|Some months ago we snapped this shot of a small forest of state-of-the-art refrigerators at Kerem Shalom, awaiting trans-shipment into the 'concentration-camp-like' Gaza Strip|
The sole crossing for the goods that pass in both directions between Gaza and Israel is Kerem Shalom, the 'Vineyard of Peace'. But it's not especially peaceful. This is where, in June 2006, infiltrators from Gaza tunneled under the border and attacked an IDF patrol, killing two soldiers, wounding three others, and kidnapping Gilad Shalit whom they then illegally and cruelly held hostage for five years. Last August (2012), armed terrorists ambushed an Egyptian military base in Sinai close to Kerem Shalom, killed 16 Egyptian soldiers there and commandeered two Egyptian armored cars with which they forced their way across the border into Israel via Kerem Shalom. In the ensuing firefight with an IDF contingent, six of those attackers were killed and, fortunately, all the Israelis were uninjured.
A measure of the important role Kerem Shalom plays in the life of Gaza is that, during 2012, an average of 250 filled truckloads of goods passed through en route to the Gaza Strip daily according to Wikipedia (though the IDF says 300).
For the past six days, Kerem Shalom has been closed. This was Israel's non-violent response to last week's rocket attack on Ashkelon [see "3-Mar-13: The terrorists of Gaza keep trying to destroy the electric power station that feeds them"] as well as to a sniper attack on Friday in which the personal military vehicle of the Gaza Division's Northern Brigade was hit. Then yesterday (Sunday) the head of COGAT said Kerem Shalom, as well as the Rafah Crossing which is for people, not goods, would re-open on Monday morning i.e. today. COGAT is a key IDF unit that is responsible for responsible for implementing the Israeli government's policies in Judea, and Samaria and in relation to Hamas-controlled Gaza
But Kerem Shalom did not open this morning and the reason throws some light on how Hamas operates. As Haaretz reports today (see "Israel accuses Hamas of keeping Gaza crossing shut"), 65 fully-laden trucks (but COGAT says 70) pulled up on the Israeli side of the border this morning but found that the Palestinian Arab contractor who holds the franchise for operating the Gazan side was AWOL and no one was there to open the crossing from the Palestinian side, according to IDF spokesperson Guy Inbar:
Hamas instructed the contractor that his services would no longer be needed that that it planned to "take over" management of the crossing.... [The] coordinator of government activities in the territories, on Monday spoke with high-ranking Palestinian Authority officials to brief them on what was happening at the Kerem Shalom crossing. Replacing the contractor on the Gaza side violates the security status quo that has allowed the Kerem Shalom border crossing to operate... The contractor’s failure to show up stems from Hamas' attempts to replace the Palestinian Authority's fanchisee with one of their own, in an attempt to gain control of operations at the crossing and increase its profits... The crossing remains closed and goods are not being transferred to the Palestinian side [Haaretz]
According to Ynet's report, Nahed Shuhaiber is the franchisee who until yesterday operated the the Palestinian Arab side of the Kerem Shalom crossing in the name of the Palestinian Authority. Times of Israel says Shuhaiber had held this right for years and was "at odds with the Hamas leadership in Gaza". He was told by Hamas officials, according to Ynet that his rights were being ended forthwith and that starting Monday morning, the new concessionaire would be Muhisan Sharafi. UPI names Sharafi as a Hamas official.
It's well known that Israel and its defense establishment, as a matter of policy, do not work opposite any Hamas-related entity.
For a non-Hamas, Palestinian Arab view, the Maan News Agency reports tonight ("Hamas closes Gaza crossing")
The Hamas government in Gaza closed the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday, despite the fact Israel had agreed to reopen it after a one week closure.... The border remained closed on the Palestinian side. Officials in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue, said the Hamas government in Gaza has fired the company that operates the terminal after a dispute over the collection of customs revenue. The officials told Ma'an that Hamas wants to keep the taxes, which are usually paid to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas has decided to appoint a new company to run the terminal, they said. Truck drivers at Kerem Shalom told Ma'an that rivalries over control of the crossing were impeding their work, adding that they hoped the terminal would reopen soon. [Maan]
We visited the facility five months ago. In a blog post "2-Oct-12: Gaza and the perils of Arab solidarity", we wrote:
If you get to see the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings from up close as we did last week, you can hardly fail to be impressed by the massive (that's the correct word) humanitarian efforts Israel has made to open the gates of Gaza to an almost unlimited range of goods - in both directions. The capacity of Kerem Shalom (after a heavy Israeli investment funded by us ordinary Israeli taxpayers) to serve as a two-way gateway is vast - and greatly (and deliberately) under-utilized by the Gazan Palestinian Arab regime.
We also noted how the inner circle of Hamas fat cats are doing stunningly well from the restrictive importation policies over which they preside and the wealth it generates [see "How Many Millionaires Live in the "Impoverished" Gaza Strip?"]. The price for this is, of course, paid by the largely impoverished Gazans.
It turns out, when you look more closely than most journalists and analysts do, that much of the daily pain experienced by ordinary Gazan Arabs is a direct function of money-related decisions made by Hamas insiders. (We know how difficult it may be for lovers of simple black-and-white oppressor -v- oppressed narratives 'explaining' the Israel/Arab conflict to accept this, but life is messy and usually made up of shades of grey. What can you do?) For evidence of how well this pays off for some of them, take a peek at "Hamas chief flexes muscles – literally" and the related, and impressive, photo essay of one Hamas senior leader's rather indulgent lifestyle. Here's a taste.
|Khaled Meshaal works out in a private gym in a fancy part of his new hometown of Doha, Qatar. Photo: Kate Geraghty [Image Source]|