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Gaza Crisis?

August 1, 2010

by: Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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In a statement posted on the Prime Minister’s Office Web site on June 20, the Israeli government announced that all items that cannot be used for military purposes will be allowed into the Gaza Strip, although the arms blockade will be maintained. The previous blockade rules were a way to isolate the terrorist government of Hamas, similar to the use of international sanctions against Iran. According to Ha’aretz, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had encouraged linking the old Gaza restrictions to negotiations over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. However, considering the stalemate in talks with Hamas over Shalit and the international pressure over the blockade following the flotilla incident, Israel instead shifted their approach by allowing more into Gaza.

Meanwhile, facts and figures on the aid already let into the Strip by Israel before the change in Israeli policy cast serious doubt on the claims that a humanitarian crisis existed in Gaza even then, although life was less than ideal. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Web site, more than 280,000 tons of goods were allowed into the Strip in 2010. When combined with the more than 730,000 tons of goods allowed in during 2009, Israel let in more than a million tons of goods to Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants in roughly 17 months.

The IDF used aid figures in a special overview on the humanitarian situation in Gaza to argue that the facts and figures “contravene the claim of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the Gaza Strip.” Ironically, Hamas further proved the IDF’s point by at least initially refusing to accept the aid from the Marmara flotilla. According to the Ma’an News Agency, Minister of Social Affairs in Gaza Ahmed Al Kurd said they would not accept the aid until the detained flotilla activists were released. In addition, they would also not accept the items piecemeal. The IDF Web site reported on June 15 that Israel and the United Nations worked out an agreement to transfer the aid into Gaza, although it was unclear at the time when or if the aid finally entered.

Israel has restricted the entrance of certain types of building materials, such as cement and iron, and that has led to outside criticism following the destruction of homes in the Strip during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. However, the IDF defended the restrictions, saying the items are “openly used by Hamas for developing its arsenal, building bunkers and launching sites, and making rockets and mortars.” Furthermore, the IDF noted that “despite the risk, the transfer of these items is also permitted under supervision, once it has been cleared that these materials are for civilian purposes only.” In 2010, 30 tons of iron and 785 tons of cement were transferred to Gaza. The IDF also said that “as part of the preparations made for winter,” thousands of tons of glass were let into the Strip and that according to United Nations’ (UN) reports, “windows in all education and health institutions were repaired.” Israel was also expected to expand the inflow of construction materials following the June 20 government decision.

As for the total aid allowed into Gaza in 2009, fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, and dairy products were among the items, as well as more than 10,000 heads of cattle for Muslim holidays. The IDF said most types of food are allowed. Thousands of tons of food had again been allowed in during 2010, as well as more than 4,600 tons of clothing and footwear.

Israel also allowed in more than 90 million liters of diesel for Gaza’s power plant in 2009, plus another 28 million liters in the first five months of 2010, as well as providing approximately 60% of Gaza’s electricity. More than 3,000 tons of a chemical for water purification went into Gaza in 2009, and the IDF said 48 truckloads of equipment for improving the sanitation infrastructure “led to a substantial reduction” in waste levels for a Gaza facility.

Ultimately, Israel laid the blame for the difficulties in Gaza at the feet of Hamas, whose violence towards Israel is the main reason for the Gaza blockade. Said the IDF overview, “Hamas, in its continued efforts to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, harms the people of Gaza and prevents them from further development. Despite these security threats, the IDF continues to allow the transfer of commercial goods, building materials, and medical equipment into Gaza.”

(All figures and statements mentioned in this article are as of June 3, unless otherwise noted.)

Photo Credit: www.idfspokesperson.com

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