The Other Face of Collective Punishment: Israel’s Ban on Exports from Gaza

by Kevin Jon Heller

AFP ran an interesting story yesterday about how Palestinians are using their tunnels to smuggle goods into Egypt, in defiance of Israel’s ongoing ban on exports from Gaza:

But the canvas sacks full of food, beauty products and second-hand clothes that used to be dragged through hundreds of tunnels beneath the border now flow the other way in a lucrative trade conducted by an entrepreneurial few.

“We reversed our trade since the easing of the Israeli blockade and now we export,” said a tunnel operator who goes by Abu Jamil.

“The Egyptian traders demand Israeli livestock to breed with their own to improve its quality,” the 45-year-old smuggler said, calling his partners on the other side of the heavily-guarded border to tell them the cows are coming through, each with an Israel tag on its neck extolling its breeding potential.

The Egyptians also order Israeli coffee, blue jeans, mobile phones, and what Abu Jamil refers to as “raw materials” — scrap copper, aluminium and used car batteries that can be recycled in Egypt.

This is the other face of Israel’s deliberate infliction of collective punishment on Gaza, which it believes — despite all evidence to the contrary — will eventually force the Palestinians to withdraw their support from Hamas.  Indeed, Israel openly admits that, having bowed to international pressure and somewhat relaxed its overbroad ban on imports into Gaza, the export ban remains its last hope of undermining Hamas’s popularity.  From the Jerusalem Post:

Last week, the cabinet approved an easing of the land blockade on Gaza. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting last Sunday that while there would not be a “civilian closure,” there would be a “security closure.” The defense establishment fears that international organizations will read into what Netanyahu said and argue that exporting agricultural produce should not fall under the security closure.

“This is the next natural step after the government lifted the blockade over Gaza,” another official said. “If this happens, we will lose all of our leverage over Hamas.”

Israel is hoping that Hamas will moderate its views and resolve its dispute with Fatah in the ongoing reconciliation talks that are being mediated by Egypt.

On Tuesday, Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau, met with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman for talks on the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as the ramifications of Israel’s decision last week to ease the blockade.

“The lifting of the blockade effectively removed any leverage that Israel had over Hamas,” one official explained. “The only leverage left now is the ban on exports.”

Israel has already privately admitted that the import ban is about economic warfare, not security.  I suppose it’s progress of a sort that it is willing to publicly admit that the export ban is similarly motivated.

8 Responses

  1. The term “collective punishment” doesn’t usually apply to sanctions or blockades. For instance, I don’t recall anyone claiming the sanctions on South Africa were ‘collective punishment’. New term for a new era or does it selectively apply to Israel only?

  2. 2 Liz

    South Africa may have been under a blockade, but Gaza is under military siege, if not military occupation. There’s a huge difference.

  3. The sanctions against South Africa were not meant against the civilian population, where as Israel is actually intending to deprive the Palestinian population of means to sustain a normal civilian life. Israel is “blockading” Gaza to prevent food, medicine, and construction materials from reaching to the Palestinians as a whole (not just Hamas) thus Turning Gaza into a prison, is collective punishment.

  4. It would seem that Israel is doing a poor job executing its supposed mission of depriving Gazan’s of a normal civilian life.  Gaza is apparently so awash in breeding stock, coffee, blue jeans, mobile phones and construction materials like copper and aluminium, that it must exploit export markets in order to clear its surplus.

  5. Wow, apparently Michael has never heard about this thing called economic inequality, where some people are better off than others.

  6. And assuming Israel is engaged in economic warfare – why is that illegal? It’s so easy calling the import limitations “collective punishment” instead of actually examining their legality under all doctrines.
    Kevin, why are you any different than Ben Wittes, who insisted calling the use of force outside of armed conflict as “murder”?

  7. 1.  BBC Radio ran a great report a few months ago about all the products in the stores, all the food, etc.  in Gaza – those people are not “suffering” like you pretend or naively believe.  Look it up Im sure its online by now.  The BBC reporter  confirmed no shortages.  IF there is any specific “shortage” is the result of corruption in hamas which takes the goods to sell on the side.
    2. Given the fact the population of Gaza voted in their inglorious leaders (hamas) who are sworn to their neighbor’s destruction, I think what their neighbor does to them is quite appropriate.  That’s what happens when you lob missiles over the border targetting civilians you get what you deserve. 
    3. Years ago when the hamas used to set off human suicide bombs on buses and in stores the gazans used to run in the streets celebrating and giving out candy.  

  8. Professor Heller,
    There is either a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, or there isn’t.
    If the Hamas regime is prepared to allow the export of breeding stock (that is to say, food), it must either believe that: (a) there is a surplus of food in Gaza and thus exporting food will not imperil humanitarian conditions in Gaza; or (b) there is only just enough food, and it is permitting the export of food despite its negative effects on the people of Gaza and those particularly suffering under the weight of “economic inequalities”, and it just doesn’t care.
    If (b), and the Hamas regime is permitting food exports during a famine (“humanitarian crisis”), it is inflicting a grievous wrong on its people, particularly those of its poor.
    That is not a wrong for which the State of Israel can possibly bear any responsibility.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.