The United Nations criticized Israel this past week for closing the Karam Abu Salem border crossing (also known as Kerem Shalom) between Israel and Gaza, warning that the measure could have negative repercussions.
One of the chief concerns with the recent closure is the impact that it will have on the long-term potential of Gaza’s economic growth and stability. In a statement, U.N. Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov urged Israel to reverse its decision, emphasizing that “[h]umanitarian assistance [could] not be a substitute for commerce and trade.”
Israel announced that it was closing the crossing on July 9, to everything except essential humanitarian supplies. An official in charge of the movement of cargo through the border confirmed to Al Jazeera that the new restriction would “only allow the transfer of humanitarian essentials, such as cooking gas as well as wheat and flour into Gaza.” Some of the items that would be banned from entering Gaza include clothing and construction materials, such as plastic, and chemicals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified this move by claiming that it was in response to the incendiary kites and balloons that protesters in Gaza had been launching into Israel over the past few months. According to the Israeli government, these have caused $ 2.5 million in damage to Israeli farmland so far.
Gazan Palestinians have been using these incendiary devices as a part of weekly border protests partly aimed at lifting the land, sea, and air blockade that has suffocated the territory for more than ten years. To date, Israeli forces have killed over 130 Palestinians. Israel has justified these deaths by claiming that it was defending its border, and it has accused Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, of using protesters as human shields.
A spokesman for the Israeli Army also claimed that Netanyahu closed the Karam Abu Salem border crossing to “put pressure on the Hamas movement in Gaza.” However, Hamas will not be the only group that is affected by this new restriction. It will also heavily impact ordinary citizens and businesses in Gaza, which have already suffered extreme hardship under the ongoing Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade.
The Gaza Strip, which is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians, is located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. The 365 square kilometer (141 square mile) territory is bordered by Egypt in the southwest and Israel in the north and the east. There are currently three crossings into the Gaza Strip. Israel controls the Erez crossing in the north and Karam Abu Salem in the south of Gaza. The former is specifically for pedestrians, while the latter is used for trade and fuel. Egypt controls the Rafah crossing, which has effectively been closed since October, 2014.
More than 70% of Gaza’s population receives some kind of international aid, according to the Occupied Palestinian Territory Humanitarian Facts and Figures report published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2017. At the end of the third quarter of 2017, the overall unemployment rate in the territory was 46.6%. Among youth and women, the unemployment rate is even higher at 64.9% and 71% respectively. It is also estimated that about “47% of households in Gaza suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity” and that “97% of piped water is unfit for human consumption.”
Israel’s longstanding restrictions on various activities (including the marketing of goods in Gaza, the import of certain goods, and the population’s access to agricultural land and fishing waters) has played a central role in undermining the economy and humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Recurring hostilities between Israel and Gazan Palestinians have also contributed to the further deterioration of the territory.
In addition to causing the death and long-term disability of many people, these recurring clashes have also resulted in the destruction of vital infrastructure, chronic energy deficits, and increasing division between the Palestinian people. For many Gazan Palestinians, the political and economic future seems bleak.
However, there was a recent diplomatic attempt to improve the economic situation in Gaza. During an interview with Israeli public broadcaster Kane on Sunday, Mohammed Al-Emadi, a Qatari diplomat, suggested that Israel could reduce tensions by allowing Palestinians to enter Israel on work permits.
“It could start for example with 5,000 people in Gaza who would work in Israel. That is good. That would stop the protests, the fires, the kites and the balloons” said Emadi according to a Reuters report. Neither Israel nor Hamas have commented on the Qatari proposal.
Despite Qatar’s recent efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically, the situation in Gaza is unlikely to get better any time soon. In a series of tweets released on July 16, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that more measures would be taken in the future to address the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. However, he refused to provide any detail about what these additional measures would entail.
Israel bombarded more than forty sites and killed two Palestinian teenagers, Luay Kaheel, 16 and Amir al-Nimra, 15, in the latest round of hostilities in Gaza on July 15. Since then, Israel has reportedly accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas, after Israel launched what it called the most powerful daytime attack on the territory since the 2014 war. While it seems that the ceasefire is holding, the tension continues to mount on both sides.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine director, stated that the international community needs to pressure Israel into ending “its long and cruel closure of Gaza.” However, until both sides agree to de-escalate the situation in the Israeli-Gaza border region, the Karam Abu Salem crossing is likely to remain closed, thus, further restricting the freedom of Gazan Palestinians and potentially crushing whatever is left of their already crumbling economy.