Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza in 2005, the terrorist organization Hamas emerged as the victor in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Since the establishment of Hamas in the early 1990's, they have been known to Israel as violent antisemitic terrorists and have been classified by 7 countries as a terrorist organization. After Hamas won the election Israel and "The Quartet on the Middle East" (US, Russia, UN, EU) imposed economic sanctions on Gaza, including the cessation of foreign aid to the Palestinian government, and restrictions on movement, imposed by Israel. In order to lift these economic sanctions and movement restrictions, Hamas must: renounce violence against Israel, recognize Israel, and honor all previous agreeemnts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Following the Battle of Gaza in June 2007 in which Hamas militarilly defeated Fatah, both Israel and Egypt heavily tightened their respective border crossings, creating a "blockade". This blockade includes a naval blockade. So far Hamas has not conceeded to these stipulations, and the blockade is still in place.
Although Israel has tolerated many months of rocket attacks on their cities, international outcry from the United Nations as well as worldwide media has focused almost entirely on the Palestinian plight in Gaza, which they assume to be a result of Israel’s actions. The international media portrays the residents of the Gaza strip as poverty-stricken, malnourished and scared. They claim that there is a humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza. All of these things are true, but they are the result of the actions of the Hamas leadership.
Despite the terror onslaught, Israel contunies to supply electricity and water to the Palestinian people, and these plants are sometimes hit by the rockets fired by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip, cutting power to thousands. Since the begining of 2013, over 20,000 truckloads of supplies from Israel have crossed into Gaza for consumption and use by the citizens. These supplies include meat, vegitables, canned foods, medical supplies, fuel, water, medical equipment, animal food, school supplies, and cosmetic products. The Palestinian Authority accuse Hamas of stealing thousands of liters of fuel from local Gazan companies and then telling the media that there is a fuel shortage. Fatah members also claim that Hamas is lying about the fuel shortage “crisis” for propagandistic reasons.
Following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israeli sources donated over $1 million in medical and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, in addition to 600 ambulances. Injured Palestinians were cared for in Israeli hospitals, and the border crossing was frequently used to get medical equipment and other necessary supplies to the strip.
Commercial crossings between Gaza and Israel have been kept open - especially since the June 19, 2008, “state of calm” which allowed for a 50% increase of material goods into Gaza. Gazans in need of medical assistance in Israel have continued to be allowed in. Even after the “state of calm” was broken by Hamas, those Gazans seeking medical treatment in Israel were still allowed to do so although they were chaperoned during the process. Since the June 19, 2008 agreement the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published daily delivery statements on the shipments in and out of Gaza. These are documents in the public domain, and these statistics show that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the media are incorrect in reporting that the Israeli government has been preventing humanitarian supply shipments into Gaza. Despite the incessant rocket fire from Gaza, Israel is still sending humanitarian aid during Operation protective Edge. Although the Israeli border crossings have remained mostly open for commercial use, Egypt's Rafah border crossing has remained closed for the majority of the time since Hamas was elected into power.
Indeed, Hamas is not only witholding supplies from the Palestinians in Gaza but the organization is also spending all of its resources on weapons of terror instead of material goods that a government is expected to provide for its citizens. In the past Hamas has commandeered aid meant for the people, and in one incident they siezed 200 tons of food and supplies from the UNRWA. Palestinians are the largest per capita recipient of international aid in the world, and they have nothing to show for it. Hamas has squandered the international funds and provided the people with no infrastructure and no increased quality of life. Instead the governing body in the Gaza Strip has spent it's international aid on innacurate and unneffective rockets, concrete terror tunnels running into their neighboring countries, and terrorist propaganda. Recently, shipments of humanitarian aid from other countries such as Turkey into the Gaza Strip have had some suspicious contents. According to an August 2014 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the funds that were allocated to the Gaza Strip for construction and relief have been mishandled and not overseen properly. The report found that at least 5 people who were not registered as UN staff handled "core" procurement processes for ordering of the construction supplies. The report presents the fact that the UNDP office was "not monitoring and recording actual work" performed, and that the terms of employment did not specify the employees duties or services provided to specific projects. The report also found that the program office was not keeping track of program reciepts or expenditures, with 12 out of 41 orders in the system not having reciepts to go with them. This lack of supervision in construction lends credibility and further evidence to the fact that Hamas is improperly using international relief funds in order to build terrorist bunkers and tunnels and carry out terrorist activities.
During the June 2008 cease-fire Israel agreed that it would lift the border blockade, and also agreed to have a limited response to rockets being fired from within the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants breaking the cease-fire. The blockade has been periodically eased since then, and in June 2010 due to international pressure after the Gaza Flotilla Raid the Israeli and Egyptian blockades were significantly loosened to allow the passage of people and supplies.
On November 18, 2008, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for a stop to the Israel-enforced closure of its border with Gaza. Pillay declared that the situation in Gaza was one that impeded upon the humanitarian rights of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. The suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, she claimed, was the fault of the Israeli government. Only in Pillay's last sentence did she mention Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel - the sole reason for the “blockade.”
The Israeli representative to the United Nations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took strong offense at the High Commissioner's statement and her inaccurate assumptions. Pillay's blatant oversight of Palestinian violence towards Israel was especially outrageous because over 170 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israel in the 10 days pervious to that statement.
In 2010 the Israeli government approved measures that would allow for a significant easing of the border blockade, and allow basically all non-military use items to pass through without a problem. This new system for handling the border crossing did not apply to their maritime blockade however. The goal of this easing was to allow materials for infrastructure to be easily given to the Gaza Strip so the governing authorities could build public works projects such as schools, hospitals, community centers, and power plants. This action by the Israelis was hailed internationally as a step in the right direction, and a milestone on the way to peace. In 2013 Israel eased restrictions on construction equipment going through the border for the begining of the year. Late 2013 however saw humanitarian conditions deteriorate in Gaza as Egypt destroyed terror tunnels dug by Hamas that had been used to smuggle supplies and arms into the strip. The destruction of these tunnels had vast consequences across Gaza, with food prices rising at staggering rates and construction materials (and therefore jobs) nowhere to be found. Many Palestinians had jobs digging the tunnels, and the destruction of the tunnels by Egypt caused economic hardship for some people.
Though much of the focus recently is on the Israeli side of the border, the Egyptians have imposed a much harsher and more devastating blockade. Israel has opened up it's border crossings and lessened the blockade on multiple occasions since Hamas has had control of Gaza, allowing for humanitarian aid and supplies as well as people to cross between. Israeli hospitals treat injured Gazans, and Israel continuously sends food, fuel, and other necessities over the border. Egypt however has maintained a tight and stringent blockade, rarely opening it's gates since the blockade began. While Israel frequently sends aid over the border, Egypt's border is closed to humanitarian aid. The Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt operated almost daily from November 2005 to June 25 2006, when Palestinians attacked the Kerem Shalom crossing point and abducted an Israeli soldier. The border has seldom been opened since then. In January 2008 Hamas militants blew up a 200 meter length of the metal border wall between Egypt and Gaza, and thousands of Palestinians crossed into Egypt. The border was fixed and closed after this incident and was not opened again until June 2010, then May 2011. The Rafah border was "closed indefinitely" on July 5 2013.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition announced on Tuesday August 12, 2014 that it will be sending ships once again this year in an attempt to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. This action is a repeat of what the group carried out on May 31 2010, during the infamous "Gaza Flotilla Raid". A civilian ship from the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" was boarded by Israeli Navy Commandos who were going to try to make the ship come into the port of Ashdod. About 40 of the civilians on the ship resisted and fought against the Israelis with metal bars and knives, and 9 of them died in the struggle with many others being wounded. No Israeli Navy Commando casualties were reported, although there was one serious injury. There were 5 other "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" ships in the area at the time, who employed passive resistance and were involved in less confrontations with Israeli forces than the first ship. All of the ships were towed to Israel, where all of the people on board were arrested and deported. This 2010 incident contributed to the loosening of the blockade and border crossings by Israel.
During negotiations with Israel about lifting the blockade, the Palestinian envoy always states that they wish to have a Gaza seaport as a part of the agreement and wish the naval blockade to be lifted as well. Currently the Israeli government controls the sea areas around Gaza and regulates how far the fishermen can go out, among other things. The lifting of the naval blockade is important to the Palestinians because it would provide them greater access to trade, but the Israelis contend that opening up a Gaza seaport would be too risky. Eliezer Marom is a retired Israeli Navy Chief, and he argues that a Gaza seaport would eventually become an Iranian seaport. Hamas members hold close ties to Iran and the Israeli officials and citizens are afraid that if a seaport is opened in Gaza it would make it even easier for Iran to supply weapons, money, and other forms of aid to the Hamas militants. Marom stated that if an Iranian military ship were to dock in the port the Israelis could not inspect it because it is a military vessel, and therefore a port would make it significantly easier for Iran to get these terror supplies to Hamas.
Following a meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee on March 4, 2015, Israel announced the doubling of water delivery to Gaza begining in mid 2015. Israeli authorities decided to up the amount of water sent to Palestinian territories from 5 million cubic meters per year to 10 million in an effort to combat the water crisis in the region. The Palestinian Authority pays Israel an estimated $3 million per year for their water, which constitutes less than 10% of the water consumed in the Palestinian territories.
The Israeli Crossing Authority announced that they stopped 847 attempted smugglings during 2015, mostly at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Confiscated items included GoPro cameras, laser makers and electrodes for weaponry and explosive devices, pipes used to manufacture rockets, firecrackers, coals, lighter fliud, soldering coils, and disassembled vehicles. 2015 saw a 33% rise in the number of pedestrians entering Israel through a border crossing, with 11.4 million entries compared to 8.6 million in 2014. On average 41,000 Gazan pedestrians per day made the journey to and from work in Israel through the crossings. There was also an 18% increase in the number of trucks moving into and out of Gaza compared to 2014.
Israeli security forces and customs officers stopped a shipment from entering the Gaza Strip prior to the 2016 Passover holiday containing four tons of chemicals used for making rockets, the Shin Bet agency announced on May 2, 2016. The Israeli officers uncovered four tons of ammonium chloride hidden in a 40-ton shipment of salt at the Nitzana border crossing, and deduced that the shipment was on it's way to Hamas affiliates. Ammonium chloride is used in the production of long-range rockets. Later that month, on May 27, 2016, a massive shipment of rocket and tunnel building supplies hidden in boxes of textiles and jewlery were confiscated at a Gaza checkpoint.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon announced on May 4, 2016, that the Erez border crossing was going to start letting trucks, goods, supplies, and food through for the first time in eight years. The Erez crossing was closed to these items in 2008 due to security concerns, and had since then only served pedestrians. On May 30, 2016, a shipment of 10 illegal drones bound for terror groups in Gaza was discovered and confiscated at the Erez border crossing. The drones in question transmit video signal at 5.8GHz, which is not approved for use and is illegal in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Israeli government announced a $78 million plan in May 2016 to upgrade security checkpoints between the Palestinian territories and Israel, allowing more Palestinians to cross into Israel for work and cutting wait times at checkpoints. Approximately 60,000 Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel will enjoy the benefits of these upgrades. The Defense Ministry proposed this plan to accomodate increasing numbers of Palestinians crossing into Israel; 11 million in 2015, compared with 8 million in 2014. These Palestinians must often wake up extremely early in the mornings and deal with long lines at the security checkpoints in order to get to work on time.
A Palestinian weapons-smuggling boat that had been disguised as a fishing vessel was intercepted and it's occupants detained by the Israeli Navy on November 22, 2016. After observing the boat for several days and determining that it had picked up weapons and other illegal cargo, the Navy attempted to take the boat and fired warning shots as they approached. As the Palestinians on the boat jumped off and swam for shore, the Navy commandos shot at them, striking the boat by accident and causing it to explode. This was the third such interception in 2016.
The international media has focused on the physical blockade by Israel instead of the reasoning behind it. The Israeli government put the blockade in place in order to restrict the trade of materials that could possibly be used to make weapons and rockets which will then subsequently be fired at Israel. There have been examples of international aid packages having questionable contents, and the Israelis know that dangerous materials are being transported through these border crossings or in tunnels underneath. There is indeed a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but it is not to be blamed on Israel. Israel has consistently sent aid in many forms through the border, and the blockade will be lifted once the violent Hamas government is ousted and the people of the Gaza Strip are ready to live in peace with Israel as their neighbor.
Sources: The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
“Former Israeli Nazy chief: any Gaza seaport would be an Iranian seaport,” Algemeiner (August 17, 2014);
Miller, Elhanan. “Israel to double water delivery to Gaza,” Times of Israel (March 4, 2015);
Levy, Elior. “Hundreds of smuggling attempts to Gaza intercepted in 2015,” YNet News (February 2, 2016);
Amir, Noam/Hashavua, Maariv. “Smuggling attempt foiled: Israel seizes 4 tons of Gaza-bound chemicals used in rockets,” Jerusalem Post (May 3, 2016);
“Israel to Reopen Border Crossing Into Gaza for Entry of Goods,” Algemeiner (May 4, 2016);
Cohen, Gili. “Israel to Upgrade West Bank Checkpoints, Shortening Wait Time,” Haaretz (May 20, 2016);
“Mail fail: Israel intercepts Gaza-bound drone shipment,” Jerusalem Post, (May 31, 2016);
Zitun, Yoav. “Israeli Navy destroys Gaza-bound ship smuggling weapons,” YNet News, (November 22, 2016)