Wednesday, February 8th | 18 Shevat 5783

May 16, 2018 8:28 am

Hamas Is Destroying Gaza’s Economy to Advance Terror Aims

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avatar by Yaakov Lappin


Palestinian rioters in Gaza prepare to set a kite on fire to be flown across the border to Israel, May 11, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Gaza’s dire economic situation is one reason observers cite for the ongoing, violent Palestinian protests at the border with Israel. But the blame for Gaza’s dark economic reality lies with those who control Gaza.

Israel is working hard to prevent the Gaza economy from collapsing, but Hamas is doing just the opposite, recklessly harming the economic situation of the very people it rules over.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in last Friday’s Hamas-orchestrated attack on a gas and fuel terminal — the only one that supplies the Gaza Strip — at the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

According to senior Israeli defense officials, Hamas operatives divided rioters into groups and gave them specific instructions on which part of the crossing to attack.

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In what can only be described as utter self-destruction, the rioters, acting on Hamas orders, set fire to a pipeline delivering gas and fuel to Gazans. They also destroyed conveyer belts that delivered construction material and animal feed. The crossing has been attacked twice more since then, including during Monday’s mass border infiltration attempt, also organized by Hamas, which resulted in many Palestinian casualties, a significant portion of whom were Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.

It will take months for authorities to repair the burned-out fuel pipelines. The pipes blazed so hot that they left the concrete roads beneath them in pieces. The Palestinian Authority (PA) constructed the Gazan side of the fuel terminal at a cost of 10 million shekels. Now, the PA will have to decide if it will pay for a new one.

All of this means that the people of Gaza are facing an imminent fuel and energy crisis engineered by Hamas.

The incident is just one of many ways that Hamas cynically and actively harms Gaza’s civilian interests for its own benefit.

Hamas has a financial interest in shutting down Kerem Shalom, since all goods that pass through it are taxed by the PA — Hamas’ bitter rival. Hamas would prefer goods to pass through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, where taxes go directly to the Hamas regime to be diverted to its military wing.

But Egypt keeps Rafah closed most days as part of its own blockade of Gaza. Egypt is guided by a deep suspicion of Hamas’ intentions due to its affiliation with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Ultimately, Hamas is keen to increase pressure on ordinary Gazans so they vent their frustration on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In recent days, Hamas has banned Gazan fishermen from working, despite Israel widening Gaza’s fishing zone.

According to Israeli defense officials, Hamas has also systematically prevented Palestinian businesspeople and merchants from crossing into Israel via the Erez pedestrian border crossing.

Israel has provided an increasing number of entry permits to Gazan businesspeople in a bid to encourage economic growth. Yet Hamas has thwarted this effort via a checkpoint it set up at the Erez Crossing.

“As long as people suffer, [Hamas leaders] can continue with their well-funded propaganda and shout to the world, ‘come and save us,’ and ‘pour some money into Gaza,'” said a senior IDF official.

The reason Hamas pursues this agenda is simple enough. Whenever it receives money, it must always face the basic question of where to invest it. If it invests in civilian needs, it cannot use that same money for the military wing to dig tunnels, manufacture rockets, build weapons, and prepare for war with Israel. So Hamas tries blackmailing the international community into funding Hamas’s humanitarian and economic needs, which would free it to invest purely in its military buildup.

This situation has not, however, stopped Israel from taking determined steps to improve the Gazan economy. Israel increased the number of pedestrian crossings at Erez by 30% in the first quarter of 2018, and most of those crossing at these areas — 80% of the roughly 10,000 crossings — are made up of Gazan merchants and businesspeople.

The Palestinian Authority is also undermining Gaza’s economy as part of a bid to bring Hamas to its knees and force it into a reconciliation agreement that would see its armed wing disbanded. As part of that pressure, the PA has ceased transferring medicine into Gaza and has been holding up permits for a number of sick Gazans to travel to West Bank hospitals for treatment.

In response, Israel increased the number of medical-humanitarian journeys from Gaza into Israel, coordinating the movement of 450 ambulances to Israeli hospitals during the past three months alone.

Meanwhile, Hamas continues its attempts to use the mail to import items such as drones, uniforms, and dual-use items like drills and building materials for its military wing. The Israeli Defense Ministry has intercepted magazine clips, binoculars, and even military boots sewn into large slippers heading into Gaza.

“One of our main challenges is that we have hard, solid intelligence that Hamas is trying to use any humanitarian route to build up its military power and promote terrorism,” the senior defense source added.

A prominent example of this occurred in April, the official said, when a 65-year-old Gazan woman was given a permit to receive medical treatment at an Israeli hospital. The woman, a cancer patient, arrived at the Erez Crossing, where Israeli security found enough explosives in her belongings to blow up four buses.

Israel remains determined to keep Gaza’s economy going and prevent a collapse. It has recently allowed more dual-use materials to enter the Strip. Israel also approved 350 new economic projects in Gaza that provide jobs to Palestinians.

Still, the challenge remains. Pipes imported for water treatment plants end up being turned into rockets. Generators designed to help civilian buildings deal with power shortages end up in terror tunnels that are dug in the direction of Israeli communities.

Perhaps the most cynical example of all can be found in the form of medical oxygen tanks that Israel sends to Gaza. “Unfortunately,” the defense source said, “Hamas seized some of these shipments and took them underground, so that [combat] tunnel diggers can breathe freely as they work in tunnels 30 meters underground.”

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book The Virtual Caliphate explores the online jihadist presence.

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