In the first years after tightening the closure (2007-2010), Israel shut down three commercial crossings it had operated previously – Karni, Sufa and Nahal Oz. For more than a decade, Kerem Shalom has been Gaza’s main commercial crossing and the only one bordering Israel. It is also the only crossing where goods grown and produced in Gaza can be shipped for sale outside the Strip. The crossing, which began operations in 2005 and was initially used for transporting humanitarian aid into Gaza, serves as a vital lifeline for Gaza’s two million residents.
From the time the closure was tightened in 2007 and until the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of 2010, Israel banned entrance of a long list of goods to Gaza, including basic products such as coriander, paper, toys, and chocolate. In fact, other than a narrow list of items permitted for entry, which was never published, everything was banned. In 2012, following a lengthy legal campaign by Gisha, the Ministry of Defense finally revealed the documents entitled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines” which included information about the restrictions Israel placed on entry of food into Gaza between 2007 and 2010.
Israel no longer restricts the entry of food into Gaza, but it continues to impose severe restrictions, and sometimes ban, the entry of items it defines as “dual-use.” Dual-use items are raw materials and other items with a civilian purpose, which may also, according to Israel, be used for military purposes. The list of dual-use items as defined by Israel is long and vague. It includes broad categories such as “medical equipment,” or “communications equipment,” as well as basic items and materials required for industry, the ICT sector, for farming and fishing and countless other details of everyday life. The restrictions on access to these materials hold back economic development and severely delay the ongoing efforts to improve its electricity and water systems.
Gaza – Chronology of closure
1947-2021, 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.
“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 Protective Edge 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.
From May 2018 until August 2020, Israel used the closure of the crossings and stoppage of essential goods coming into Gaza as collective punishment measures on 13 occasions (eight times at Erez and five at Kerem Shalom). The closure of the crossings infringes on residents’ rights and causes heavy financial losses to industry, businesses and factories already struggling under the restrictions Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip.
Israel expands the fishing zone off some of Gaza’s coastline to 15 nautical miles. This new range applies to a relatively narrow area, off the southern Gaza Strip. Israel continues to use the reduction of the fishing zone as a punitive measure. In 2019, the area of the zone was reduced 11 times, including on four times a full maritime closure. In the first two months of 2020 the zone was changed four times, including a full closure on two days.
The COVID-19 outbreak. Israel imposes a lockdown at Erez Crossing, only allowing patients in need of critical treatment and a few other cases to travel through the crossing. This "coronavirus closure" is still in place today, with a few small changes.
Israel closes Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings during the 11-day offensive in the Strip, blocking all travel and movement of goods, including medical supplies and fuel. It continued to impose heightened restrictions at the crossings for months after a ceasefire was reached.
Until now, basic construction materials like cement and steel and most “dual-use” items entered Gaza almost exclusively through a coordination mechanism named the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM was set up according to Israeli specifications after the 2014 war (referred to in Israel as Operation Protective Edge), in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority and under monitoring by the United Nations. The GRM system essentially gives Israel power to decide which building plans get approved and can go ahead in Gaza. Even construction projects already approved are severely delayed as a result of the slow and ineffective GRM bureaucracy.
The ability to market and export goods from Gaza is vital for the Strip’s economy. Many types of goods made in Gaza are still banned for sale in the West Bank and Israel. Toward the end of 2014, Israel announced it would remove one of the most restrictive economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip since the summer of 2007 – the ban on selling Gaza-grown and manufactured goods in the West Bank. In November 2014, for the first time in seven years, a truck carrying produce from Gaza made its way to Hebron. Permission to ship out furniture, textile and other goods from Gaza to West Bank markets soon followed. Currently, the types of Gaza-grown produce permitted for sale in the West Bank, according to a list published by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), are tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, strawberry, cabbage, cauliflower, and dates. Onions also appear on this list, but in practice, they cannot be marketed in the West Bank. It is unclear why the list is limited to these items, while other fruit and vegetables are prohibited. In March 2015, Israel permitted limited sales of tomatoes and eggplants from the Gaza Strip within Israel. Zucchini and pepper have also been cleared for sale in Israel, but the high cost of shipping them through the crossing makes it unfeasible. Furniture, textile and scrap metal are also permitted for sale in Israel.
From the time the closure was tightened in June 2007, until the end of 2014, an average of only 14.7 truckloads of goods exited Gaza every month – about 1% of number of the truckloads exiting prior to the closure, which was 1,064 per month. In 2020, an average of 265 trucks left Gaza each month. The restrictions on the quantities and types of Gaza goods cleared for sale in Israel and the West Bank block development and stop Gaza from reaching its economic potential.
Too often, Israel abuses its control of Kerem Shalom Crossing as a means of exerting pressure on Gaza’s residents. In 2020, Israel shut down or restricted operations at the crossing for five days as a punitive measure (in addition to routine closures of the crossing during Jewish holidays). Every closure at Kerem Shalom impacts humanitarian conditions, and leads to serious financial losses for Gaza’s industry and businesses, already strained by more than a decade of closure.
Salah a-Din Gate
In February 2018, goods began coming into Gaza from Egypt via the Salah a-Din gate, located near Rafah Crossing. The gate operates under the civilian and security control of Hamas and Egypt. The entry of goods via Salah a-Din, particularly fuel and construction materials, is significant: In 2019, 23% of the total amount of cement and 86% of cooking gas that entered Gaza came in through the gate. In 2020, 27% of the cement and 84% of the cooking gas to enter Gaza came in via Egypt.
Despite the increase in volume of goods coming into Gaza through it, Salah a-Din’s opening cannot substitute the proper, routine operations of Kerem Shalom Crossing because it does not connect Gaza to its most relevant markets – Israel and the West Bank. It is also far from local seaports, which makes for high transportation costs. The volume of goods coming in through the gate is still significantly smaller than the volume of goods passing through Kerem Shalom, and it lacks the infrastructure needed for transferring certain types of goods. The gate is not operated according to known, transparent working procedures. Often, items denied by Israel at Kerem Shalom are blocked from entering Gaza by Egyptian authorities at Salah a-Din as well.
Cucumbers from Gaza on the way to market in the West Bank. Photo by Gisha