Today the Israeli government permitted ten truckloads of clothing and shoes into the Gaza Strip, representing a slight loosening of the near total blockade it placed on the area in June, 2007. But for the 1.5 million Palestinians residing there, this concession will likely feel like little more than a single drop of cool water raining in the middle of the desert.
Israel imposed the blockade as a response to the Hamas electoral victory in 2006 and repeated rocket attacks from Gaza in 2007. Supported by Egypt, and with the blessings of the United States, it has led to a virtually complete isolation of the region by land, air, and sea. Fuel and electricity supplies have been cut, trade and industry have been paralyzed, and the vital Gaza fishing industry has been brought to near collapse.
Implementation is arbitrary and no official list of prohibited elements has ever been presented. “Trucks are checked, unloaded, and reloaded several times over the course of days, raising shipping costs,” the Christian Science Monitor reported last year. “In recent months, all of the following items have been rejected at one point, and later allowed in only after it became an embarrassing international issue: pasta; lentils; strawberry jam; chocolate; and halvah, a Middle Eastern sweet made of sesame. A shipment of ‘reinforced nutritional bars’ were turned back because low-level military officials misunderstood the manifest and thought they were steel bars, which – like other building materials – are not allowed into Gaza.” Tin cans for canning local produce are also banned, since they can be melted down and used to make rockets. The embargo also includes school books, pens and pencils, and also clothing and shoes.
This “catching flies with vinegar” policy has been spectacularly unsuccessful – assuming that it is intended to lead to some sort of sustainable solution to the underlying problem. After absorbing hundreds of rockets in 2008, the IDF launched a twenty-two-day incursion into Gaza in the run-up to President Barak Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has calculated that 1,387 Palestinians were killed. More than half of them were civilians and 252 were children. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, died in the operation.
Numerous government and aid groups from around the world have accused Israel of imposing “collective punishment” on the people of the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli government regards as a “hostile entity.” Most notably the UN’s Goldstone Report stated that Israeli action
was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.
The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.
And so it goes. More than twenty new rockets from Gaza have landed on Israeli territory over the past month. Last week, three Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas fighters near the Gaza town of Khan Younis. On Friday, the IDF responded with thirteen air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, injuring three children.