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

The ongoing imports via the tunnel network provide employment to thousands of Palestinians and fill the coffers of the Hamas government through taxes on the operation of the tunnels and the goods that pass through them.

The Hamas government also enjoys funding from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and from the European Union, in addition to aid from the Arab states.

Gaza’s gates are open for exit and entry by Palestinian residents, subject to approval by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities and in coordination with them. According to Palestinian figures, Israel and Egypt have approved more than 98 percent of Palestinian requests for medical treatment in their respective countries.

The tunnel network is also used by Hamas for military purposes, among them sending fighters for training in Iran and Syria, and for the import of advanced weapons systems (antiaircraft and antitank missiles), explosives, and ammunition.

Terminating the Connection between Israel and Gaza

In August 2005 Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza and withdrew all of its forces and civilians to its own territory. The Disengagement Plan transferred full responsibility for administering Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, without any Israel presence, military or civil. Israel reserved the right of freedom of action to abort terror activities from Gaza.

The Disengagement Plan, whose major objective was to create “a better security reality,” stated that “Israel will supervise and secure the outer envelope of the geographical land mass, will exclusively control the airspace of Gaza, and will continue to carry out military operations in the territorial waters of Gaza,” and that “Israel retains the basic right to self-defense, including preemptive steps and response, with the use of force, against threats emanating from Gaza.”4

Several months after the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed two agreements – the “Agreement on Movement and Access” and “Agreed Principles for the Rafah Crossing” – which regulated movement and access to and from Gaza. In these agreements, Israel, for the first time since 1967, relinquished its full control of Gaza’s outer envelope. According to these agreements, responsibility for the Rafah crossing was transferred to Egypt and the Palestinian Authority under the supervision of a Special Force of the European Union, and Israel agreed to the construction of seaports and an airfield in Gaza based on the model of international supervision at the Rafah crossing.5 The agreement, which was provisional for twelve months, was not renewed after it expired due to the refusal of the Hamas government to act in accordance with the agreement and its demand that the Rafah crossing be administered like a regular international crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.

After the military takeover of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved a resolution on September 19, 2007, stating that “Hamas is a terrorist organization which took over Gaza and turned it into hostile territory. The organization takes hostile action against the State of Israel and its citizens and is the agent responsible for this activity.” In addition, the Security Cabinet approved the request of Defense Minister Ehud Barak for the option of imposing economic sanctions – including the reduction of fuel and of electricity, in accordance with legal counsel that would meet the conditions of the international community. Furthermore, restrictions were authorized on the transfer of goods as well as the movement of people to and from Gaza.6

Human Rights Organizations: Israel Still the “Occupying Power” after Gaza Disengagement

International and Israeli human rights organizations believe that the disengagement did not change Israel’s status as an “occupying power” in Gaza. In a communiqué published on November 14, 2008, eight human rights organizations in Israel claimed: “Even after the ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005, Israel continues to hold significant control over the major aspects of the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza.”7 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also shared this view, which was confirmed in the Goldstone Commission Report that investigated Israel’s Gaza operation (Operation Cast Lead – December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009).8

Human rights organizations and the Goldstone Commission were very clear in their unequivocal declaration that Israel is still considered “an occupying power” in Gaza even after the disengagement, according to their interpretation of international law. Their demands on Israel focus on Israel fulfilling its obligations as these bodies interpret them, namely, to be responsible for the welfare of the residents of Gaza by removing the blockade and strengthening economic ties between Israel and Gaza.9

The Egyptian Position on the Disengagement

In an official communiqué on December 19, 2008, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki explained Egyptian policy toward Gaza:

        The unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the Gaza Strip does not mean that Gaza has been liberated from occupation, since the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem together constitute one geographical unity that cannot be discussed in parts; otherwise this will be considered a death blow to their unity.

According to international law and the Geneva Convention, Israel is considered an occupying force and is still obligated to provide for the basic necessities of life, among them electricity, water, fuel, and medicine to the residents living in the territory under its occupation.

Any agreement with the contention that the Gaza Strip is liberated land demonstrates acquiescence with the plan that aspires to impose the responsibility for administering the Gaza Strip on the neighbor close to it, which is Egypt. We must not agree to this because it will be an excellent extrication for Israel from the straits of occupation, while transferring its consequences to Egypt, and this will lead to the eradication of the Palestinian problem.10

Thus, there are two dimensions to the Egyptian position: not letting Israel off the hook and not making Cairo responsible for Gaza in the future.

Moreover, Egypt has made a direct connection between the operation of the Rafah crossing and the Hamas government’s position on the issue of reconciliation talks with Fatah and with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. Through the reconciliation talks that were held with Egyptian pressure and mediation, Cairo has strived and continues to strive to convince the Hamas government to operate the Rafah crossing according to the Crossings Agreement of 2005, which was in effect for one year only as agreed upon by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. On the eve of reconciliation talks in October 2009, senior defense officials in Egypt threatened Hamas that they would totally shut down the Rafah crossing if the Hamas government refused to sign the reconciliation agreement.11

The Economic Situation in Gaza: Facts and Figures

Is the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza causing consequences as dire as those described by the human rights organizations? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in testimony before Congress on April 22, 2009, that the situation in Gaza is different from how it has been described. In response to a question by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Clinton said: “Congressman, the crossings are no longer completely closed. There are many items that are being transported through the crossings….We have looked at the lists and a lot of what has been said was not permitted to cross [into Gaza] is just not accurate.”12

A survey by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories presents the scope of connections between Israel and Gaza in 2009:13

  • Health: 10,544 patients and their companions left Gaza in 2009 for medical treatment in Israel. 4,883 tons of medical equipment and medicines entered Gaza that year in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and international agencies. Israel helped the Palestinian Authority stem the spread of avian (bird) flu in Gaza; 44,500 doses of vaccine were sent to Gaza through the World Health Organization, and three patients left Gaza for medical care in Israel. In addition, two elevators were transferred to hospitals in Gaza, as well as mammogram equipment for breast cancer detection and a computerized CT system.
  • Electricity: Israel continued to supply electricity to Gaza from its power plant in Ashkelon. In addition, 41 truckloads of equipment were transferred for the maintenance of the electrical system in Gaza. Between April and October 2009, Siemens carried out maintenance work on the power system in Gaza, to which more than 100 million liters of diesel fuel were delivered for its operation.
  • Communications: 45 truckloads of communication equipment were sent to Gaza at the request of the Palestinian Authority.
  • Water and sewage: 95 truckloads of equipment for water and sewage systems, as well as 3,720 tons of chloride for water purification, were transferred during 2009. Israel assisted the North Gaza Wastewater Treatment Plant Project by transferring 48 truckloads of equipment for the project.
  • The private sector: 77 percent of the contents of trucks sent into Gaza in 2009 were for the private sector. 257 Palestinian businessmen exited Gaza to Israel, the West Bank, and abroad. 10,871 head of cattle were transferred to Gaza, mainly for the Ramadan and Eid al-Adha holidays. In preparation for winter, 3,607 tons of glass for windows was transferred to Gaza.
  • Money: Over NIS 1.1 billion (approximately $300 million) was transferred to Gaza in 2009 to fund salaries and the activities of international organizations. In addition, NIS 40 million (approximately $10 million) in worn banknotes were replaced. In February 2010, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement on the transfer of social security payments and pensions to beneficiaries in Gaza who have worked in Israel. The money is to be transferred to Palestinian banks in the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority can then deliver the money to beneficiaries in Gaza.
  • Humanitarian aid: 141,390 tons of humanitarian aid were transferred by the international community through Israel, including 115,043 tons of food and 2,990 tons of medicines and medical equipment.
  • Entry of international organizations: 21,200 foreign staff members and over 400 diplomatic delegations entered Gaza in 2009.
  • UNRWA: 3,282,000 liters of fuel and diesel were transferred for use by UNRWA. In addition, special equipment for summer camps, including swimming pools, ice cream machines, musical instruments, and sports equipment were transferred to UNRWA.
  • Agricultural export: The export of flowers and strawberries was approved as part of a joint project with the government of the Netherlands. Since the beginning of the project, more than 7 million flowers and 54 tons of strawberries were exported.
  • Leaving Gaza: As noted, 10,544 patients (and their companions) exited Gaza. 147 students exited Gaza for academic studies abroad, in response to requests made by the international community. 374 Christians exited Gaza to spend Christmas in Israel and Bethlehem, while 100 Christians exited Gaza to participate in the pope’s visit to the Holy Land in May 2009. 17 representatives exited Gaza to participate in the Fatah General Convention in Bethlehem, and approval was given for players on the Palestinian soccer team to leave Gaza for training and friendship games in the West Bank and abroad.

According to the report of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a total of 30,576 truckloads of humanitarian commodities passed from Israel to Gaza in 2009. In addition, the Crossings and Border Authority of Hamas also published a report detailing the traffic through the border crossings for 2009, showing that 63,480 people passed through the Rafah crossing to and from Egypt during the year.14

The Flow of Funds to Gaza under the Hamas Government

The governor of the Central Bank of the Palestinian Authority, Jihad al-Wazir, reported that since June 2007 (the date of the Hamas military takeover of Gaza), overall monetary transfers to Gaza have totaled over $5 billion from governmental and extragovernmental sources.15 He was referring to the funds sent to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza, international organizations operating in Gaza such as UNRWA, and foreign communication networks that operate in the Strip. Al-Wazir confirmed that 56 percent of the PA budget is designated for Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas told the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan on December 31, 2009, that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah transfers 58 percent of its budget to the Hamas government to pay its expenses for electricity and water, while the Hamas government collects taxes from the residents for the services that it receives for free. He stated that the import tunnels under the Gaza border provide all the consumer goods required in Gaza, except for iron and cement.16

Gaza receives additional aid funds directly from Iran and the Arab countries. The Hamas government’s health minister, Bassam Naim, reported on March 21, 2010, that the Hamas government received a grant of $40 million from the Islamic Development Bank and the Qatar Red Crescent Society to purchase equipment for the hospitals in Gaza.17

In addition, the Hamas government also benefits from aid that is given on the purchase of goods and services for Gaza. Until November 20, 2009, the European Union paid the cost of industrial diesel fuel to operate Gaza’s power plant, an amount estimated at NIS 50 million per month (over $13 million), for a total exceeding $156 million per year.18

The Hamas government also receives funds to cover the cost of electricity that is supplied by Israel.19

Smuggling Tunnels or Import Routes from Egypt?

“Smuggling” is not the correct word to describe the network of tunnels along Gaza’s border with Egypt. Whereas smuggling connotes illegal activity carried out clandestinely, the Palestinian tunnel network is out in the open and extends the whole length of the border.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) published an abstract in May 2009 of an investigative article that appeared on the Al Arabiya network which presents the method of operation of the tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. The following are the main points as described on the ITIC website:

      The reporter for the Al Arabiya network, Waal Issam, toured Egyptian Rafah, in the market where goods sent to Gaza through the tunnels are sold. The report said that the market is the major source of the fuel supply to Gaza. Some 10,000 people work in the “tunnel industry” on a daily basis. The value of the trade via the tunnels is estimated at approximately $200 million annually. Along the border, which is some 13 kilometers long, nearly 800 tunnels have been excavated. According to the report, most of the tunnels that were attacked during Operation Cast Lead have been reconstructed. The smugglers who were interviewed claimed that a tunnel can be built nowadays in 10-15 days. One of the smugglers reported that the tunnels end in buildings, groves, chicken coops, etc.20

According to a report by Palestinian researcher Ghazi al-Surani from December 2008, the tunnel network has brought about an increase in imports from Egypt to Gaza from $30 million annually during the years 1994-2006 to more than $650 million annually.21 Ziad Jarghoun reported in a study of the Gaza tunnels that in December 2008, the Rafah municipality and the security forces stopped the excavation of new tunnels because there were too many. In addition, he said the price of diesel fuel and gasoline, delivered to Gaza through pipes from Egypt, is half that of the price in Israel.22

The Palestinian tunnels also serve as a pipeline for the import of cement and iron – items barred from entering Gaza via Israel. On February 11, 2010, the Palestinian news agency qudsnet.com reported a drop in the price of cement imported via the tunnels. The lower price stems from an increase in the import of cement via the tunnels. One tunnel owner said he is capable of transferring more than 60 tons of cement a day, but that most tunnel owners are no longer bringing in cement, preferring to concentrate on importing iron. Issam Sha’ath, owner of Sha’ath Construction Equipment, explained that cement prices fell after some 80 percent of tunnel owners began to import cement, as compared to 30 percent in the past.23

In February 2010, the Palestinian media reported a drop in the price of construction materials in recent months along with a rise in activity in the building industry. Farid Zakout, director of the Gaza Construction Association, said in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam that tunnel owners in Rafah on the Egyptian border have been cutting back on the transfer of consumer goods in light of the volume of merchandise flooding the markets in Gaza, and are looking instead to increase the import of cement and iron. This trend has led, in his view, to a drop in the price of both these items on the local markets. He added that close to one-third of activity in the construction industry – including the manufacture of cinder blocks, floor tiles, and cement – has returned to normal levels during the past two months. Zakout noted further that the price of a ton of cement now stands at NIS 800 as opposed to NIS 1,200 two months ago, and over NIS 3,000 more than a year ago. The renewed surge in construction activity has fostered a rise of 25 percent in the number of those employed in the industry.24

The rise in imports from Egypt via the Rafah tunnels has led to a situation where a number of tunnels have been closed due to the flooding of the Gaza market with imported goods. “Abu Ahmed,” who operates a tunnel on the Egyptian border, stated in this vein that tunnel owners are now trying to sell them at low cost since the income from operating them has plummeted from $7,000 per ton of merchandise to only $100. Moreover, he added, the number of tunnels in operation has plunged to just 200 from a peak of 1,200, with the total number of workers in the tunnels declining greatly from 12,000 to only 1,000.25

The Christian Science Monitor, relying on conversations with businessmen in Gaza, reports that the Hamas government is benefiting financially from the “blockade” by virtue of its control of the tunnels on the Egyptian border, through a 14.5 percent value-added tax on goods that pass through the tunnels (with an even higher levy on cigarettes), as well as money changing activities and tax revenues. The vast sums of money flowing into Hamas’ treasury are being used for the purchase of land and buildings throughout Gaza.26 In testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on February 25, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked: “Much of the material that gets in to Gaza, which still comes through the tunnels – through smuggling – actually is taxed by Hamas, which then provides Hamas with the money that they use to buy arms and other material that is used against Israel.”27

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on October 10, 2009, Bassem Khoury, minister of national economy for the Palestinian Authority, offered this description:

The shelves of the stores are full, and you can find anything you want if you can pay the price. The cost of real estate has tripled as a result of the tunnel economy. Hamas is benefiting from the situation, since the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is continuing to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and this is half of our budget. Then these employees buy goods that come in by way of the tunnels, on which Hamas gets paid a tax. The result: the Palestinian Authority’s economy is cut off from the VAT revenues that were previously collected [by Israel] for goods imported into Gaza, while Hamas doesn’t know what to do with its money.

Khoury emphasized that “taxpayers in Europe should know that as a result of this system their money ends up in Hamas’ pocket.” He questioned the desire of both Israel and Egypt to combat the smuggling, arguing that everything is done to maintain a status quo of sorts, so long as Hamas is not too strong militarily.28

Similar stories could be found elsewhere in the reports of Western newsmen who actually visited Gaza. Thus, on June 3, 2010, Janine Zacharia of the Washington Post wrote: “If you walk down Gaza City’s main thoroughfare – Salah al-Din Street – grocery stores are stocked wall-too-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa  Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States.”29 The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency also stated on February 19, 2010, that “Gaza markets are saturated with goods.”30

From these accounts, which are corroborated by a wealth of additional material from Palestinian sources on tunnel activity, there appears to be an established economic system of Palestinian imports from Egypt via hundreds of tunnels operating under the control of a Hamas government that grants approval for operating them and collects taxes from their owners. Claims that child labor is rampant in the tunnels are apparently unsubstantiated, however. Based on figures of the Palestinian human rights organization Al Mezan, as of November 2, 2009, 120 Palestinians have been killed in the tunnels and only four of them were under the age of 18.31

The tunnel network on the Gaza border also serves the operational needs of Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations, including those identified with al-Qaeda. The Israel Security Agency reported in December 2008 that the tunnel network is used for “smuggling in weapons, in particular standard-grade, high-quality weapons such as the Grad rockets that were fired at Ashkelon…; smuggling operatives out for training abroad, primarily in Syria and Iran; bringing in combat experts, trainers, and ‘engineers'; and bringing back to Gaza ‘graduates’ of military training, who have completed their instruction abroad.”32

The tunnel network also serves such criminal purposes as drug running33 and trafficking in young women. In an article published on December 28, 2009, in the Kuwaiti newspaper Awan, journalist Shima Yusuf reported on the phenomenon of “importing” minor girls from Egypt and selling them into prostitution in Gaza, supposedly for purposes of marriage or domestic work. A report by UNICEF confirmed the selling of young Egyptian girls from impoverished villages to wealthy older men in other Arab states.34

A Double Standard on Human Rights

The position of the human rights organizations, which paint an exaggerated picture of the effects of the siege, is marred by a double standard. On the one hand, they argue vehemently that Israel is still an occupying power and must therefore see to the “security and welfare of the residents of Gaza”; yet on the other hand, the welfare and security of Gaza’s residents have been severely harmed by the Hamas regime, with its gradual imposition of Islamic law while violently suppressing the opposition.

The human rights organizations demand that Israel act according to a higher moral standard than that required of other states. According to their logic, Israel is obligated to help an enemy entity that is attacking it. If this were true, the United States would have a duty to extend assistance to villages in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban fighters who are attacking coalition forces.

While these organizations insist that Israel open its borders to an enemy entity, these same groups refrain from presenting similar demands to Egypt, which borders Gaza but does not define the Hamas government as an enemy entity. Yet Egypt strenuously rejects the demand by Hamas and the Arab states to open its border with Gaza. Egypt’s use of restrictions on the passage of goods and people across the border is a form of leverage, intended to push Hamas into accepting Egypt’s terms for opening the border on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

*     *     *

Notes

1. Neil MacFarquhar, “UN’s Gaza Refugee Director Criticizes Israel and Hamas,” New York Times, February 6, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/middleeast/06nationsweb.html

2. “Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, August 2009.

3. “Ron Paul: U.S. Shouldn’t Support Israel’s Gaza Blockade,” Fox News, June 3, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF3w3fAOUWk

4. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFAHeb/MFAArchive/2004/The%20disengagement%20plan180404

5. http://reut-institute.org/he/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=1144

6. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3451070,00.html

7. http://www.btselem.org/Hebrew/Gaza_Strip/20061116_Gaza_Brief.asp

  • Israel continues to retain complete and exclusive control over the airspace and territorial water of Gaza.
  • Israel controls the population registry of Gaza and the West Bank; it prevents the movement of people between the two parts of Palestinian territory and prevents the reunification of families.
  • Israel controls traffic to and from Gaza, by dint of its total control over all the crossings between Gaza and Israel, and its ability to cause the closing of the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt whenever it wishes to do so.
  • Israeli military forces frequently take action deep inside Gaza.
  • Israel has almost absolute control over the import and export of goods to and from Gaza.
  • Israel has control of almost all aspects of the taxation system of Gaza.

8. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/docs/UNFFMGC_Report.pdf

Amnesty International calls the disengagement a “misrepresentation,” making the following arguments:

The removal of Israeli settlements has not released the Gaza Strip from Israel’s grip. Israeli forces remain in effective control of the Gaza Strip, controlling all points of entry and exit for people and goods, as well as Gaza’s territorial waters and airspace. Israel does not allow the Gaza Strip to have a seaport. It put the airport in Gaza out of use in 2001. It only allows goods to enter or leave Gaza via Israel. The Israeli authorities also declared that they have the right to enter Gaza militarily at any time; they did so within six months of the removal of settlements. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/093/2006/en/9dc8177a-d3cf-11dd-8743-d305bea2b2c7/mde150932006en.html

Human Rights Watch makes similar arguments: “Under international humanitarian law (IHL), Gaza remains occupied, and Israel retains its responsibilities for the welfare of Gaza residents. Israel maintains effective control over Gaza by regulating movement in and out of the Strip as well as the airspace, sea space, public utilities and population registry. In addition, Israel declared the right to re-enter Gaza militarily at any time.” http://www.hrw.org/en/world-report-2006/israeloccupied-palestinian-territories-opt

In a review in May 2010, Human Rights Watch states that “Occupying powers have a duty to ensure the security and well-being of the civilian population in areas under their control….These obligations also apply to specific Israeli forces wherever in Gaza they exercise effective control.” http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/iopt0510webwcover_0.pdf

9. The main accusation leveled at Israel in its policy toward Gaza focuses on the ramifications of the “blockade” of the Palestinian residents, their social and economic welfare, their health, and their movement to and from Gaza. A formal communiqué published by B’Tselem on December 27, 2009, described the situation of Gaza:

In June 2007, after Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel closed all the crossings between it and Gaza. The Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt, remains closed most of the time, in part due to indirect pressure by Israel and the United States on Egypt. Since then, Israel has almost totally forbidden the export of goods and has limited imports to what it classifies as “humanitarian goods.” The siege has led to economic collapse, isolating one and a half million Gazans from the outside world and reducing most of them to poverty and a life of unemployment, extremism and hopelessness. 80 percent of the population is now living under the poverty line; 1.1 million rely on aid from international organizations to survive. Some 20,000 Gazans are still homeless, their houses having been destroyed or severely damaged during Operation Cast Lead, and they are unable to rebuild them because Israel forbids building materials to enter Gaza, a prohibition that prevents the rehabilitation of the entire Strip. http://www.btselem.org/english/press_releases/20091227.asp

One year after Operation Cast Lead, B’Tselem is today launching a public campaign demanding that Israel lift its siege on Gaza. This is necessary in order to rehabilitate Gaza from the destruction wrought by the hostilities. As part of the campaign, the organization is releasing a new animated short film by Alon Simone. The film shows how goods that are forbidden entry into Gaza from Israel enter from Egypt through tunnels, a process that enriches Hamas, which collects taxes on the goods. Through the film, B’Tselem hopes to demonstrate the absurdity of the Israeli siege policy: while seeking to topple the Hamas government, Israel is gravely harming Gaza’s million and a half residents, and is achieving the opposite outcome.

A similar description appears in a survey published by Amnesty International in January 2010, entitled, “Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli Blockade”:

More than 1.4 million Palestinian men, women, and children are trapped in Gaza. Their daily lives – in an area of land just 40 kilometers long and 9.5 kilometers wide – are marked by power shortages, little or no running water of poor quality and deteriorating health care. Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, and food insecurity are both exacerbated and deepened by the impact of the Israeli blockade.

Since the blockade of Gaza was brought into force in June 2007, the five Israeli-controlled crossings between Gaza and Israel or the West Bank have been kept closed. The one other land crossing at Rafah, on the border between Gaza and Egypt, is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and kept shut most of the time. The closures prevent the movement of Palestinians into and out of Gaza in all but a handful of exceptional humanitarian cases.

The blockade prohibits exports and restricts the entry of basic goods, including food and fuel. Much of the available food is provided by the UN and other aid agencies, or smuggled in through tunnels running under the Egypt-Gaza border and then sold at exorbitantly high prices to Gaza’s beleaguered residents. The blockade also often prevents people from receiving necessary, urgent medical care, and from pursuing their livelihoods….The situation is made all the worse by the Egyptian government’s continued general closure of the Rafah crossing and, most recently, by its construction of a steel wall along the border at Rafah to disrupt the cross-border smuggling that has become Gaza’s lifeline. However, as the occupying power, it is Israel that bears the foremost responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/002/2010/en/c8e6742a-b52a-4c70-b641-986de2db878a/mde150022010en.pdf

Human Rights Watch believes that the ramifications of the blockade of Gaza are particularly severe. In a May 2010 survey, Human Rights Watch states that “Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, a measure that is depriving its population of food, fuel, and other necessities, constitutes a form of collective punishment in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/iopt0510webwcover_0.pdf

10. http://www.ahram.org.eg/Archive/2008/12/20/FRON1.HTM

At the end of 2009, Egypt began to build a steel fence along its border with Gaza. In light of criticism from the Hamas government, which demanded that the border with Egypt be opened officially and completely, Dr. Mufid Shihab, the Egyptian minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, explained his government’s policy to the People’s Council. After detailing the security justifications for building the steel fence – namely, to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists across the border – Shihab addressed the diplomatic aspects that are of supreme importance to the Egyptians. In his words:

Egypt wants to pull the rug out from under various Israeli excuses and allegations that the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons and other illegal substances and would like to focus the attention of the international community on important and significant facts that will serve the cause of the Palestinian people. Gaza is occupied territory and the unilateral disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip did not result in liberation of the sector from occupation, as some believe or think. That is because the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem are all one single geographic unit and cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion; that would be regarded as a death blow to their unity.      There is no doubt that Israel is striving with all its might to push the population of Gaza into the Sinai toward the eastern border of Egypt so as to be able to evade its legal obligations and international responsibilities for Gaza in accordance with the provisions of international law. As an occupation force, it bears the burden of care and administration of Gaza as well as the responsibility for the life and security of the areas under its occupation and for the people living there. If Israel succeeds in realizing its goals, it would not only be its salvation from the burden of Gaza and its people, but it also would eradicate the Palestinian cause from the roots. http://www6.mashy.com/newsroom/egypt/newslist/———368

The newspaper Al-Ahram quotes extensively from his statements on January 3, 2010, in which Shihab reveals the strategic and tactical considerations behind Egypt’s policy toward Gaza and Israel:

Gaza remains under occupation according to the Hague Convention of 1907, and has not been liberated [by the disengagement]. Israel controls everything on land, crossings and entry and exit traffic. However, those who are seeking to take revenge on their own country [allusion to Hamas], and turn a blind eye to the root of the problem of those who are in control of Gaza [Hamas] and refuse to reconcile with their compatriots [Fatah], they are the real cause [for the blockade]. Because the crossing points were all open even during the Hamas coup against the legitimate authority in July 2007. It is Hamas that is strangling the people of Gaza with the help of Israel. Yet Egypt has not been negligent in its role and has not stopped its aid through the Rafah crossing. The goods pile up in Gaza, both through the crossing and even through the tunnels, while Hamas has imposed taxes and customs duties on everything that is smuggled and takes the money for themselves.

Why hasn’t the Rafah crossing been opened throughout the period of the blockade of Gaza? What interest does Egypt have in keeping the crossing closed?

The answers are:

  • The Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority is the reason behind the closing of all border crossings, including the Rafah crossing.
  • Egypt has adhered to a formal decision not to open the crossing due to the absence of a legitimate governmental authority and out of its obligation to the agreement regulating the crossings from 2005, so as to preserve the unity of the Palestinian territories and to avoid giving Israel a pretext to evade its commitments to Gaza as an occupying power.
  • To put a stop to the Israeli ambitions and plans to separate between Gaza and the rest of the territory of Palestine – the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  • The Rafah crossing is for [the transfer of] people and not for goods.
  • Egypt is pressing for the continued opening of other crossings to Gaza controlled by Israel with which Egypt has no connection, namely: Karam Abu Salem [Kerem Shalom], Kissufim and Erez, Sufa and Karni and Nahal Oz.
  • [Egyptian] aid through the Rafah crossing never stopped, and it provides all facilitation for the relief convoys, which scrupulously abide by the mechanisms and methods determined by Egypt.
  • The goal of the steps taken by Egypt is to ensure our own interests and those of our citizens against dangers, but clearly and necessarily against the interests of Israel, which wishes to push [out] the people of Gaza and to settle them in the Sinai so that they will become refugees like the others who are scattered in a number of Arab countries, and thus the [Palestinian] problem will be ended forever. http://www.ahram.org.eg/33/2010/01/02/25/1893.aspx

11. http://dostor.org/ar/index.php?option=com_contenttask=viewid=34665Itemid=34, Al-Dustur (Jordan), October 11, 2009.

12. http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/111/48841.pdf

13. http://www.mfa.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/EDF74042-0151-4DDD-88E3-64C4F19A3B10/0/GazaHumanitarianAssist2009.pps http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Communiques/2010/Increased_humanitarian_aid_Gaza_after_IDF_operation_Jan_2009

14. The Kerem Shalom crossing: During 2009, 15,531 truckloads entered for the private sector and 3,033 truckloads of aid.

The Erez crossing (Beit Hanun): This crossing was opened continuously by Israel for the movement of people, including the sick, UNRWA officials, and visitors, the entry of prisoners released by Israel, and foreign delegations. 10,500 people exited Gaza and 10,800 entered (total traffic: 21,300). 5,300 patients exited for medical treatment in Israel and 5,055 returned. 710 left to work and 910 returned. 854 exited for studies and 580 returned. 300 exited for the purpose of interviews and 366 returned. Among Israeli Arabs who entered Gaza to visit, 302 entered and 309 exited, and for other purposes, 66 exited and 87 entered. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=28

Omar a-Nassar, director of public relations for the Hamas government’s Ministry of Health, reported (January 31, 2010) that in 2009, 11,608 patients were sent to receive medical treatment outside the Health Ministry services in Gaza. He claimed that Israel refused to grant entry to 150 patients that year. http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=258027&MARK=%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B6

The Palestinian Ministry of Health published figures (December 15, 2009) on the number of Palestinian patients who left Gaza for treatment during the period August-November 2009. According to these figures, 3,532 patients were sent for medical treatment, 1,067 to hospitals in Jerusalem, 588 to hospitals elsewhere in Israel, 543 to hospitals in Egypt, 214 to hospitals in Jordan, 584 to hospitals in the West Bank, and 536 were referred for treatment in hospitals in Gaza. The overall cost of medical treatment was NIS 30 million. http://www1.wafa.ps/arabic/index.php?action=detail&id=58807

Regarding the operation of the crossings at Kerem Shalom and Erez, the reports published by the Hamas government’s Crossings and Border Authority show that:

May 3, 2010

Erez crossing: 171 people left Gaza for Israel, 140 of whom were Gaza residents, 22 foreign residents, and 9 Israeli Arabs. 49 exited for medical treatment, 51 as companions of patients, 19 for work, 2 for personal visits, 7 for meetings, 3 for business, 8 for interviews, and 1 for an extended stay in Israel. 124 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 82 were Gaza residents, 32 foreign residents, and 10 Israeli Arabs. 30 returned from medical treatment, 31 as companions of patients, 6 for work, 3 for personal visits, 2 for meetings, 1 for business, and 1 for studies. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=73

Kerem Shalom crossing: 133 trucks entered, including 21 carrying humanitarian aid from international organizations, 17 truckloads of sugar and engineering equipment for UNRWA, and 4 sent by the United Nations World Food Program. 94 trucks were carrying fruit, milk products, frozen foods, clothes, shoes, water coolers, generators, water pipes, sugar, tehina, olives, nylon, glass, devices against agricultural pests, and cleaning materials. 18 trucks carried fuel, of which 8 transferred 312,384 liters of industrial diesel fuel to the power plant in Gaza and 10 trucks delivered 194,700 tons of cooking gas. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=72

May 2, 2010

Erez crossing: 220 people left Gaza for Israel, 140 of whom were Gaza residents, 64 foreign residents, and 16 Israeli Arabs. 40 exited for medical treatment, 49 as companions of patients, 7 for personal visits, 25 for work, 7 for meetings, 4 for business, 5 for other purposes. 119 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 85 were Gaza residents, 26 foreign residents, and 8 Israeli Arabs. 33 returned from medical treatment, 33 as companions of patients, 7 for work, 4 for personal visits, 1 due to a death, 1 for business, and 6 for other purposes. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=65

Kerem Shalom crossing: 133 trucks entered, including 6 carrying humanitarian aid from international organizations, 3 truckloads of sugar and engineering equipment for UNRWA, and 3 sent by the United Nations World Food Program. The trucks were carrying fruit, milk products, frozen foods, clothes, shoes, water coolers, generators, water pipes, sugar, tehina, olives, nylon, glass, devices against agricultural pests, and cleaning materials. In addition, approximately 477,000 liters of industrial diesel fuel were delivered to the power plant in Gaza and 10 trucks delivered 195,000 tons of cooking gas. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=66

April 30, 2010

30 people left Gaza for Israel, 15 of whom were Gaza residents, 13 foreign residents, and 2 Israeli Arabs. 4 exited for medical treatment, 4 as companions of patients, 5 for work, 1 for a personal visit, and 1 for an extended stay (in Israel or the West Bank). 68 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 46 were Gaza residents, 9 foreign residents, and 13 Israeli Arabs. 17 returned from medical treatment, 15 as companions of patients, 11 for work, 1 for a personal visit, 1 for business, and 1 due to a death. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=59

April 29, 2010

Erez crossing: 174 people left Gaza for Israel, 68 of whom were Gaza residents, 97 foreign residents, and 9 Israeli Arabs. 26 exited for medical treatment, 29 as companions of patients, 6 for work, 3 for personal visits, 3 for interviews, and 2 for business. 176 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 128 were Gaza residents, 42 foreign residents, and 6 Israeli Arabs. 47 returned from medical treatment, 48 as companions of patients, 15 for work, 4 for personal visits, 3 for meetings, 7 for business, 1 for an interview, and 3 prisoners who were released. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=59

Kerem Shalom crossing: 151 trucks entered, including 19 carrying humanitarian aid from international organizations, 17 truckloads of sugar and engineering equipment for UNRWA, and 2 sent by the United Nations World Food Program. 115 trucks were carrying fruit, milk products, frozen foods, clothes, shoes, water coolers, generators, water pipes, sugar, tehina, olives, nylon, glass, devices against agricultural pests, and cleaning materials. In addition, 17 trucks were carrying fuels. 9 trucks delivered 362,044 liters of industrial diesel fuel to the power plant in Gaza and 8 trucks delivered 174,200 tons of cooking gas. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=60

April 28, 2010

Erez crossing: 133 people left Gaza for Israel, 81 of whom were Gaza residents, 43 foreign residents, and 9 Israeli Arabs. 30 exited for medical treatment, 30 as companions of patients, 14 for work, 3 for interviews, and 3 for extended stay (in Israel or the West Bank). 135 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 78 were Gaza residents, 46 foreign residents, and 11 Israeli Arabs. 29 returned from medical treatment, 26 as companions of patients, 14 for work, 3 for personal visits, 3 for business, and 3 for interviews. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=59

Kerem Shalom crossing: 148 trucks entered, including 15 carrying humanitarian aid from international organizations, 13 truckloads of sugar and engineering equipment for UNRWA, 1 truck sent by the Anera relief organization, and 1 sent by the Islamic Relief Worldwide organization. 116 trucks were carrying fruit, milk products, frozen foods, clothes, shoes, water coolers, generators, water pipes, sugar, tehina, olives, nylon, glass, devices against agricultural pests, and cleaning materials. In addition, 17 trucks were carrying fuels. 7 trucks delivered 307,415 liters of industrial diesel fuel to the power plant in Gaza and 10 trucks delivered 199,020 tons of cooking gas. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=60

April 27, 2010

Erez crossing: 179 people left Gaza for Israel, 130 of whom were Gaza residents, 48 foreign residents, and 1 Israeli Arab. 47 exited for medical treatment, 47 as companions of patients, 17 for work, 3 for personal visits, 2 for meetings, and 3 for extended stay (in Israel or the West Bank), 5 for business, and 6 for interviews. 164 people entered Gaza from Israel, of whom 97 were Gaza residents, 60 foreign residents, and 7 Israeli Arabs. 40 returned from medical treatment, 32 as companions of patients, 6 for work, 2 for personal visits, 1 due to a death, 4 for business, 5 for interviews, and 7 prisoners who were released. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=59

Kerem Shalom crossing: 115 trucks entered, including 12 carrying humanitarian aid from international organizations, 9 truckloads of sugar and engineering equipment for UNRWA, 2 sent by the United Nations World Food Program, and 1 sent by the Islamic Relief Worldwide organization. 90 trucks were carrying fruit, milk products, frozen foods, clothes, shoes, water coolers, generators, water pipes, sugar, tehina, olives, nylon, glass, devices against agricultural pests, and cleaning materials. In addition, 13 trucks were carrying fuels. 5 trucks delivered 218,401 liters of industrial diesel fuel to the power plant in Gaza and 8 trucks delivered 175,100 tons of cooking gas. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=60

Another report by the Crossings and Border Authority of the Hamas government details the traffic through the Rafah crossing in 2009, as itemized below: http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=28 http://www.pmo.gov.ps/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=310:2010-01-03-07-49-11 &catid=25:news&Itemid=67

From January 1, 2009, to February 5, 2009, the Rafah crossing was opened to the passage of the wounded during the period of Operation Cast Lead.

From January 1, 2009, to February 4, 2009, aid was transferred from the Egyptian side that included foodstuffs, prefabricated rooms (apparently caravans), medications and medical equipment, ambulances, and oxygen tanks.

From January 1, 2009, to March 15, 2009, the crossing was opened to traffic by medical delegations, journalists, parliamentary delegations, municipal leaders, solidarity missions, and humanitarian aid delegations.

On March 9, 2010, the first Orek Ha-Hayim delegation arrived accompanied by a convoy of aid trucks from Libya.

On May 28, 2009, a delegation of Al-Amal arrived.

On July 15, 2009, the second Orek Ha-Hayim delegation arrived.

On November 11, 2009, the Miles of Smiles delegation arrived.

On December 30, 2009, part of the Freedom Convoy arrived in Gaza.

According to the records of the Hamas government, the Rafah crossing was opened officially by Egyptian authorities 12 times in 2009 – of these, 7 times for 23 days – to allow the residents to exit. 31,431 Palestinian residents of Gaza left through the Rafah crossing and 32,049 entered (total – 63,480). These figures include those who went on pilgrimage to Mecca. It should be noted that the Rafah crossing was opened frequently – more than the 7 official times – for the exit and entry of Hamas government officials, the entry of international delegations, the return of patients from medical treatment abroad, and so on.

A breakdown by month of the passage of people to and from Gaza through the Rafah crossing in 2009 was as follows:

January (the period of Operation Cast Lead) – 3,247; February – 3,589; March – 3,500; April – 3,360; May – 3,385; June – 5,644; July – 1,305; August – 11,910 (including 6,630 on pilgrimage to Mecca); September – 7,812; October – 1,767; November – 8,606 plus 2,191 on pilgrimage to Mecca (“‘Umrah”); December – 6,706. http://www.maannews.net/ARB/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=251183

Following are figures on the passage of people to and from Gaza through the Rafah crossing between 2006-2008:

  • January-June (until the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit) – 38,805 people.
  • July 2006-June 2007 (until the Hamas military takeover of Gaza) – 142,000 people (75,000 exited and 67,000 entered).
  • July 2007-June 2008 (until the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect) – 5,537 people.
  • July 2008-June 2009 – 31,900 people.
  • Total for 2009 – 63,480 people. http://www.maannews.net/ARB/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=251183

The Government Committee to Break the Blockade, which operates in the name of the Hamas government, reported on January 24, 2010, that during Operation Cast Lead, dozens of international and Arab delegations came to Gaza to deliver food and medical aid. After the military operation, the committee reported, solidarity delegations came to Gaza from the following countries: Britain, Scotland, Greece, Turkey, France, Spain, Malaysia, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Medical aid delegations arrived from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Italy, Greece, Scotland, Spain, and Britain. Five convoys that came to Gaza in 2009 brought truckloads of medical equipment and food and entered with 721 foreign and Arab activists. Some of the aid delegations set up field hospitals in various places throughout Gaza. http://www.pmo.gov.ps/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=351:2010-02-15-11-21-28 &catid=49:2009-04-22-11-37-41&Itemid=60

The exiting of Gaza is regulated by coordination between the Hamas authorities and the Egyptian government. Gaza residents who apply to leave Gaza are registered at the Interior Ministry of the Hamas government and wait for approval by the Egyptian authorities and for coordination of their passage across the border, which Egypt consistently defines as “an unofficial opening” of the Rafah border crossing. There is no discrepancy between the number of Gaza residents who apply to exit and the number who actually do exit.

For example, on January 3, 2010, the spokesman for the Hamas government’s Interior Ministry, Ihab al-Ghussein, reported that the number of Palestinians who had applied to the ministry to leave Gaza was 6,000, of whom 600 were patients. http://www.pmo.gov.ps/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=310:2010-01-03-07-49-11 &catid=25:news&Itemid=67. The Crossings and Border Authority of the Hamas government reported that on January 3, 2010, the Rafah crossing was opened for four consecutive days, during which 3,356 people exited Gaza (including students and patients) and 1,211 entered. On March 1, 2010, the Rafah crossing was opened for five consecutive days, during which 4,378 people exited Gaza (including students and patients) and 833 returned. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=36. In summary, in January 2010, 6,000 applications to exit Gaza were registered and within two months, 7,734 Palestinians exited Gaza. The delay in their departure stemmed exclusively and solely from considerations relating to Egypt’s policy. Israel, as stated, has no influence on the policy of opening the Rafah crossing, which connects Egypt and Gaza, nor on approving those who pass through, and Egypt does not ask for Israeli approval in this matter.

Even during the periods when the Rafah crossing was officially “closed,” according to the Hamas government’s version, it was opened for two days a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays so that Palestinians could return to Gaza, among them patients after medical treatment. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=84. As for routine activity in the Rafah crossing on the days on which it was officially “closed,” one can see from the announcements of the Crossings and Border Authority of the Hamas government that this crossing was opened “intermittently” not only on Wednesdays and Thursdays of every week for the entry and exit of Palestinians, but also on other days of the week:

May 10, 2010: 1 Palestinian exited Gaza for Egypt in coordination with the Egyptian authorities and 3 returned to Gaza. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=84

May 5, 2010: 167 Palestinians returned to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, including patients who had received medical treatment. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=79; http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=76

May 4, 2010: 8 Palestinians exited Gaza through the Rafah crossing after coordination with the Egyptian authorities. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=75

May 3, 2010: 2 Palestinians returned to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=74

May 2, 2010: 6 members of a delegation from Kuwait entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=75

April 30, 2010: 20 entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=75      April 29, 2010: 151 Palestinians, including patients who had received medical treatment, returned to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, and 4 exited Gaza through the crossing after coordination with the Egyptian authorities. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=75

April 28, 2010: 145 Palestinians, including patients who had received medical treatment, returned to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=75

April 27, 2010: 3 Palestinians returned to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. http://www.bca.gov.ps/newsdetails2.aspx?NID=49

15. http://www.alaahd.com/arabic/?action=detail&id=38998

16. Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 31, 2009.

17. http://www.moh.gov.ps/newsite/ar/index.php?action=view&page=news&id=1397

18. http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/English/2009/04-2010.html

19. Avi Trengo, a researcher of the Palestinian economy, explained on the Ynet website (February 3, 2010) the background to the power struggles between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas government:

Two years ago, the World Bank ordered him [PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad] to act not only to cut salaries in the Palestinian Authority (so far, no results) but also to reduce the number-two item on the budget of public expenditure: payments from the Palestinian Authority to cover the electricity and water bills that the PA residents refuse to pay. (The cumulative debt of Gaza residents for electricity has reached $2.7 billion.) This budgetary item, which constitutes about 8% of the PA budget, is being concealed by Fayyad under a clause entitled “net loans.”

Fayyad ostensibly charges the local authorities for the electricity supplied by Israel to the residents of every town, but immediately “lends” them the money. In this way, they appear as a debt to the PA Finance Ministry. Two years ago he tried to require the PA citizens to present receipts for the payment of electricity bills when they receive their government pensions. Immediately the PA “civil service sector” began a warning strike, and Fayyad took the hint and refrained from demanding payment of electricity bills.

Several months ago Fayyad came up with an original tactic: since he transfers very large amounts of money as salaries to tens of thousands of security-force workers who have not been functioning since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, he raised their salary by 4 percent – and even received that funding from the European Union – but at the same time he deducted a similar amount from their wages “for electricity bills.” Everyone was happy until the Hamas authorities learned of it. They saw it as a financial blow to their government, and in response they stopped transferring to the Palestinian Oil Authority the payments that the Gaza Electric Company collects from the residents who do pay their bills. Hence the current fuel crisis in the Palestinian Authority. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/1,7340,L-3843817,00.html

20. http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/Hebrew/heb_n/html/ipc_031.htm

Ghazi al-Surani, a Palestinian researcher and one of the heads of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, published (on the website Cana’an, issue 1738) a comprehensive study of the tunnel industry on the Gaza-Egypt border. The highlights of the study were:

  • The number of tunnels has risen from 20 in mid-2007 (the date of the Hamas military takeover) to nearly 500 in November 2008.The cost of building a tunnel ranges from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on its length.
  • The tunnels were excavated in a 4-kilometer area between Tel Za’atar and the Al-Brazil and Al-Abor neighborhoods, because of the soft soil in those zones.
  • In operating the tunnels there is cooperation with the Egyptian security forces. Hamas controls most of the tunnels and grants licenses to them through the Rafah municipality.
  • A wide range of commodities flow through the tunnels, including: diesel fuel, gasoline, auto parts, sheep, calves, cigarettes, Viagra tablets, gold, and hundreds of other goods, in addition to the movement of people to and from Gaza.
  • The present situation causes much damage to the local manufacturing sector in Gaza because of, on the one hand, the high cost of the raw materials that are brought in, and on the other, the flooding of the market by commodities sent through the tunnels.
  • The tunnel network has brought about an increase in imports from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, from $30 million annually during the years 1994-2006 to more than $650 million annually, and it provides employment to thousands of Palestinians. The agencies that are connected with operating the tunnels reap huge profits, and they are the ones responsible for the black market and the skyrocketing prices. http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=156356

Ziad Jarghoun, a member of the central committee of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also published a comprehensive study of the tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border (December 13, 2008). Its highlights:

  • The tunnels are located on an 8-kilometer stretch along the 13-kilometer border between Gaza and Egypt, extending from the area of Tel Zagreb in the west to the edge of Al-Garadat in the east. The soil in this area is suited to digging tunnels.
  • Some 800 tunnels are either in operation or under construction.
  • The city of Rafah, which is administered by Hamas people, supervises the tunnels along with the national security forces that are deployed along the border. The object of this supervision is to collect taxes. In December 2008 the Rafah municipality and the security forces stopped the excavation of new tunnels because there were too many.
  • Every tunnel has 15-20 workers working in shifts, and every shift has 6-8 workers.
  • The length of a tunnel ranges from 300 to 1,500 meters, and its depth from 8 to 30 meters. There are tunnels that were excavated one above the other at different depths (8 meters, 15 meters, and 20 meters).
  • The cost of building a tunnel is $70-$100,000 and even more.
  • Sometimes a tunnel is run by several partners. The partners sign a contract in a lawyer’s office, and the agreement states the number of shares held by each partner and how the shareowners will split the profits.
  • The opening of the tunnel on the Egyptian side is called “the eye of the tunnel” and the supervisor of the opening is called “Amin.” He is usually an Egyptian citizen and one of the residents of Egyptian Rafah. He receives half of the profits and his job is to guard the site and unload the goods into the tunnel.
  • The monthly import through the tunnels is estimated at $35-$40 million, and the annual profits to tunnel owners are estimated at $200-$300 million.
  • In early September 2008, the Rafah municipality began to collect a fee from the tunnel owners known as “commercial activity across the border.” All tunnel owners pay NIS 10,000 ($2,700). The Rafah municipality imposes sanctions against those who refuse to pay the fee by denying permits to complete construction of a tunnel or closing an open tunnel. The municipality contends that the tax is collected to pay the salaries of municipal officials and employees and to cover the municipality’s expenses.
  • The Electric Company collects a subscriber’s fee for using “three-phase” electricity in each tunnel, ranging from NIS 1,000 to NIS 3,000 ($800).
  • Egypt destroys some of the tunnels and confiscates goods, but in most cases, Egypt turns a blind eye to the goods being smuggled into Gaza as well as to the tunnels. Most of the tunnels have begun to operate openly but there are still dozens of secret ones.
  • The tunnel owners are young men aged 25-40, either Hamas followers or identified with the movement, activists in other organizations, merchants, and entrepreneurs.
  • 12,000 people work in the tunnels and another 3,000 work in trade, transport, and distribution. Most of them come from Rafah and Khan Yunis.
  • All types of commodities are sent through the tunnels and some of the tunnels are used to deliver weapons. The scale of some of the tunnels has been enlarged to allow the transport of larger electrical equipment.
  • Most of the goods and merchandise are sold at very high prices compared to the situation before the blockade, but there are a number of commodities whose price is close to the preblockade price. Diesel fuel and gasoline are delivered through pipes, and their prices are lower by half than the prices in Israel. The tunnel owners are trying to arrange for the delivery of cooking gas through pipelines and sophisticated equipment.
  • The goods transported through the tunnels are chiefly produced in Egypt and China as well as the Gulf countries, Libya, and Sudan. http://www.malaf.info/?page=show_details&Id=881&CatId=&table=articles

21. See note 20.

22. See note 20.

23. http://www.qudsnet.com/arabic/news.php?maa=View&id=137703

24. http://www.pal-home.net/arabic/?action=detail&id=28407

25. http://www.pal-home.net/arabic/?action=detail&id=28407

26. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2009/0817/p09s01-wome.html

27. http://peacenow.org/entries/apn_legislative_round-up_march_5_2010

28. http://www.lemonde.fr/cgi-bin/ACHATS/acheter.cgi?offre=ARCHIVES&type_item=ART_ARCH_30J&objet_id=1101748

http://www.lepost.fr/article/2009/10/12/1737165_gaza-le-hamas-ne-sait-plus-quoi-faire-de-son-argent.html

29. Janine Zacharia, “In Gaza, a Complex, Dysfunctional Way of Life,” Washington Post, June 3, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/02/AR2010060204687.html

30. “Smuggling Tunnel Business on Severe Decline,” Ma’an News Agency, February 19, 2010.

31. http://www.mezan.org/ar/details.php?id=9156&ddname=interior&id_dept=9&p=center

32. http://www.shabak.gov.il/publications/study/pages/gaza-hamas-terror-report.aspx

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm al-Sabe’a reported on May 12, 2010, that Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai seized a large cache of weapons and explosives that were slated to be smuggled into Gaza. The weapons stockpile included 61 antiaircraft missiles, 40 antitank mines, 15 standard mines, and 5 machineguns with ammunition. http://www.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=226325. On April 1, 2010, the newspaper reported, based on an Egyptian security source, that Egyptian security forces had seized 100 antiaircraft missiles, 45 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and 40 explosive devices. http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3870513,00.html

The Egyptian government is also concerned by the use of the tunnel network by Palestinian terror organizations, among them Hamas. On December 29, 2009, Dr. Mufid Shihab, Egyptian minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, outlined his country’s policy on the tunnel issue and enumerated security incidents uncovered by Egyptian intelligence, including:

  • Capture of two Palestinian activists with explosive belts and weapons in their possession along with instructions from the al-Qaeda arm in Gaza to carry out terror attacks in Sinai (2009).
  • Capture of a Palestinian with equipment used to manufacture explosives for the purpose of carrying out terror attacks in northern Sinai. He was operated by the Islamic Army Organization, which is identified with al-Qaeda (2009).
  • Capture of a Tunisian-born citizen of Belgium after he had infiltrated into Egypt to train terror activists in manufacturing explosive devices, after which he was to travel to Belgium to carry out a suicide bombing in a European country. He too was operated by the Islamic Army Organization (2009).
  • Infiltration by two Palestinian suspects via the tunnels to carry out terror attacks against tourist targets in Egypt as part of a Hizbullah cell.
  • Capture of a Palestinian and an Egyptian, active in the Al-Tawhid W’al-Jihad organization identified with al-Qaeda, with two explosive belts in their possession for purposes of carrying out terror attacks in Egypt (2009).
  • Capture of a Palestinian with an explosive belt for perpetrating a terror attack.
  • Capture of two Palestinian Hamas activists who had infiltrated via the tunnels with the aim of carrying out a terror attack in the Sinai.
  • Exposure of an Islamic Jihad cell, including an Egyptian citizen, which planned to carry out a suicide bombing using an explosive belt. http://www.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=171788

33. http://www.masrawy.com/News/Egypt/Politics/2010/april/1/gaza_running.aspx

34. http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest7e.pdf

The following are excerpts from the article by Shima Yusuf, who conducted an investigation of trafficking in women bound for Gaza via the tunnel network:

        There were several accounts of a new type of trade via the [Rafah] tunnels in which minor Egyptian females from extremely poor families were brought to the Gaza Strip…for purposes of marriage, domestic work, or practicing the “world’s oldest profession.”…One of the passengers [in the same taxi as the reporter] started talking about the “golden era” of the tunnels, saying that it is possible to bring an Egyptian woman in exchange for only $1,000 to be handed over to the middleman at the tunnel’s entrance along with a copy of the groom’s identification card.

A quick tour of Rafah’s tunnels reveals that the story I heard in the taxi is no joke….Abu Assi [40 years old, working in the tunnels] states without hesitation: “I’m married to three women. The first is a Palestinian who lives in my house located in the eastern section of Khan Yunis and raises the children. The second and third are Egyptians and were brought in during my many shuttles between Rafah and Egypt via the tunnels. I persuaded them to marry me because of their extreme poverty.

Later I decided to turn these marriages into a business by purchasing a house in Egyptian Rafah [Rafah is divided between Egypt and Gaza], where my two wives help me to bring young girls from the communities adjacent to Rafah, in particular from the villages of the Al-Sharqia district [of Egypt]. This is done by convincing the families of the destitute young girls to marry their daughters to Palestinian men.

Upon giving his consent to marry off his daughter [to a Palestinian man], the father receives a sum of no more than 1,000 Egyptian pounds [less than $200] and a copy of the groom’s ID and phone number. The intended brides then move into my house in Rafah while the right husband is found for them. After finding the husband, from whom I receive $1,000, I send a copy of his ID and phone number to my two wives, who in turn send it to the brides’ families. Then the brides are smuggled through the tunnels and handed over to their grooms at the tunnel entrance in Palestinian Rafah.”

When asked about the fate of the young girls he brings in [from Egypt to Gaza], Abu Assi responded: “I don’t care what happens to them. The most important thing to me is closing the deal, even knowing that some of them will get married, some will be sent to work in rich people’s homes in Gaza, and others are destined for the many drug dealers and pimps operating in southeastern Gaza.”

I asked Abu Assi about the number of minor girls living in his house [in Egyptian Rafah]. He said: “The number is beyond all expectation, and it only goes to show the professionalism of my two wives and their powers of persuasion – a fact that has led me to rent several houses as a result of the rise in the number of young girls [intended for sale to men in Gaza], which has now reached into the hundreds.” http://www.awan.com/pages/world/267716

*     *     *

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This Jerusalem Viewpoints was published in cooperation with the Legacy Heritage Fund.

 

About Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.