Items are dual-use, control is a one-way street
Gaza’s only active commercial crossing is Kerem Shalom, located in the south of the Strip, and fully controlled by Israel. From the time the closure was imposed in 2007 and until the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of 2010, Israel had a long list of goods it banned from entering Gaza. It included coriander, toilet paper, toys, and chocolate, to name a few. As a matter of fact, the list, which was never officially released, listed the items permitted for entry. Everything else was banned. Israel currently allows most goods to enter Gaza but severely limits, and in some cases bans, the entry of items it defines as dual-use, that is, items that Israel believes can also be used for military purposes. The list is long, and vague. It includes items such as medical equipment, communications equipment and wood planks. The harm the list does to industry impedes Gaza’s chances of economic recovery or development.
The dual-use list also contains basic construction materials, such as cement and steel, which Israel says can be used for building tunnels. Cement and steel currently enter Gaza almost exclusively through a mechanism for coordinating entry of building materials and goods agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority with UN monitoring, and established according to Israel’s conditions after Operation Protective Edge (Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM)).
Israel approves all major building plans in the Gaza Strip, as well as the list of suppliers, distributors and contractors who are cleared for participation in the GRM. When Israel deems a detail out of line, it can suspend the entry of construction materials and cancel permits given to, for instance, merchants or brick factory owners.
Gaza – Chronology of closure
1947-2016, move the scale right for a historical overview
The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine is adopted. The Palestinian state includes the Gaza Strip.
Declaration of the State of Israel and the 1948 War. Over the course of the war, large numbers of Palestinian refugees from the center and south converge in Gaza.
Armistice agreement signed with Egypt, leaving Gaza under Egyptian military rule.
Israel occupies Gaza during the Six Day War.
The “General Exit Permit” allows Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to enter Israel during the day and work there.
The First Intifada erupts in Gaza and spreads to the West Bank. Over the next few years, violence will escalate and spread (Gaza, 1987. Photo by Anat Saragusti).
“General Exit Permit” revoked. Access restrictions imposed on Gaza residents become more severe.
The Cairo Agreement for the transfer of Gaza and Jericho to Palestinian control is signed.
Israel puts up a fence around the Gaza Strip.
The “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank opens.
The Second Intifada breaks out. Safe passage is closed. Serious restrictions on movement through Erez Crossing imposed. Israel shuts down Gaza airport. Gaza students banned from studying at West Bank universities.
The Gaza Disengagement Plan is completed. Israeli military withdraws from the inside of Gaza after 38 years. Commerce with Gaza is restricted.
The Agreement on Access and Movement is signed, giving Israel a great deal of control over travel into and out of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas wins majority vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections held in Gaza and the West Bank. Three months later, Israel forbids Gaza laborers from entering its territory, and restricts travel through Erez to exceptional humanitarian cases.
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is captured by Palestinian militants and held in Gaza. Two days later, Operation Summer Rain begins, the first ground invasion of the Gaza Strip since the disengagement. Gaza’s power station is bombed during the fighting.
Israel declares Gaza a “hostile entity” following the Hamas take-over in June and tightening of the closure. Israel devises formulas for calculating the minimum caloric intake needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis, reduces the amount of fuel and electricity sold to Gaza, and limits the fishing zone to three nautical miles from shore.
Operation Cast Lead – Gaza’s power station is hit once again. Extensive damage to residential and government buildings, as well as electricity, sewage and water infrastructure. Hundreds are killed and thousands injured.
Israel releases protocol which effectively prohibits Palestinians from Gaza from moving to the West Bank for family unification.
Israeli navy takeover of Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, ends with the killing of nine activists on board. International pressure and investigations follow. Israel lifts most restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza, with the exception of “dual-use” items and allows the entry of construction materials for international organizations only. Limited export abroad from Gaza begins.
Israeli air force strikes a Gaza tunnel. Throughout the year, smuggling through tunnels running from Gaza to the Sinai desert intensifies. Rafah Crossing operations expand greatly after the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power in Egypt, and it remains open most of the time, allowing Gaza residents to travel into Egypt.
Operation Pillar of Defense. Israel subsequently increases the fishing zone to six nautical miles off the coast and declares farmers will be allowed to approach up to a distance of 100 meters from the border.
The discovery of a tunnel near the Israeli kibbutz community of Ein Hashlosha brings an end to a very brief interval during which Israel allowed construction materials to enter Gaza for the private sector. All construction materials are banned. Unemployment soars. Over the course of the year, Egypt destroys most Sinai smuggling tunnels and frequently shuts down Rafah Crossing.
Operation Protective Edge begins - the deadliest, most destructive round of fighting in Gaza to date.
Operation ends in ceasefire. The GRM is established and more construction materials are allowed to enter Gaza. Permits for family visits in the West Bank are somewhat increased. The ban on the sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank is lifted in November.
Israel allows limited sale of Gaza produce in its own territory for Jews who observe shmita (practice by which Jewish-owned land must lay fallow). Rafah Crossing opens for just 32 non-consecutive days throughout the year.
Israel bans cement designated for Gaza’s private sector from entering for almost two months. Over the year, thousands of merchant permits given to Gaza residents are revoked, and they are denied travel to Israel or the West Bank. Security refusals increase.
A crucial element for economic development
Toward the end of 2014, Israel announced it would remove one of the most restrictive economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip – the ban on selling Gaza made goods in the West Bank. In November 2014, for the first time in seven years, a truck carrying goods from Gaza made its way to Hebron. It was followed by wood, textile and produce from Gaza that were shipped out to West Bank markets. In March 2015, for the first time in eight years, Israel also permitted the sale of tomatoes and eggplants from Gaza in its own territory, for the duration of the year of shmita, a Jewish practice whereby Jewish-owned land is meant to lay fallow for a year and other markets must be tapped for agricultural produce. Approval for exit of goods remained in place after shmita was over, but the selection of produce cleared for sale in Israel was not expanded.
Until 2007, Israel and the West Bank were the natural destination markets for Gaza-produced goods with 85% of Gaza’s outgoing goods sold in these areas. After 2007, Israel allowed Gaza goods to be exported abroad only, and just a handful of trucks departed Gaza every month, usually as part of subsidized projects. The loss of access to its natural markets was one of the major contributors to Gaza’s economic paralysis, for the collapse of businesses and for the high rate of unemployment, which, in turn, resulted in significant dependency on humanitarian aid.
Sales outside the Strip are far from satisfactory despite these changes. The volume of sales remains small and economy activity still halting. There are obstacles that continue to stand in the way of profitability and prevent the inclusion of more people in the economy but it still symbolizes hope shared by many in Gaza and in the international community that recovery was perhaps on the way. That prospect, two years later, is still far from being fulfilled. From the time the closure was imposed in June 2007, until the end of 2014, an average of 14.7 trucks left Gaza every month. The monthly average for the first eight months of 2016 was more than 160 trucks. Nonetheless, exit of goods from Gaza still stands at only 16% of what it was prior to 2007.
Cucumbers from Gaza on the way to market in Israel. Since 2015, Israel allows limited sales of vegetables from Gaza. Photo by Gisha