John Ging, the Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza, briefed correspondents at the United Nations headquarters in New York last week on the humanitarian plight of the people in Gaza. He said that the Palestinian people in Gaza faced “a struggle to survive on a daily basis.”
Ging noted that Gaza’s infrastructure was in a state of collapse, as there was no legitimate economy anymore due to lack of commercial trade into or out of the area, nor was there any prospect of a restoration of it as long as the blockade instituted by Israel at the border crossings continued. He also blamed the blockade for preventing the import of vital construction materials needed to build more UNRWA-run schools and classrooms to accommodate the expanding child population in Gaza.
While acknowledging some recent positive developments as Israel has allowed more commercial truckloads to enter Gaza, he said they were “a drop in the bucket.”
“So, if we can have 20 truckloads of aluminium (sic) a month; then why not 50? And if you can have 50, why not a 100?” Ging asked.
Ging blamed the current situation on the failure to implement the detailed Agreement on Movement and Access in Gaza that Israel and the Palestinian Authority negotiated in November 2005 with the help of the World Bank and the Special Envoy of the Mideast Quartet. Although the agreement had specified certain steps to be taken to keep the crossings open and vital supplies flowing into Gaza, those steps were never taken, he claimed, resulting in “bewildering human suffering and misery” for 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza.
What Ging neglected to mention is that Hamas and its radical Islamic allies bear much of the blame for the human suffering in Gaza because they are the reason that the Agreement on Movement and Access in Gaza was never fully implemented.
For its part, Israel had in good faith begun to implement this agreement by allowing a significant increase of truckloads into and out of Gaza through the crossing points bordering Israel, after it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and turned over governing responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority had agreed on a number of key security measures, including:
• Using international experts and Israeli recommendations to develop a comprehensive security plan for one of the key border crossings;
• Establishing a secure perimeter to include security fencing, cameras, and motion detectors;
• Establishing a central security control room;
• Procuring appropriate cargo scanning equipment; and
• Developing and documenting security procedures and instructions, including those for coordination with Israeli personnel, and for the training of security personnel.
Israel began following through on its commitments despite the Palestinians’ failure to follow through on their security obligations spelled out in the agreement. And the reason for the Palestinians’ failure was the rise of Hamas in Gaza, the terrorist group that has refused to abide by agreements entered into between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Even after Hamas won a majority of legislative seats in January 2006 on a platform that included the vow to destroy the Jewish state, the truckloads continued to flow into and out of Gaza. Data compiled by the Palestine Trade Association provides compelling proof of Israel’s incredible forbearance in the face of Hamas’ provocations and threats to its security. Israel was still hoping to work with Fatah, which maintained some executive powers in Gaza following its legislative defeat and which maintained control of most of the Palestinian security apparatus, to provide for the security that was the condition for Israel to maintain more open border crossings.
Israel’s forbearance continued even after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in a summer 2006 cross-border raid and after Hamas resumed the launching of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel in June 2006 with this threat:
“The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage.”
The Al Montar/Karni crossing was the main crossing of the Gaza Strip for both imports and exports. This was the crossing that the Palestinian Authority was supposed to help secure in particular. That did not happen. Nevertheless, between December 2005 and June 2007, according to the Palestine Trade Association, an average of 450 truckloads a day was imported, and an average of 70 truckloads a day was exported. Sufa was used exclusively for the imports of construction materials, with a daily average of about 160 truckloads.
The event that forced Israel’s hand and finally led to the full-blown blockade was when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip completely in a bloody coup against Fatah in June 2007. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Hamas’ take-over a “coup against the Palestinian legitimacy.” Not only did Israel lose the partner it had reached agreement with and upon whom it had relied to help ensure its security. The very entity that Israel saw as the main threat to its security from Gaza was now in complete charge of Gaza.
Beginning June 14, 2007, the Al Montar/Karni crossing was officially closed for both imports and exports. The crossing reopened on June 28, 2007 for limited imports of goods such as wheat and animal feed. Since then, Sufa and Karem Abu Salem /Kerem Shalom crossings were also used, primarily for imports of humanitarian goods, including basic food commodities (e.g. wheat flour, rice, pulses, cooking oil), animal feed and medical equipment. From January 2008 until June 19, 2008, when a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel commenced, over 2000 rockets and mortars were launched by Hamas and its extremist Islamic terrorist allies against Israel.
During the cease-fire or “hudna” period, that started on June 19, 2008 and ended on December 19, 2008, commercial goods were allowed to enter the Gaza Strip including aggregates, cement, construction metal, wood, car tires, clothes, shoes, and fruit juice, but at a much diminished rate compared to the pre-coup period. Hamas “concession” was to agree to stop the launching of unprovoked rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.
Hamas put on a show of discouraging rocket attacks from other terrorist groups during the cease-fire period but explicitly stated it would not police the border with Israel. Some rocket attacks still continued. As reported by Human Rights Watch, while Hamas made some arrests of people accused of firing rockets, all were later released, and no charges were brought against them.
Hamas believed that its restraint in tamping down rocket attacks against innocent Israeli civilians should have been rewarded by an end of the Israeli blockade altogether. Hamas conditioned its willingness to extend the cease-fire upon the complete lifting of the blockade even though by November 2008 about 700 truck loads of goods went into Gaza, which was about the amount of material that would have gone through in a single day even without a blockade.
Hamas’ offer of undertaking to continue trying to stop all rocket attacks against Israel in exchange for a complete lifting of the Israeli blockade was extortion pure and simple, as Hamas had no intention of fulfilling the original security obligations undertaken by the Palestinian Authority in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access in Gaza.
On December 20, 2008, Hamas officially announced that it would not agree to extend the cease-fire, which had expired on December 19th, citing Israeli border closures as the primary reason, and resumed its shelling of the western Negev. On December 24, 2008 alone, Hamas launched eighty-seven mortar shells and Katyusha and Qassam rockets in an operation it called “Operation Oil Stain.” Hamas also rejected European mediation of the talks to release Gilad Shalit.
Israel waited eight days after the expiration of the cease-fire, which Hamas refused to renew, and issued a final warning to Hamas. Despite the rocket attacks, Israel even reopened five crossings between Israel and Gaza for humanitarian supplies. Hamas continued the rocket barrage. Israel finally had enough and responded by launching Operation Cast Lead.
Since coming to power in Gaza, Hamas has followed a reckless course that put the Palestinian people living in Gaza in harm’s way. Hamas is responsible for the continuing blockade because its actions have heightened the very security threat that Israel had negotiated with the Palestinian Authority to help prevent, as an integral part of the deal to open up the border crossings in the first place.
Israel is cautiously testing the waters by restoring the level of truckloads of imports entering Gaza in March 2010 to the level it was during the pre-Operation Cast Lead cease-fire period. However, as long as Hamas continues to smuggle arms into Gaza for use against Israel, keeps in effect its Charter’s vow to destroy Israel and continues to renege on agreements entered into between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, including the Palestinians’ security commitments in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access in Gaza, it is unreasonable to expect Israel to fully open its borders to the threat of more terrorism.
It is Hamas that continues to hold its own people hostage to its extremist agenda rather than act like the responsible partner for peace that Israel had expected after it turned Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority nearly five years ago.