May 9, 2016. The public uproar around Road 232, the only access route to Gaza’s sole commercial crossing, Kerem Shalom, will be heard by the court at the end of the month. But before the court rules whether to go ahead with closing the road during rush hour, as the Ministry of Transportation is planning to do, steps can be taken immediately to improve the situation. The tires of trucks making their way to and from Gaza to provide for the needs of its nearly two million residents have worn down the roads leading to Kerem Shalom Crossing, particularly the main access route, Road 232. Heavy traffic and insufficient infrastructure have taken a toll in life and limb on local residents over the years. Recently, under pressure from residents, Minister of Transportation Israel Katz announced that truck traffic on the road would be restricted between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM and between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM.
This so-called “solution” to the problem on the roads circumvents more reasonable alternatives – fixing 232 or opening another commercial crossing into Gaza, high among them. It also raises immediate concerns regarding supply of food and other perishables to Gaza, the ability to get goods out of Gaza, as well as ensuing price hikes. Last Sunday, the Jerusalem District Court granted the request of the Council of Transporters and Carriers (representing leading transport companies) and issued an interim order to effectively halt the implementation of the Transportation Ministry’s directive. Until the preliminary hearing on the petition, set to take place on May 25th, traffic will continue on the road as usual.
Gisha asked to join the hearing as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, to represent Gaza residents, a party not named in the petition, who would be severely harmed by the decision of the Ministry of Transportation.
At the same time, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that he had given instruction to open Erez Crossing, which for years has operated as a pedestrian crossing only, to the transport of goods as well. Such a step could lessen pressure on Kerem Shalom and reduce transport costs (Kerem Shalom is located at the southern tip of the Gaza-Israel border fence, 60 km from Erez which is at its northern tip), and naturally reduce traffic on Road 232.
Yet, in response to an official query from Gisha, the Land Crossing Authority of the Defense Ministry said that a preliminary assessment of the possibility of introducing another commercial crossing in the future was underway. “The assessment is in its initial phase”, the short response stated, “and, naturally, no decision has been made on this issue”. Though goods were transported through Erez in the past, serious infrastructure work is needed to build a terminal that could accommodate storage, security screening and hundreds of trucks passing every day.
Israel has an obligation to ensure normal life in Gaza due to the control it maintains over civilian life there, and especially given its control of the sole commercial access point into and out of Gaza. The officials and agencies in charge would do well to implement the defense minister’s announcement regarding a new, sizeable commercial crossing in the northern Gaza Strip without delay, for the benefit of all residents of the area.