Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip. At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.
While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip. Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision. Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.”
Israel’s Prime Minister may want to spin the announced easement by transforming a highly-criticized civilian blockade into a legitimate security strategy, but this attitude ignores not only the illegality of the blockade but also just how grim the situation in Gaza is. Simply allowing more food items and heavily-supervised construction materials may alleviate some of the daily suffering, but such an allowance does not address long-term economic development considerations for Gaza. As Gaza City resident Nasser al-Helo said, “I don’t need ketchup or mayonnaise from Israel. I need my business back.”
Israel’s blockade, in place since 2007, has devastated private industry in the Gaza Strip, as factories have been unable to obtain the raw materials to produce their goods. Due to these restrictions on goods, as well as the prohibition on Gazans crossing to work in Israel, which 100,000 Palestinians from the Strip used to do, the unemployment rate to reach a staggering 40% according to UN estimates. Especially considering most food items are already available in the Gaza Strip from smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt, the announced easement’s increased allowance for humanitarian and food aid appears to be propaganda aimed at alleviating international criticism rather than a meaningful policy or attitude change.
If Israel truly wanted to end Hamas’ “propoganda claim” it would have to entirely lift the current blockade of Gaza, which imprisons 1.5 million people in the name of national security, instead of barely easing it.