NGO: Closing Gaza crossings strengthens Hamas

Gisha, the Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement questions effectiveness, legality of border closing policy in response to rocket fire.

Kerem Shalom crossing (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
Kerem Shalom crossing
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
In response to the IDF’s closing of the Kerem Shalom goods border passage between Israel and Gaza on Monday, Gisha – the Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement – released a statement questioning the logic of closing crossings as an effective response to stopping rocket fire into Israel. Gisha essentially implied that such policy strengthens Hamas.
The IDF closed the crossing following the firing of three rockets from the Gaza Strip on Sunday, although the Erez pedestrian terminal will remain open for humanitarian crossings, Army Radio reported.
Reports of the rocket attacks surfaced while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was delivering a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech at Yad Vashem.
Gisha’s statement, entitled “Five Questions for the Defense Ministry on Closing Gaza’s Crossings” gives a recent history of the issue, quotes top Israeli security officials in favor of keeping the crossings open and poses a number of questions regarding current policy.
According to the statement, since the November 28, 2012 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas following Operation Pillar of Defense, there have been four incidents of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza at civilian areas in southern Israel.
“In three cases,” the statement continued, “Israel responded by closing the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and putting additional restrictions on travel by Palestinians to the West Bank and Israel.”
It also noted that Israel has “reduced Gaza’s fishing zone from six to three nautical miles, in response to the fire.”
Gisha expressed skepticism, not only about the legality of the policy but also about its effectiveness, asking if there were any benchmarks to monitor whether the policy is having any impact.
The statement said that deliberate, or indiscriminate, fire at civilians in southern Israel by Hamas violates international law and can be considered a war crime.
But, Gisha wrote, in light of the importance of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, “preventing civilians from traveling or transferring goods, in response to rocket fire by militants, also violates international law, specifically the prohibition on collective punishment.”
The statement did not draw an exact parallel between the actions, calling Hamas’ rocket fire a “war crime” and referring to Israel’s border closings as a violation of international law, but not as a war crime.
Pressed as to how Israel should respond to rocket fire in such circumstances, Gisha’s director Sari Bashi demurred, saying that she does not have sufficient security expertise to devise alternative options.
But she emphasized that since 2010, Israeli security officials have said that steps to expand access to Gaz via the commercial crossings “increase the PA fund revenues by charging customs fees and other taxes,” in contrast to the tunnel economy, taxed by the Hamas government.
Bashi also pointed out that outgoing Southern Commander Maj.- Gen. Tal Russo recommended “opening the border crossings with the Gaza Strip to allow passage of goods without restriction, in order to prevent international criticism and rebuff the delegitimization of Israel in the world,” according to media reports.
At the same time, she said, whatever option would be crafted, “international law is not just an ideal, it reflects reality and allows engaging in combat,” but that where options are off-limits, the conversation on a solution should recognize those limits.
In light of individual comments by top Israeli security officials – that keeping the crossings open strengthens moderate forces and weakens Hamas – the Gisha statement questioned whether closing the crossings is essentially a policy that “strengthens Hamas.”
Gisha said it had forwarded these questions to the Defense Ministry in the past without receiving an response.
In answer to a query from The Jerusalem Post, the IDF spokesman said that policy regarding closing border crossings is made by other government officials, not by the IDF, which merely implements policy once it is made.
Separately from closing the crossings, the IAF hit targets in the Gaza Strip last week in Israel’s first retaliation since the truce was implemented.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.