Commercial Closure:
Deleting Gaza's Economy from
the Map

Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

Gisha is an Israeli non-profit organization founded in 2005, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents. Gisha promotes rights guaranteed by international and Israeli law. (

1. Policy of Commercial Paralysis

In the aftermath of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel closed the crossings into and out of the Gaza Strip,1 and the economic boycott became complete. The Israeli Customs Authority instructed agents not to transfer commercial goods to Gaza, with the exception of a limited amount of products, defined as being for humanitarian use only.2
In order to prevent an immediate humanitarian crisis, fuel, essential supplies and medicines are transferred in small quantities, mostly through the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings (which are significantly limited in terms of capacity).
In the period June 14-July 12, 2007, 65,000 jobs have been lost in Gaza's private sector due to the closures, according to Bassam Khoury, chairman of the Palestine Federation of Industries. If the situation continues, 55,000 more Palestinians will become unemployed.
Data compiled by Gisha show that Gaza's industries are collapsing. Of the 3,900 factories in Gaza producing food, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, wood, paper, craftwork, engineering materials, metals, plastics and rubber, more than 2,900 - 75% of Gaza's factories - have ceased to produce.3 The rest of the factories are operating on a limited basis, on borrowed time, until the stocks of raw materials are exhausted.
Approximately 30,000 factory workers stand to lose their jobs. Factory employees constitute 10% of those working in Gaza, and on average, each worker supports a family of seven. In Gaza, unemployment stands at 35%. According to the World Food Program, 85% of Gaza residents are already dependent on food aid - and the number is growing.
Israel erased from its computers the customs code used to identify goods entering Gaza and issued orders not to allow any imports into Gaza, with the exception of humanitarian goods, such as donations of food, medicine and medical equipment. According to a letter from Reuven Meltzer, deputy head of the Israeli Customs Administration, "[c]argo intended for the Gaza Strip will not be released until further notification. Requests to clear goods intended for Gaza will be blocked by the computer system."4 The implications: Gaza is closed to the importation of goods.5
Israel's working assumption is that choking Gaza's economy and closing its borders to the passage of people will achieve its political objectives. According to this theory, these political objectives are to be achieved by exerting pressure on 1.4 million women, men and children, whose suffering is to bring about the desired change - toppling Hamas' control in Gaza. In fact, a policy of collective punishment is being imposed upon 1.4 million people, in violation of international humanitarian law and, in effect, in clear contradiction of Israel's interests.
This policy is destroying the business sector and creating a new welfare regime in Gaza, turning growing numbers of residents into dependents on international welfare agencies and religious charities. As of July 2007, 87% of Gaza residents lived below the poverty line.6 The opportunity to earn a living with dignity and to build a properly functioning society is disappearing. According to the chairman of Israel's Association of Industrialists, Shraga Brosh, "the economic boycott on the Gaza Strip… will result in a humanitarian disaster, fueling flames and leading to deterioration of the security situation - a situation that will be destructive to the Israeli economy."

2. Ban on Passage of Goods

Israel completely controls the importation of goods into Gaza and exercises significant control over the exit of goods from Gaza abroad and to the West Bank.7 Israel does not allow the transfer of goods to or from Gaza via the sea, the air or the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.8 The only option for Gaza residents is to transfer goods through the crossings with Israel, primarily via the Karni crossing.
On June 12, 2007, Israel closed the Karni crossing - Gaza's primary artery of commerce. Israel has since permitted the importation of humanitarian goods through the Kerem Shalom, Sofa and Erez crossings, but their capacities are very limited. Humanitarian aid organizations warn of shortages of basic humanitarian supplies, because the daily amount of essential supplies entering the Gaza Strip is less than Gaza's daily needs.9
As noted, once the borders were closed and the order was given not to clear goods intended for Gaza, it became impossible to transfer goods that are not strictly humanitarian: food, medicine and medical equipment. In the first two weeks of the closure alone, Palestinian importers accrued $1.5 million in debt for fines paid for the use of rented containers that were stuck, and each day the charges increase.10 Significant losses are also incurred from the breach of supply contracts and the paralysis of Gaza's industries. Additional losses are being incurred from damage to goods stored in warehouses for extended periods.
"The Gaza Strip has been economically removed from the map and from Israel's agenda. If they erase the customs code for Gaza, what is left?" Majdi Khalil, general director of the Palestinian Shippers' Council asks.
Gaza's factories are collapsing. Producers have long suffered from difficulties in importing raw materials and exporting finished products, as well as unreliable electricity supplies, due to the destruction of Gaza's power station by the Israeli Air Force in June 2006. Most of the factories that exported goods shut down even before the current closure, because the frequent closures of the Karni crossing in the past disrupted business. However, now, even factories producing goods for local consumption are finding it very difficult to operate.
Agricultural export, too, which had survived in Gaza prior to the border closure, has been paralyzed. As of June 12, 2007, farmers cannot sell their vegetables, flowers and other produce to Israel, the West Bank and other countries. These farmers are losing the livelihood that was to support them and their families.

3. Legal Framework: Collective Punishment

Under international law, as the occupying power in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel is obligated to provide for the needs of the civilian population in Gaza, to guarantee their rights, and to facilitate the functioning of normal life in Gaza, to the extent that the matter is under its control.11 Israel's obligations are especially strong because of its control over Gaza's air space, territorial waters, and land borders with the outside world, including significant control over the border between Egypt and Gaza. Such control renders civilians in Gaza subject to decisions made by Israel.
Denying Gaza residents the ability to live in dignity, to lead normal lives, to work and support themselves and their families violates Israel's obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and Israeli law. Israel is required to permit the passage of food, clothing, medicine and medical equipment, and to facilitate civilian life in Gaza through all means at its disposal.12
Israel is also obligated, to the extent possible, to permit civilians in Gaza to lead normal lives.13 Normal life is not just food and water, but rather dignified human existence, the possibility of continuing to earn a livelihood, including permitting factories in Gaza to operate and to supply incomes to their workers and dependents. Indeed, Israel must also protect the rights of Gaza residents to work, to strive to achieve an adequate standard of living and to continuously improve their living conditions.14
Instead, Israel has adopted a policy of collective punishment, in violation of international humanitarian law, which explicitly provides that no person shall be punished for a deed that he did not commit.15

4. Recommendations

In response to an appeal from Gisha asking that Gaza's borders be opened, Israel's Defense Ministry replied as follows: "Regarding Karni crossing, we repeat and emphasize that the crossing was closed beginning June 12, 2007 in light of an announcement by the Palestinian side, that because of the internal conflicts in the Strip, they were not capable of operating it, in addition to their inability to defend against terrorist activities at the crossing and to prevent the destruction of goods entering the Strip, as a result of the lack of a party responsible for managing the crossing on the Palestinian side."16
Gisha recognizes that the changes in internal power within Gaza may necessitate changes in the coordination mechanism for opening the crossings, which thus far had been operated, on the Palestinian side, by security forces answerable to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The partial opening of the crossings for passage of humanitarian aid shows that, even after the takeover of key positions in Gaza by Hamas, it is possible to open Gaza's crossings and to permit Gaza residents the passage of goods necessary to live in dignity. Responsibility for finding a new method of coordination, if necessary, rests with Israel, as the power exercising control over the passage of goods via air, sea and land. Responsibility for facilitating and assisting in that coordination lies with Palestinian leaders in Gaza and the West Bank, if necessary with the assistance of international actors.

Recommendations for Immediate Implementation:

For Israel:
* To open the Karni crossing, the commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza, and to work with Palestinian and/or international actors - irrespective of political beliefs - who have the capability to coordinate opening the crossing from the Gaza side;
* To renew customs clearance for commercial goods intended for Gaza;
* To permit Gaza residents to export goods via the crossings; and
* To open the borders of Gaza to passage of persons.

For leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank:
* To act immediately to coordinate the opening of Gaza's commercial crossings, through a commitment to meeting the needs of Gaza residents - irrespective of political beliefs.

For Egypt and the international community:
* To offer immediate assistance to efforts to reopen Gaza's borders to import and export.


1 The Rafah crossing, between Gaza and Egypt, was closed beginning June 10, 2007. The Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, Gaza's lifeline through which commercial goods are transferred, has been closed as of June 12, 2007, except for limited shipments of wheat sent on conveyor belts that do not require opening the crossing for truck access. The Erez crossing, the crossing for travelers between Gaza and Israel, was closed on June 14, 2007 and since then has opened on a very limited basis.
2 See letter from Reuven Meltzer, Deputy Director of the Customs Authority, Israeli Shippers, dated June 20, 2007 (on file with the authors).
3 According to a July 12 statement by the Palestinian Federation of Industries, approximately 80% of Gaza's factories have temporarily ceased production, and those still operating are operating at approximately 60% capacity.
4 Letter from Reuven Meltzer, deputy head of the Israeli Customs Administration, to Mr. Pintor, director of the Umbrella Organization of Customs Agencies and the International Shippers from June 17, 2007 (on file with the authors).
5 In principle, cessation of customs clearance would not prevent Gaza residents from receiving goods that are exempt from customs (tax-exempt donations and goods from Israel or the West Bank, which are within the Israeli-Palestinian "customs envelope") or goods that cleared customs prior to June 17, 2007 but have yet to be delivered. However, the military has limited shipments into Gaza to foodstuffs, medicine, and other essential supplies, even where customs clearance has already taken place. Partial lists of the goods permitted to enter Gaza can be found on the Israeli military spokesperson's web site, (see e.g., IDF spokesperson's announcement, July 1, 2007).
6 See "Situation Report", United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 20, 2007, available at
7 For details on Israeli control over Gaza borders, see Gisha's position paper: Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza, January 2007, pp. 32-49, available at
8 According to the agreement that allows for the opening of Rafah crossing, in principle, goods can be exported via Rafah crossing. However, since June 2006, Israel has not allowed for the regular opening of Rafah crossing, and it has not been possible to develop a direct channel for exports between Gaza and Egypt. The same agreement prohibits importing goods via Rafah. Israel allows for the entrance of goods via Kerem Shalom crossing, which is located in Israel, next to the triangular border between Gaza, Egypt and Israel. See Disengagement Danger, aforementioned footnote.
9 See, for example, a report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, June 20-27, 2007, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 28, 2007, available at
10 According to Mr. Majdi Khalil, General Director of the Palestinian Shippers Association.
11 On the control Israel exercises in Gaza and the legal obligations that it creates, see Gisha's position paper, Disengaged Occupiers, supra note 8.
12 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949, Articles 23, 55 and 59.
13 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 1907, Article 43.
14 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, Articles 6 and 11.
15 Hague Regulations, supra note 15, Article 50, and Fourth Geneva Convention, supra note 14, Article 33.
16 Letter from Koby Gerzwolf, Assistant to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, to Adv. Noam Peleg of Gisha, June 27, 2007 (on file with authors).

Over 75% of Gaza's factories have halted production. (Photo by Gisha)