Conflict & Justice

Why Gaza's exports don't mean an end to the blockade

CAIRO, Egypt – Israel announced it allowed goods from Gaza to be exported to the West Bank for the first time in five years yesterday. But if the history of Israel's blockade on the territory is any lesson, it hardly means an end to the economic siege. (Israel's spokesman for the movement of goods in and out of Gaza has said as such). 

For years, Israel has closely and oppressively regulated Gaza's borders, including its coastline, in a bid to keep both militant attacks and indigenous economic activity to a minimum. 

While many speak of Israel's current blockade – loosened following its deadly raid on a Turkish humanitarian flotilla in 2010 – as having kicked-off when Hamas seized power and Israel declared Gaza a "hostile entity" in 2007, in reality the tiny enclave has suffered under a series of largely intensifying restrictions on travelers and goods since the Oslo Accords of 1995. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Israel allows Gaza-West Bank exports for first time in five years

Gaza was also used as a launching pad for suicide bombers and other deadly attacks by Palestinian fighters on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Only recently were the territory's borders sealed entirely to commercial imports and exports, strangling the economy and giving birth to an illicit and – quite literally – underground trade fostered by the Gaza-Egypt tunnels. 

Israel justified its blockade by saying Hamas and other militant groups could use construction materials like cement and steel to build weapons and bunkers. It has since approved the import of a number of household goods to Gaza. But its motivations for the wholesale ban on exports from Gaza appeared to be less grounded in reasons of safety. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Why are the lights out in Gaza? An explainer.

On several occasions, Israel allowed the export of flowers and strawberries to European countries, normally as a goodwill gesture around Valentine's Day (Gaza's roses and carnations fetch high prices in European markets, and it was once a vibrant export hub for textiles, produce, furniture and even ice cream). 

But until yesterday, Israel prohibited exports from Gaza to the West Bank, its sister Palestinian territory and where many Gaza businessmen still maintain natural economic ties. 

Thirteen truckloads of date bars hardly constitutes a resurgence in economic activity between the two territories, separated geographically by Israel and politically divided between rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah. The snack bars are actually destined for distribution by the World Food Program (WFP), a United Nations agency. 

With Gaza's Hamas rulers growing increasingly closer to Egypt – with promises Egypt will hook the power-starved territory up to the regional power grid – it seems unlikely Israel would give the Gazan economy cause to grow closer to its Palestinian brethren in the West Bank. 

In order to truly revive economically, Gaza's businessmen, factories and farms need access to export markets not only in the West Bank, but in Israel, Europe and Egypt as well. 

And while concerns over Israel's security are certainly not unfounded, it remains to be seen just what type of threat Gazan exports pose to Israel other than helping forge a bustling Palestinian economy on its southern border.