The World Bank is accusing Jerusalem of creating the conditions for an “irreversible” economic collapse in Hamas-controlled Gaza, blaming Israel for closures of the border crossings with the region.
“The pillars of Gaza’s economy have weakened over the years. Now, with a sustained closure on this current scale, they would be at risk of virtually irreversible collapse,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, the acting director for the World Bank in the Palestinian Authority territories.
Hadad-Zervos told participants at a closed-door meeting of private-sector organizations and aid groups that “A solution must be reached very soon, if not immediately…Otherwise, Gaza’s dependence on humanitarian assistance could become a long-term and comprehensive situation.”
He added that unemployment levels, marked at 30 percent in January 2007, could reach 37 percent or higher if businesses remain closed in Gaza. Hadad-Zervos placed the responsibility for the dismal situation directly on Israel’s doorstep, claiming the closure of border crossings was responsible.
He did not mention the bloody civil war between the Fatah and Hamas factions, which lasted well over a year and resulted in hundreds of deaths and even more wounded from constant gunfights in the street. Gaza was taken over by Hamas in mid-June, effectively ending the brutal militia war but leaving the area in ruins.
Reality Check at Rafiah
The facts on the ground belie the claims at the conference table in other ways as well.
Hamas has refused to guarantee security at the border crossings, while demanding the right to bring merchandise into Gaza through the Rafiah crossing with Egypt.
Entrances to Gaza from Egypt have been closed since the Hamas takeover several weeks ago. Palestinian Authority officials expressed sympathy, but said that the crossings could not be reopened due to Hamas’s presence.
According to security officials in Cairo, Egypt has significantly increased its troop levels on the border between Sinai and Gaza due to concerns that there will be a mass exodus from Gaza into Egypt.
Hamas has threatened to attack any non-Hamas members who attempt to take control of the Rafiah terminal.
The European Union has taken the warning to heart and is officially abandoning its role of monitoring the Gaza-Egypt border, pulling all but 15 of its international observers from the area. The EU’s presence was one of the conditions for Israel leaving the strategic Philadelphi Route, which runs along the Israeli side of the border.
Hamas Sealed Off Gaza, Rejected Israeli Aid
Hamas has rejected Israeli offers to open alternatives to the Rafiah crossing, saying its terrorists will attack anyone who tries.
One of those crossings is Kerem Shalom, which was one of the points through which food products, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid were transferred from Israel into Gaza.
For example, Hamas Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek closed the Kerem Shalom crossing to Israeli produce last Monday, despite an earlier announcement by the PA Agriculture Minister, who agreed to allow the produce into Gaza.
Razek closed the crossing to all goods except for humanitarian aid. Food such as fruit and vegetables apparently did not meet the criteria. Roughly sixty truck drivers were forced to abandon their efforts to enter Gaza, and returned to Israeli cities.
Kerem Shalom has in any case been the scene of numerous mortar attacks by PA terrorists recently, and a deadly attack by Hamas terrorists last year that resulted in the kidnapping of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. The 20-year-old soldier is still in enemy hands, and his location and whereabouts are unknown.
Aid Transfers through Every Crossing but Rafiah
All of the crossings except Rafiah have been used to transfer food, medicine, equipment and other necessities donated by Israel, Jordan and international aid organizations.
Less than two weeks ago, hundreds of tons of humanitarian and other aid flowed through the terminals to help keep Gaza residents fed and its business owners operating.
At the Erez crossing, also a favorite site for PA terrorist attacks on Israel, some 8,433 vaccines were sent into Gaza.
At the Kerem Shalom crossing, 191 tons of fruit, 71 tons of milk, 33 tons of meat, 4 tons of chicken eggs for breeding, five tons of medical supplies for babies and 10 tons of disposable diapers were transferred.
At the Sufa crossing, 676 tons of sugar, 159 tons of salt, 20 tons of coffee, 20 tons of cocoa, 36 tons of rice, 14 tons of milk powder, 36 tons of tea, 25 tons of silicon, 116 tons of oil, 375 tons of livestock feed, 79 tons of bananas, 637 tons of straw and 21 tons of hypochlorite were sent in.
At the Karni crossing as well, despite numerous terrorist attacks, Israel transferred basic foodstuffs. The Karni crossing was opened June 28 to allow the passage of 500 tons of wheat, the first time it had been opened since the Hamas military takeover of Gaza two weeks earlier. The wheat was transferred by conveyor belt.
Jerusalem said at the time that the opening was a "trial" to test cooperation on the side of Gaza officials to curtail terror. Israel has since been forced to operate the Karni crossing in between mortar shelling by Arab terrorists.
International media coverage has reflected the dilemma: Reuters News Agency reported Israel has kept the crossing closed in an effort to isolate Hamas, but the International Herald Tribune stated that Israel has tried to keep the crossing open.