Jonathan D. Halevi
Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA)
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 7,233 truckloads of humanitarian aid from the international community 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.
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