Kerem Shalom Crossing
In the first years after tightening the closure (2007-2010), Israel shut down three commercial crossings it had operated previously – Karni, Sufa and Nahal Oz. For more than a decade, Kerem Shalom has been Gaza’s main commercial crossing and the only one bordering Israel. The crossing, which began operations in 2005 and was used initially for transporting humanitarian aid into Gaza, serves as a vital lifeline for Gaza’s residents.
From the time the closure was tightened in 2007 and until the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of 2010, Israel banned entrance of a long list of goods to Gaza, including basic products such as coriander, paper, toys, and chocolate. In fact, other than a narrow list of items permitted for entry, which was never published, everything was banned. In 2012, following a lengthy legal campaign by Gisha, the Ministry of Defense finally revealed the documents entitled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines” which included information about the restrictions Israel placed on entry of food into Gaza between 2007 and 2010. During this time, Israel deliberately reduced the entry of foodstuffs to the Gaza Strip, accelerating and exacerbating the deep financial crisis brought on by the closure.
Israel no longer restricts the entry of food into Gaza, but it continues to impose severe restrictions, and sometimes bans, the entry of items it defines as “dual-use.” Dual-use items are items with a civilian purpose, which may also, according to Israel, be used for military purposes. The list of dual-use items as defined by Israel, which far exceeds internationally recognized standards, is long and vague. It includes broad categories such as “medical equipment,” or “communications equipment,” as well as basic items and materials required for industry, the ICT sector, for farming and fishing and countless other details of everyday life. The restrictions on access to these materials curtail economic development, and severely undermine and delay ongoing efforts to improve civilian infrastructure including Gaza’s electricity and water systems.
Items Israeli authorities define as dual-use are not banned by definition. However, bringing them into the Gaza Strip requires “special coordination,” or in other words, an even more complex coordination process than the one used for transporting non-dual-use goods through Kerem Shalom.
For many years, basic construction materials like cement and steel and most dual-use items entered Gaza almost exclusively through a coordination mechanism called the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM was set up according to Israeli specifications after the 2014 war (referred to in Israel as Operation Protective Edge), in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority and under monitoring by the United Nations. Between 2015-2022, Israel stopped treating gravel, gray and white cement, steel rebar and steel sheets as requiring “special coordination,” and since then, they have been entering the Gaza Strip via Kerem Shalom relatively freely (except when Israel imposes a full ban, such as after May 2021). The GRM continues to operate for certain large projects requiring items that are still restricted.
Israel’s control over and restrictions on movement of goods, particularly goods it considers to be dual-use, are extensive and sweeping. The system of controlling dual-use goods, including via the GRM and other mechanisms, is complex, bureaucratic, unnecessary in many cases, and lacking in transparency, creating delays and incurring additional costs. The chronic lack of dual-use items on the local market impedes construction, reconstruction, the functioning of the healthcare system and critical civilian infrastructure, as well as stifling Gaza’s economy and industries. Israel’s dual-use policy, implemented through the GRM, represents a severe violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.
The ability to market and export goods from Gaza is vital for the economy. Israel continues to ban many types of goods made or grown in Gaza from being sold in the West Bank and Israel, which were once its main markets. While Israel did allow some small-scale export of certain goods abroad in the years following the tightening of the closure in 2007, the ban on selling Gaza produce in the West Bank remained in place for seven years. It was only toward the end of 2014, that Israel removed the ban on selling Gaza-grown agricultural goods in the West Bank. Permission to ship out furniture, textile and other goods from Gaza to West Bank markets soon followed. Currently, the types of Gaza-grown produce permitted for sale in the West Bank, according to a list published by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), are tomato, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, strawberry, cabbage, cauliflower, dates and carrots. Onions also appear on this list, but in practice, they cannot be marketed in the West Bank. It is unclear why the list is limited to these items, while other fruit and vegetables are prohibited.
The year 2015 was a shmita or sabbath year in Israel, during which, according to Jewish law, Jewish growers are commanded to let their land lay fallow and observant Jews do not purchase produce unless it has been certified to have been grown and harvested by non-Jews. During that year, Israel permitted sales of tomatoes and eggplants from the Gaza Strip within Israel, subject to narrow quotas. Following the end of the shmita year, it allowed those same items to continue exiting Gaza. In 2022, another shmita year, Israel permitted more types of Gaza-grown produce to be sold inside Israel. The value of produce sold from Gaza to Israel that year was the highest on record since 2000: 9.9 million USD compared to 1.03 million USD in 2021, an 864% increase. Furniture, textile and scrap metal are also permitted for sale in Israel.
Gaza – Chronology of closure
1947-2021, move the scale right for a historical overview
The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine is adopted. The Palestinian state includes the Gaza Strip.
Declaration of the State of Israel and the 1948 War. Over the course of the war, large numbers of Palestinian refugees from the center and south converge in Gaza.
Armistice agreement signed with Egypt, leaving Gaza under Egyptian military rule.
Israel occupies Gaza during the Six Day War.
The “General Exit Permit” allows Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to enter Israel during the day and work there.
The First Intifada erupts in Gaza and spreads to the West Bank. Over the next few years, violence will escalate and spread.
“General Exit Permit” revoked. Access restrictions imposed on Gaza residents become more severe.
The Cairo Agreement for the transfer of Gaza and Jericho to Palestinian control is signed.
Israel puts up a fence around the Gaza Strip.
The “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank opens.
The Second Intifada breaks out. Safe passage is closed. Serious restrictions on movement through Erez Crossing imposed. Israel shuts down Gaza airport. Gaza students banned from studying at West Bank universities.
The Gaza Disengagement Plan is completed. Israeli military withdraws from the inside of Gaza after 38 years. Commerce with Gaza is restricted.
The Agreement on Access and Movement is signed, giving Israel a great deal of control over travel into and out of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas wins majority vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections held in Gaza and the West Bank. Three months later, Israel forbids Gaza laborers from entering its territory, and restricts travel through Erez to exceptional humanitarian cases.
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is captured by Palestinian militants and held in Gaza. Two days later, Operation Summer Rain begins, the first ground invasion of the Gaza Strip since the disengagement. Gaza’s power station is bombed during the fighting.
Israel declares Gaza a “hostile entity” following the Hamas take-over in June and tightening of the closure. Israel devises formulas for calculating the minimum caloric intake needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis, reduces the amount of fuel and electricity sold to Gaza, and limits the fishing zone to three nautical miles from shore.
Operation Cast Lead – Gaza’s power station is hit once again. Extensive damage to residential and government buildings, as well as electricity, sewage and water infrastructure. Hundreds are killed and thousands injured.
Israel releases protocol which effectively prohibits Palestinians from Gaza from moving to the West Bank for family unification.
Israeli navy takeover of Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, ends with the killing of nine activists on board. International pressure and investigations follow. Israel lifts most restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza, with the exception of “dual-use” items and allows the entry of construction materials for international organizations only. Limited export abroad from Gaza begins.
Israeli air force strikes a Gaza tunnel. Throughout the year, smuggling through tunnels running from Gaza to the Sinai desert intensifies. Rafah Crossing operations expand greatly after the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power in Egypt, and it remains open most of the time, allowing Gaza residents to travel into Egypt.
Operation Pillar of Defense. Israel subsequently increases the fishing zone to six nautical miles off the coast and declares farmers will be allowed to approach up to a distance of 100 meters from the border.
The discovery of a tunnel near the Israeli kibbutz community of Ein Hashlosha brings an end to a very brief interval during which Israel allowed construction materials to enter Gaza for the private sector. All construction materials are banned. Unemployment soars. Over the course of the year, Egypt destroys most Sinai smuggling tunnels and frequently shuts down Rafah Crossing.
Operation Protective Edge begins – the deadliest, most destructive round of fighting in Gaza to date.
Operation Protective Edge ends in ceasefire. The GRM is established and more construction materials are allowed to enter Gaza. Permits for family visits in the West Bank are somewhat increased. The ban on the sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank is lifted in November.
Israel allows limited sale of Gaza produce in its own territory for Jews who observe shmita (practice by which Jewish-owned land must lay fallow). Rafah Crossing opens for just 32 non-consecutive days throughout the year.
Israel bans cement designated for Gaza’s private sector from entering for almost two months. Over the year, thousands of merchant permits given to Gaza residents are revoked, and they are denied travel to Israel or the West Bank. Security refusals increase.
From May 2018 until August 2020, Israel used the closure of the crossings and stoppage of essential goods coming into Gaza as collective punishment measures on 13 occasions (eight times at Erez and five at Kerem Shalom). The closure of the crossings infringes on residents’ rights and causes heavy financial losses to industry, businesses and factories already struggling under the restrictions Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip.
Israel expands the fishing zone off some of Gaza’s coastline to 15 nautical miles. This new range applies to a relatively narrow area, off the southern Gaza Strip. Israel continues to use the reduction of the fishing zone as a punitive measure. In 2019, the area of the zone was reduced 11 times, including on four times a full maritime closure. In the first two months of 2020 the zone was changed four times, including a full closure on two days.
The COVID-19 outbreak. Israel imposes a lockdown at Erez Crossing, only allowing patients in need of critical treatment and a few other cases to travel through the crossing. This “coronavirus closure” is still in place today, with a few small changes.
Israel closes Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings during the 11-day offensive in the Strip, blocking all travel and movement of goods, including medical supplies and fuel. It continued to impose heightened restrictions at the crossings for months after a ceasefire was reached.
August 2022, May 2023
Israel’s repeated military attacks in Gaza, the latest of them in May 2023, have killed and injured thousands of Palestinians in the Strip
The restrictions on the quantities and types of Gaza goods cleared for sale in Israel and the West Bank block development and stop Gaza from reaching its economic potential, meaning Israel’s policy continues to block entrepreneurship, business and commerce and deny livelihoods. From the time the Gaza closure was tightened in June 2007, until the end of 2014, an average of only 14.7 truckloads of goods exited Gaza every month – about 1% of number of the truckloads exiting prior to the closure (1,064 per month on average). In 2021, an average of 338 trucks exited Gaza each month; in 2022, 484 trucks exited the Strip per month on average.
As it does at Erez Crossing, too often, Israel abuses its control of Kerem Shalom as a means of exerting pressure on Gaza’s residents, sometimes restricting access to vital goods for extended periods of time. Every closure at Kerem Shalom or further restrictions imposed on transit of goods through it has an immediate impact on humanitarian conditions, and leads to serious financial losses for Gaza’s residents and industry. It also constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited by international law.
Salah a-Din Gate
In February 2018, goods began coming into Gaza from Egypt via the Salah a-Din gate, located near Rafah Crossing. The gate operates under the civilian and security control of Hamas and Egypt. The entry of goods via Salah a-Din, particularly fuel and construction materials, has become significant. In 2021, about 20% of all goods to enter the Strip entered via Salah a-Din, and in 2022, some 32% of goods entered from Egypt.
Despite the increase in volume of goods coming into Gaza through Egypt, Salah a-Din Gate cannot substitute or obviate the importance of routine operations at Kerem Shalom Crossing. The gate does not connect Gaza to its most relevant markets – Israel and the West Bank – it lacks the infrastructure needed to transport all types of goods, and it is located far from local seaports.
Since August 2021, small volumes of scrap metal have been allowed to exit to Egypt via the gate. Since January 2022, battery waste has been permitted to exit too. In 2021, an average of 39 truckloads of goods exited Gaza to Egypt each month, increasing to 141 in 2022. The gate is not operated according to known, transparent working procedures. Often, items denied by Israel at Kerem Shalom are blocked from entering Gaza by Egyptian authorities at Salah a-Din as well.