Exit and entrance of goods via Kerem Shalom
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 coriander, paper, toys, and chocolate, to name a few. As a matter of fact, other than a narrow list of items permitted for entry, which was never published, everything was banned. Since 2010, Israel has allowed 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 are civilian in nature but that Israel believes can also be used for military purposes. The list is long and vague. It includes broad categories like “communications equipment” and items vital to the health sector, civilian infrastructure and industry, such as medical equipment, cement, and wood planks.
Basic construction materials, like cement and steel, designated for internationally funded and private projects, enter Gaza almost exclusively through a mechanism for coordinating entry of building materials and goods agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority with monitoring by the United Nations, and established according to Israel’s conditions after Operation Protective Edge (Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM)). The “dual-use” list managed by the GRM contains thousands of items.
The exit of goods from Gaza is critical for its industries. 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-grown and manufactured goods in the West Bank and in 2015 it began allowing goods to go to the Israeli market in limited quantities. 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 furniture, textile and produce from Gaza that were shipped out to West Bank markets. Currently, the types of Gaza-grown produce permitted for sale in the West Bank are tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, strawberry, cabbage, cauliflower and date. It is unclear why the list is limited to these items. In March 2015, Israel permitted the sale of tomatoes and eggplants from the Gaza Strip in certain markets within its own territory. At present there is a cap on how much can be sold per month: 350 tons of tomato and 50 tons of eggplants. Furniture, textiles and scrap metal are also permitted. In 2019, Israel allowed a few new products to exit for sale in the West Bank, including baby wipes and toys.
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 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 and through July and August of the same year, Israel used the closure of crossings and stoppage of essential goods coming into Gaza as collective punishment measures. The closure of Kerem Shalom Crossing 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. From the beginning of 2019 to July, the area of the zone changed 15 times, including at times a full maritime closure.
Sales of goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank are far from reaching their potential. From the time the closure was tightened in June 2007, until the end of 2014, an average of 14.7 trucks left Gaza every month. In the first half of 2019, an average of 318 trucks left Gaza each month. In 2018, the average was 217, just 20% of the volume in early 2007, when more than 1,000 truckloads left Gaza each month. Many types of products are still banned, for instance, processed foods.
From the beginning of 2018 to July 2019, Kerem Shalom Crossing, the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel, located in the southern Gaza Strip, was closed five times as a punitive measure. At times, the crossing was closed in retaliation for indiscriminate fire toward Israeli communities, which, although a war crime in its own right, has nothing to do with the operation of the crossings. Lengthy closures kept essential humanitarian supplies, including fuel, from coming into Gaza. Every time Kerem Shalom is closed, Gaza’s industry and businesses, already strained by more than a decade of closure, suffer serious financial losses.
In addition to restrictions on the movement of goods via Kerem Shalom, other restrictions also undermine economic development, including by curtailing the growth of small businesses which relied in the past on the use of commercial mail or transport of items in personal luggage – both of which Israel limits.
Entrance of goods via Egypt
In May 2018, goods began coming into Gaza from Egypt via the Salah a-Din gate near Rafah Crossing. This crossing is under the civilian and security control of Hamas and Egypt. In the first half of 2019, 15% of the total amount of cement entering Gaza and 80% of cooking gas were shipped through the Salah a-Din gate.
Despite a growing volume of goods entering via Salah a-Din, this crossing is still significantly smaller than the volume of goods passing through Kerem Shalom, and it cannot substitute for the latter, all the more so given that goods are shipped only into Gaza and not from it. The gate has no clear or transparent working procedures, and sometimes, items denied admittance by Israel at Kerem Shalom are denied admittance at Salah a-Din as well.
Cucumbers from Gaza on the way to market in Israel. Since 2015, Israel allows limited sales of vegetables from Gaza. Photo by Gisha