'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Embargo of Gaza: Past, Present and Future? 


Since the Hamas takeover, Israel has designated Gaza as a hostile entity, and maintained an economic embargo against the territory. Under this designation, decisions on shekels in circulation in Gaza and the territorys economy in general are treated by the GOI as security matters, and therefore are subject to the same high levesl of uncertainty that the GOI uses to keep potential sources of security threat off-balance. Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis. The Palestinian Authoritys request for a guaranteed floor transfer rate of NIS 100 million per month will not be seriously considered by the GOI until after January 2009, when the Palestinian political situation becomes more clear. In any case, given the size of the population and economy in Gaza, GOI interlocutors find it implausible that the number of workers on the Palestinian Authority,s (PA) payroll there and the amount of money to be paid each month accurately reflect the current size of the territory,s civil service or its future government service requirements, nor do they agree with the PAs contention that these payments are buying loyalty. Furthermore, GOI officials doubt the effectiveness and authority of the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) to regulate and police banks in Gaza. Israeli officials reject the PA,s argument that denying banks the liquidity to pay PA salaries in full bolsters the Hamas regime. While some acknowledge the gains to Hamas from a weakened formal banking sector in Gaza, they argue that such gains are small relative to the cost of giving Hamas greater access to shekels or the economic benefits they bring to Gazans. A USG policy that encourages the GOI to review its present policies (as requested by the Office of the Quartet Representative and the PA) while pressing the Israelis to approve as much funding each month as possible under security constraints, assisting the PA to improve its regulatory regimes and due diligence procedures, and continuing to foster direct dialogue between officials of the GOI and PA on Gaza issues in the monthly Joint Economic Commission meetings is our best bet for minimizing economic/political gains to Hamas in Gaza.


Israel closed the entry and exit points into the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, on 25 June [2006] and has conducted frequent raids and bombings that have killed 262 people and wounded 1,200. The crisis in Gaza has been largely ignored by the rest of the world, which has been absorbed by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Women in Gaza tell me they are eating only one meal a day, bread with tomatoes or cheap vegetables, said Kirstie Campbell of the UN's World Food Programme, which is feeding 235,000 people. She added that in June, since when the crisis has worsened, some 70 per cent of people in Gaza could not meet their family's food needs. People are raiding garbage dumps, she said.

Not only do Palestinians in Gaza get little to eat but what food they have is eaten cold because of the lack of electricity and money to pay for fuel. The Gaza power plant was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in June. In one month alone 4 per cent of Gaza's agricultural land was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.

The total closure imposed by Israel, supplemented by deadly raids, has led to the collapse of the Gazan economy. The 35,000 fishermen cannot fish because Israeli gunboats will fire on them if they go more than a few hundred yards from the shore. At the same time the international boycott of the Hamas government means that there is no foreign aid to pay Palestinian government employees. The government used to have a monthly budget of $180-200m, half of which went to pay 165,000 public sector workers. But it now has only $25m a month.


The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that the five youth were roughly 300 meters from the fence, just on the edge of the buffer zone -- the no-go area imposed by Israel covering a wide swath of land on the Gaza side of the boundary with Israel, in the east and north -- when Israeli firing began. Relatives and neighbors agree: Hassan was unarmed and shot without provocation other than his presence in Israel's unilaterally-declared buffer zone.

That buffer zone ruinously affects Gaza residents living in areas like Khozaa. Khozaa, and the whole rural area east of Khan Younis -- which includes the towns and villages of Abasan al-Kabir, Abasan al-Saghira and al-Farrahin -- have been the subject of numerous incursions, demolitions, shelling and shootings over the past several years, occurring with an increasing frequency in recent months. Homes with any exposure to the boundary with Israel are pocked with hundreds of bullet holes, and children are barred by their parents from playing in areas which are within the line-of-sight to the boundary after dusk.

Officially, the buffer zone is 300 meters wide, at least according to the leaflets the Israeli military dropped on all of Gaza's hinterlands on 19 May 2009, showing a map of the Gaza Strip with clearly demarcated no-go areas. Unofficially, however, it extends as far as the bullets from Israeli snipers fly before they hit something.

According to a report put out by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 29 percent of Gaza's arable farmland is inaccessible due to the belt of forbidden or dangerous land, which extends from 0.5-1 kilometer on the eastern frontier and 1.8 to 2 kilometers on the northern frontier.

In the southern governorates, the imposition of the buffer zone has hit agricultural production hard. For example, in the Khan Younis area, the administrative area of which includes the smaller zones to its east, agriculture and fishing-related activities plummeted from 24 percent of all jobs in the second quarter of 2007 to 7.2 percent in the third quarter of 2009.

If not enforced by physically present soldiers armed with sniper rifles, it is enforced by women soldiers manning remote-controlled motion-sensing machine gun turrets. The landscape there is marked by ditches, peppered by broken clumps of barbed wire. It's a tableau of exposed dirt and sliced-off irrigation tubes. It looks like the war zone that it frequently is.

And soldiers often fire at anything that enters the buffer zone. Indeed, repeated calls to the Israeli military spokespersons' office to ask how they made the determination that Hassan was a militant either were met with unfulfilled promises to call back shortly, or the response that we can't reveal that information for security reasons. Nor has the Israeli military issued a correction in response to the repeated queries.

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