There is no Israeli “siege” on the Gaza Strip. First of all, Gaza shares borders not only with Israel, but with Egypt as well. There is a 13 kilometer (8 mile) frontier between Gaza and Egypt. That country, and not Israel, controls the Rafah crossing into Gaza which has been used primarily by people travelling to and from Egypt, and from there to the rest of the world.
Most importantly, for the past four years all goods are allowed to enter Gaza from Israel, except for weapons and a short list of dual-use items which can be exploited by terrorists. The ban on weapons and the restrictions on dual-use items stem from the fact that since 2007, Gaza has been ruled by a terrorist organization, namely Hamas, whose declared aim is the destruction of Israel. They are in place solely to protect Israel’s citizens from Hamas’ ongoing terrorist attacks.
Not only do food, medicine, fuel and aid enter freely at all times, but in peacetime, commodities and consumer goods of every type are transferred daily from Israel to Gaza through the land crossing. The types and amounts of consumer goods are determined by Palestinian merchants and depend primarily on market forces in Gaza. For the more affluent, Gaza offers a variety of consumer opportunities, from a modestly-sized mall to upscale restaurants. Even during the latest hostilities in Gaza, an international journalist reported on shopping at one of Gaza’s supermarkets, which offered “all kinds of goods.”
Given the free entry of almost all goods, it is impossible to legitimately claim that the Gaza Strip is under siege. For example, in the first five months of 2014, over 18,000 trucks carrying nearly 228,000 tons of supplies entered Gaza. Included in the deliveries were construction materials: since January, over 4,680 trucks carrying 181,000 tons of cement, wood, gravel, iron and other building supplies passed through the Kerem Shalom land crossing into Gaza.
In addition to facilitating the transfer of goods, humanitarian aid and fuels, Israel also supplies the Gaza Strip with 10 million cubic meters (2.6 billion US gallons) of water annually and more than half of its electricity.
While Israel faces a serious threat from terrorists in Gaza, it still allows the supervised movement of people into Israel. In the first five months of 2014, approximately 60,000 individuals entered Israel from the Gaza Strip. Many of these were patients and their escorts who received medical treatment in Israel and elsewhere, while large numbers of Gazan businessmen and merchants also visited Israel.
In light of all these facts, not only is it obvious that there is no siege on Gaza, but it is also not reasonable to say that as a whole the Gaza Strip is under an Israeli blockade.
Anti-Israeli activists often cite the maritime blockade as proof of a general blockade on Gaza itself, but that is deliberately misleading.
In modern times, Gaza has relied almost exclusively on land crossings for the import of goods: it has never had the type of port capable of handling shipping containers (and only had a functioning airport for approximately three years).
The maritime blockade is legal under international law. In 2011, a special panel convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon examined the maritime blockade. The UN Panel found both the naval blockade and its enforcement, including in international waters, to be legal. This panel of experts emphasized that all assistance to Gaza should be transferred only through the designated land crossings.
The panel also found that Israel had legitimate security concerns regarding violence by Hamas and that weapons trafficking to Gaza permitted Israel to enforce a naval blockade. Repeated attempts to smuggle dangerous weapons via the sea – including powerful long-range rockets from Iran – attest to the fact that the maritime blockade is an essential security measure.
Indeed, the dangers posed by Hamas are well-documented. It is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization, including by the European Union, Australia, Japan, Egypt and the US.
The economic plight of the Gaza Strip does not stem from a mythical siege, but from its rule by a recognized terrorist organization dedicated not to the welfare of its people, but to violence and destruction. When Israel left Gaza in 2005, its aspiration was that the Gaza Strip would become a prosperous and peaceful territory. These hopes, and concrete plans for developing Gaza, were dashed by the incessant cross-border terrorist and rocket attacks, particularly after Hamas seized control in 2007.
Furthermore, Gaza’s existing resources are systematically abused by Hamas for its own nefarious goals. Enormous amounts of money are used for procuring and producing weapons, training and funding terrorists, building terror infrastructures and for the enrichment of Hamas’ leaders. Almost unimaginable quantities of cement were diverted from the construction of housing, schools and hospitals to building an underground city of terror tunnels and bunkers for Hamas members.
Hamas would like the world to believe that it launched its rockets at Israeli cities and towns in an attempt to “end the siege.” It would like the international community to think it is acting in the interests of residents of Gaza. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
If Hamas cared about the welfare of the civilians in Gaza, it would not have started the current hostilities with its rocket barrages. It would have agreed to the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire already on 15 July (before the ground operation began), saving many lives on both sides. It would have respected the numerous humanitarian ceasefires Israel initiated for the benefit of the residents of Gaza. Most tellingly, it wouldn’t have launched frequent rocket and mortar attacks on the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the main entry point into Gaza for goods and humanitarian aid.
What Hamas truly cares about is advancing its agenda to destroy Israel. This terrorist organization seeks to end any control or supervision over what enters and exits Gaza so that it can freely import offensive weapons, including long-range rockets, explosives, military technologies, terrorist trainers, funds and supplies for its terrorist infrastructures. None of these things will help the residents of Gaza; rather, they will only serve to ignite future conflict.