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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: The Gaza Strip – access and terrorism

Key points

  • Despite around 40 rockets and mortars being fired from Gaza into Israel between July and October, in breach of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the truckloads of goods entering Gaza from Israel was approximately double what it was before the ceasefire. On average, some 3,911 truckloads of goods entered Gaza each month between July and October.
  • The disruption in humanitarian supplies from Israel since November has been due to the escalation of rocket and mortar attacks by terrorist groups after Israel destroyed a tunnel designed to capture Israeli soldiers.
  • Israel repeatedly made clear that if the firing ceased, Israel would be willing to resume the ceasefire and the daily flow of aid into Gaza once more. But it is unreasonable to expect Israel to operate as normal, whilst effectively under fire. 

What is the threat posed to Israel from Gaza?

  • In the three years following Israel’s withdrawal of all military and civilian presence from Gaza in August 2005, close to 5000 rockets were fired by Palestinian terrorists into Israel. In the first four months of 2008, the rate of rocket attacks was one every three hours.
  • Since 2004, 17 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets and hundreds have been injured and maimed. 92% of Sderot residents (a town of 20,000 inhabitants) have experienced a Qassam falling on their or an adjacent street.
  • In July 2007, the extremist group Hamas, committed to Israel’s destruction, took complete control of the Gaza Strip after violently ousting their more moderate Fatah rivals.
  • A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into force on 19 June 2008, but despite that, by the end of October more than 40 mortar shells and rockets has been fired from Gaza into Israel. Israel had nevertheless kept the ceasefire and avoided a military response throughout that period.
  • Hamas have used the ceasefire to considerably upgrade and expand their military capability by smuggling more sophisticated weapons into the Gaza Strip, thought to include advanced wire-guided anti-tank weapons systems, as well as large numbers of RPG-29 grenade launchers. They have worked to create a military force modeled on Hezbollah, including territorial commands, organised brigade and battalion formations, and specialised units; and involving subterranean fortifications and tunnels.[1]
  • On the night of 4 November, Israel conducted a targeted operation in the Gaza Strip to destroy a tunnel that Hamas admitted was being built to kidnap Israeli soldiers over the border. Israel’s official Prime Ministerial spokesperson, Mark Regev, reiterated Israel’s desire to see the ceasefire continued: “We want to see the quiet in the south continued. This operation was in response to a Hamas intrusion of the quiet and we hope we won’t see an escalationhere.”[2] Since then, as of 27 December, more than 500 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel.
  • Hamas continues to hold IDF soldier Gilad Shalit captive in Gaza. Shalit, who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid in 2006, has been held for two and half years. Hamas has demanded the release of nearly 1,000 prisoners in return for Shalit’s release, including hundreds of convicted terrorists. 

Month-by-month tally of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008

February

262

March

292

April

502

May

425

June (ceasefire declared 19 June)

235

July

20

August

8

September

2

October

2

November (Israeli operation to prevent kidnap attempt on soldiers – Nov 4)

193

December (latest available figures up to December 27)

370

Weekly tally for rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza (December 2008)

Date Total
1 – 7 77
8 – 14 16
15 – 19 56
20-26 170

For a daily tally of rockets and mortars fired into Israel, please click here: BICOM Statistics: Total number of identified rocket and mortar shell hits since 2001 and daily tally for 2008

How has Israel addressed Gaza’s humanitarian needs?

Imports of goods and supplies

  • Israel accepts its responsibility to facilitate the supply of humanitarian provisions to the people of Gaza and has done so consistently, even following the Hamas coup in Gaza in June 2007. This includes the supply of fuel and electricity.
  • Gaza also shares a border with Egypt at Rafah, but Egypt, in contrast to Israel, has kept its border almost completely closed. The Palestinians have circumvented the Egyptian closure by building an extensive network of tunnels under the border which now account for an increasing proportion of Gaza’s imports of goods and fuel, lessening the dependence on Israel.[3]
  • Khaled Abdel Shaafi, director the United Nations Development Programme in Gaza, has denied claims that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In December, he told Canada’s largest national daily, the Globe and Mail, that whilst the situation in Gaza is not pleasant, “This is not a humanitarian crisis… It’s an economic crisis, a political crisis, but it’s not a humanitarian crisis. People aren’t starving.”[4] Abdel Shaafi is the son of the late prominent Palestinian Gaza leader Dr Haidar Abdel Shaafi. He has been critical of both Fatah and Hamas and has been associated with the Third Way movement of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
  • On average, in the four months following the declaration of the ceasefire in June 2008, the truckloads going into Gaza were approximately double that of the previous ten months.[5]
  • Fearing significant loss of life on both sides, Israel has until now avoided a major military escalation in response to rocket attacks.  Israel has kept to a policy of keeping the borders open so long as no rockets are being fired. Israel has closed the borders on a day-to-day basis when rockets are being fired, but has reopened the borders when firing has ceased.
  • Whilst Palestinians have complained of shortages of supplies for vital building projects, it is important to note that Israel faces specific security concerns when it comes to imports of certain building materials. For example, metal pipes imported from Israel for use in Gaza’s sewage works have been diverted in the past for the construction of Qassam rockets.

Truckloads of supplies entering Gaza from Israel (2008)[6]

Month Number of trucks
July 5,028
August 3,565
September 4,049
October 3,000 (approximate figure)
November (following resumption of rocket and mortar fire) 579

September 2008 breakdown[7] 

Category of supplies Number of Trucks Percentage of total
food supplies 1,726 43%
gravel 1,359 34%
cement 179 4%
fuel 342 8%
other items including hygiene and cleaning supplies, medical supplies, agricultural materials, education materials and stationery, industrial and electrical appliances 443 11%
Total 4,049  


Medical treatment in Israel for residents of Gaza

  • Each month Israel allows hundreds of medical patients from Gaza to enter Israel to receive medical treatment. Close to 9,000 Gazans received permits to enter Israel for medical treatment in the first half of 2008.

Number of medical patients allowed into Israel from Gaza[8]

Year

Permits requested

Permits granted

Percentage of permits granted

Total 2006

5,470

4,932

90.2%

Total 2007

8,803

7,176

81.5%

January-June 2008

13,201

8,796

66%

Sources: COGAT and WHO, Jerusalem Office 2008. Data from Jan. 2008 not yet confirmed by WHO

  • Internal political disputes between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been a considerable impediment to the referral of medical cases to Israel in recent months. In fact, Hamas closed the PA offices in Gaza which handle the referrals, following the outbreak of a medical strike in Gaza at the end of August.[9]

How are terrorists preventing the normal functioning of Gaza’s borders?

  • The main difficulty in ensuring a normal flow of goods in and out of Gaza is the actions of Hamas and other terror groups. Hamas cannot deliver a normal life for the people under its control because its goal of destroying Israel makes full cooperation with Israel impossible. The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, brokered after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, cannot be implemented in the current context because it was agreed with a Palestinian Authority committed to coexistence with Israel. It is unreasonable to expect Israel to give the same level of cooperation to Hamas, a terror organisation committed to Israel’s destruction.
  • Not only have Hamas and other groups rained down a campaign of terror on Israeli civilian towns, but they have targeted the very crossings which are used to bring goods into Gaza and which allow medical patients to cross into Israel for treatment. This has made the operation of the crossings substantially more dangerous and logistically more complicated. Examples of recent attacks include:
  • i. 22 May 2008: a Palestinian bomber blew up an explosives-laden truck on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, causing substantial damage.
  • ii. 20 April 2008: Hamas gunmen wounded 13 Israeli soldiers in an assault with mortar shells, explosives-laden vehicles and gunfire against the Kerem Shalom crossing.
  • iii. 9 April 2008: Two Israeli civilian fuel truck drivers working at the Nahal Oz fuel depot – which supplies fuel to Gaza – were killed in an attack by Gaza militants.
  • Terror groups have repeatedly exploited the flow of goods into and out of Gaza to attack Israeli civilians:
    1. December 2007: 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate, used to manufacture rockets and explosives, were discovered in sugar bags entering Gaza marked as EU humanitarian aid.
    2. March 2004: Two Hamas terrorists entered Israel from Gaza, hiding in a concealed compartment with children’s supplies and food, and blew themselves up, killing ten people and wounding 16 at Ashdod port. 

Political background: Israel’s challenges in dealing with the Gaza Strip

  • Israel withdrew all civilian and military presence from Gaza in 2005 in an attempt to help create grounds for Palestinian sovereignty without Israeli control.
  • In November 2005, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached the Agreement on Movement and Access, giving Palestinians control over their borders for the first time and, in the case of Rafah (the border between Egypt and Gaza), without any Israeli presence on the ground. The agreement created a framework for greatly advancing movement and access in Gaza and the West Bank, including the import and export of goods and the movement of people.
  • Unfortunately, after winning the elections in 2006 and eventually entering into a unity government with the more moderate Fatah, the Islamist group Hamas achieved complete control of Gaza with a violent coup against Fatah in 2007.[10] The absence of Israeli forces was used by Palestinian terror organisations to strengthen their hold over the area, and enhance the threat they pose to Israeli communities located around Gaza.
  • Israel is pursuing a strategy, with international backing, of strengthening moderate Palestinians committed to coexistence with Israel and weakening and isolating extremists like Hamas who are supported by Iran and other anti-western forces in the region. Throughout 2008, Israel engaged in bilateral negotiations on a two-state solution with the West Bank-based PA, led by moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It continues work with the PA to improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank, and there have been marked successes in the deployment of Palestinian security forces and the easing of restrictions on movement. Any concessions which significantly ease the situation of Hamas in Gaza, without Hamas accepting the principles of the peace process, threaten to weaken the Palestinian moderate camp by rewarding violence instead of peaceful negotiations.

 

 


[1] BICOM Analysis: Behind the Gaza stand-off; 8 December 2008

[2] ‘Gaza truce in jeopardy after Hamas-Israeli clashes,’ Associated Press for the International Herald Tribute, 5 November 2008.

[3] United Nations, The Humanitarian Monitor, Occupied Palestinian Territories, No. 30, October 2008

[4] Globe and Mail (Canada), 12 December 2008

[5] United Nations, The Humanitarian Monitor, Occupied Palestinian Territories, No. 30, October 2008

[6] United Nations, The Humanitarian Monitor, Occupied Palestinian Territories, No. 30, October 2008

[7] United Nations, The Humanitarian Monitor, Occupied Palestinian Territories, No. 29, September 2008

[8] Table adapted from Israeli Approvals for Medical Entry in the Shadow of Terror Attacks at the Erez Crossing, Elihu D. Richter MD, MPH; Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs; 1 October 2008

[9] United Nations, The Humanitarian Monitor, Occupied Palestinian Territories, No. 30, October 2008

[10] The British government has made clear that it holds the parties themselves responsible for the situation in which the Palestinian Authority is divided. See The Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Government Response to the Committee’s Eleventh Report of Session 2007-08, 7 October 2008