During the last week, Israel unilaterally closed and reopened the Karem Abu Salem crossing (Kerem Shalom in Hebrew) between Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip for two days. The closure was linked to the presence of a tunnel that runs under the crossing into Israeli territory, according to an Israeli military source speaking to Ha’aretz. However, the closure highlights the reliance that the Gaza Strip has developed on access to Israel. More importantly, it has exposed the Gaza Strip’s vulnerability in the cases of Israeli unilateral closure, even to meet its basic needs in food and medical supplies. As the Gaza Strip’s only crossing point of goods to the outside world, the closure of the Karem Abu Salem crossing for even a day could have terrible ramifications on the import-reliant Palestinian enclave.
The Karem Abu Salem crossing is the only remaining goods entry point into the Gaza Strip. Since the unilateral “disengagement” plan was implemented by Israel in 2005, Karem Abu Salem became gradually more essential as most of the other crossings were closed by Israel. Karni, Nahal Oz, Sufa crossing and Karni’s conveyer belt, used for goods only, were all closed in 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2011 respectively, following Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip, according to OXFAM. Today, the Gaza Strip has only three crossings remaining into the outside world. The Beit Hanon (Erez in Hebrew) crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel is used solely for the transfer of pedestrians in and out of the Strip, the Karem Abu Salem crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel solely allows for the transfer of goods, and the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt for the transfer of pedestrians. Imported goods from around the world must flow into Israel before they are transferred into the Gaza Strip through the Karem Abu Salem crossing as well, given the lack of an airport or a seaport in the Strip.
This system of crossings creates an inevitable dependency of the Gaza Strip on Israel for trade and an equal dependency on Egypt and Israel for the transfer of people. Egypt and Israel can, and often have, unilaterally block or restrict the movement of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip through Rafah and Beit Hanon, respectively. On the other hand, the Karem Abu Salem crossing, controlled unilaterally by Israel, is the source of fuel as well as all humanitarian aid into the Strip, not to mention imported goods and machinery. During 2016, according to a Palestinian Trade Center (PalTrade) report from January 2017, the crossing was used to let in over 9,900 trucks of imports and let out roughly 70 truckloads of exports from the Gaza Strip per month. According to Ha’aretz, “last year 570,000 tons of food, 7,000 tons of medical supplies and dozens of tons of electrical equipment, textiles, construction materials and agriculture equipment were sent through [the Karem Abu Salem crossing].” The numbers have been in decline during the last part of 2017 till they reached a full halt this week.
This lack of inflow of critical goods not only halts expansion and economic activity in the fields of construction and development, it also hinders Gazan’s ability to import medical supplies, fuel and food. This puts the Strip on the “brink of economic collapse”, as a Ha’aretz report quoted senior Israeli army members. Such closures have also traditionally coincided with an increase in cases of smuggling between Gaza, Egypt and Israel. Thus, this brings into question the security argument that Israel posed as a justification of the closing. That is to say that since the crossing is so vital to Gaza’s access to basic goods; its closure will only push Palestinians towards finding alternative means to acquire those goods that they cannot give up.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is clearly volatile and the situation of population is vulnerable. At the end of each of these Israeli measures of closures, the basic needs of Palestinians living under complete blockade are compromised. Despite the security argument that Israel may present, the people of Gaza pay the price of the occupation’s whims.