(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
Israel’s decision Wednesday to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip was
not connected to the worldwide criticism that the country came under
following the IDF raid on an international protest flotilla last week
that ended with nine dead passengers, diplomatic officials said.
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Palestinian and Israeli officials confirmed on Wednesday that previously
banned food items were being allowed into Gaza, in a move that narrowly
expands the list of goods that can enter.
Diplomatic officials, keen on de-linking the easing of restrictions on goods flowing overland into Gaza from last week’s flotilla raid, stressed that Israel has steadily expanded the quantity of goods going into Gaza by some 20 percent over the last six months, and has in parallel increased the diversity of the items allowed in.
“Our principle is clear,” one senior official said. “To prevent weaponry and material from reaching Gaza that could help Hamas, but at the same time to allow the transfer of civilian goods to Gaza’s civilian population.”
The official said that as long as Hamas has declared war on Israel, as long “as it considers every Israeli civilian a legitimate target,” Israel reserved the right to maintain economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip.
“Sanctions are a perfectly legal and legitimate tool in a situation of conflict,” the official said, “and whoever says it is collective punishment does not know what they are talking about. No one can expect that business will continue as usual with the Hamas regime.”
On Wednesday, Palestinian liaison official Raed Fattouh, who coordinates the flow of goods into Gaza with Israel, said that soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy were now permitted. Some products have already entered Gaza, and others would cross in the coming days, he said.
Defense officials said that the transfer of the products into Gaza was not connected to the flotilla raid.
“We will not allow everything in, since Gilad Schalit is still held in Gaza and Hamas is still attacking us,” one defense official said.
The official said that the decision to allow new foods into Gaza was part of a policy led by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, who has put an emphasis on working with international organizations on civilian-related projects. Officials said that there were currently 10 projects under way between the IDF and various international organizations in Gaza, for which Israel was also permitting the entry of cement and building materials.
But according to Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha – The Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the IDF measures fall far short of what the people in Gaza need.
Before the closure of the land passages in 2007, 10,400 truckloads of goods went into Gaza each month, Bashi said.
In the past year, less than 25% of that amount has entered the Strip, an average of 2,300 truckloads a month, she said.
When one compares truckloads from June to November 2009 with those from December 2009 to May 29, 2010, the increase is only 2%, she said.
Bashi said none of the IDF measures would allow for a revival of the Gazan economy, which would be necessary to restore normal life in the area.
One government source said that by easing up on what is allowed into
Gaza, Israel aims to preserve the naval blockade.
The feeling in Jerusalem is that if Israel could streamline the process
of transferring goods to Gaza and ease up on those restrictions, then
there would be greater international acceptance of the blockade.
The official said that Israel was very skeptical of any international
supervision of the Gaza port,
because of the “Lebanese example.”
Following the Second Lebanon War the UN Security Council passed a “near
perfect” resolution against smuggling arms into Hizbullah, and also put
into place an expanded international force to deal with the issue.
Nevertheless, Hizbullah has three to four times as many missiles now as
it did before the UN resolution and expanded UNIFIL force.
The Gaza naval blockade is seen as critical to Israel’s national
security, and as a result – the official said – Israel was willing to be
more forthcoming regarding what goods can go overland into the area, in
order to deflect international pressure over the naval blockade.