Israel has halted the transfer of commercial goods from Gaza in what human rights groups and trade unions say is an act of collective punishment after the alleged discovery of explosive material in a shipment destined for the West Bank on Monday.
In a letter sent to Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday, the Israeli human rights group Gisha said that the ban on the exit of goods has “disastrous implications for Gaza’s population.”
The group, which advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement, said that the ban punishes “thousands of civilians, including traders and workers in the agriculture sector and other fields,” over “a single incident that has nothing to do with them.”
Gisha pointed to longstanding abuse of Israel’s control over the movement of goods to and from Gaza, causing “severe, ongoing harm to the Palestinian economy.”
Most of Gaza’s products traded outside of the territory, including those transferred to the West Bank, are exited via the Israeli-controlled Karem Abu Salem checkpoint, known in Hebrew as Kerem Shalom.
As part of its ongoing blockade on Gaza, imposed after Hamas took control over the territory in 2007, Israel banned the exit of goods until 2014. It gradually reinstated the transfer of products to a limited degree since then, but at a fraction of what was allowed before the imposition of the blockade.
The blockade was an intensification of Israeli restrictions in already place since the early 1990s. Its goal – thus far unsuccessful – is to immiserate Gaza’s population so it will disavow the armed resistance against Israeli occupation and colonization.
Goods transferred from Gaza during July this year were split nearly equally between Israel and the West Bank. Produce accounted for most of the exited goods, followed by textiles and fish. Additionally, scrap metal and used batteries are exported to Egypt.
The number of truckloads of outgoing goods via Karem Abu Salem, even before Tuesday’s ban, was more than 70 percent below the monthly pre-blockade average, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.
The agriculture ministry in Gaza estimates that the new ban on the transfer of goods outside the territory will cost the local agriculture and fishing sectors around $260,000 per day.
Israel’s blockade on Gaza has had profound harm both socially and economically. The unemployment rate was 46 percent in the second quarter of 2023, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza.
The new ban endangers the livelihood of 60,000 workers in the agricultural and fishing sectors and 9,000 textile workers, according to Gaza’s agriculture ministry.
The worsened restrictions will cause Gaza’s already fragile economy to deteriorate even further “and lead to the destruction of income-generating businesses,” Al Mezan said.
In 2020, the UN trade organization UNCTAD conservatively estimated that Israel’s blockade and repeated military offensives in Gaza have cost the economy in the territory as much as $17 billion.
The General Federation of Palestinian Industries in Gaza said that the ban on the transfer of goods from Gaza was an act of collective punishment.
Waddah Bseiso, a spokesperson for the federation, called for the reopening of Karem Abu Salem “and the removal of sanctions that worsen the plight of the population and hinder the chances for economic development, peace and stability in the Gaza Strip.”
Israel continues to allow the import of goods into Gaza, albeit with a ban on 61 items that it deems as “dual-use” with both civilian and military applications.
Israel fears Gazafication of West Bank
Israel’s accusation that it found explosive material hidden in a shipment bound for the West Bank follows a resurgence in armed resistance in the territory.
In July, Israel launched a two-day offensive in Jenin, a stronghold of armed resistance in the northern West Bank, in order to weaken the capacity of militant groups in the West Bank. It was the largest Israeli military operation in the West Bank in around two decades.
In June, Palestinian fighters in Jenin incapacitated a 10-ton Panther armored vehicle with an improvised explosive device and hit an Apache attack helicopter that was facilitating the evacuation of ambushed troops during what the military was expecting to be a routine raid.
The tactics employed against Israel during that and other recent raids were reminiscent of those of Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, representing an advancement in the sophistication of the armed resistance in the West Bank.
The pro-Israel think tank Middle East Media Research Institute said last month that armed groups in the West Bank are exploiting the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in the north of the territory to develop new military infrastructure.
Palestinian fighters in the West Bank are seeking to make the maintenance of settlements and military deployment in the territory too costly for Israel, just as the armed resistance forced Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant blamed Iran for the shooting deaths of three Israelis in the West Bank last month.
“We are in the midst of a terrorist onslaught that is being encouraged, directed and financed by Iran and its proxies,” Netanyahu said on Monday, implying that Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza were responsible.
Gallant said “we will take several actions that will restore security to the citizens of Israel,” adding that “all options are on the table.”
In late August, Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas’ political wing, warned that Israeli assassinations of its leaders would foment a “regional war.”
In May, Israel killed six Islamic Jihad leaders, along with their relatives and neighbors, during a five-day escalation that began with surprise airstrikes targeting residential buildings.
At least 33 Palestinians were killed during the offensive. Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza killed an 80-year-old Israeli woman and a Palestinian laborer from Gaza working in Israel.
The escalation came after Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister and kingmaker in Netanyahu’s fragile ruling coalition, demanded a more hardline response to rocket fire from Gaza.
On Thursday, Gallant warned that attacks during the upcoming Jewish high holidays would be met with a “crushing” response.
“We are in a complex security period in all the areas, and especially in [the West Bank] and surrounding Jerusalem,” Gallant said, suggesting that the military doesn’t have great confidence in its ability to maintain security for Israeli settlers.
All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are built violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to occupied territory.
The same convention prohibits the use of collective punishment, such as Israel’s ban on goods exiting Gaza.