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