Israel has closed the main commercial crossing in Gaza, effectively banning exports from the coastal territory after saying it had uncovered explosives in a shipment of clothes to the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian fishermen, businessmen and rights advocates condemned Israel’s latest measure on Thursday as a form of collective punishment against Gaza's two million people, including tens of thousands of labourers who heavily depend on exports to Israel and the occupied West Bank to stay afloat.
Nearly all the goods that enter and exit Gaza pass through Kerem Shalom.
Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen, with their perishable exports, condemned the ban.
"Now I can’t make a living," said Khalid al Laham, 35, from his bare home in the southern town of Khan Younis as his five children scurried around him. "I have to borrow food from the shops."
The struggle also has reached Gaza's wealthiest traders.
"Fish are completely different from any product, it’s sensitive," said Mohammed Abu Hasira, a 38-year-old owner of a popular Gazan fish restaurant near the Mediterranean. “They should punish those who are at fault. Why are we being punished with them?”
Abu Hasira's plans to export truckloads of seafood on Thursday were thwarted by the Israeli decision, he said. Within moments, his profits evaporated and costs skyrocketed.
Overall, the measure has caused 26 tonnes of fish to rot and resulted in $300,000 in weekly losses, Gaza's main fishermen’s union said.
Limiting movement of people, goods
The new restrictions choke off the territory’s already ailing economy. They come on top of the punishing 16-year blockade that Israel and Egypt have maintained since Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007.
The blockade, which Israel says is needed to prevent Hamas from arming, severely limits the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.
Israel closed the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing late on Monday after saying it had discovered explosives hidden in a shipment of Zara jeans and other clothing bound for the West Bank — one of the main markets for Gaza's tiny export sector.
Israeli officials fear the explosives were bound for militants in the occupied West Bank. Israel has not said when the crossing will reopen.
Larger political struggle
The restrictions represented a reversal of recent Israeli military moves to ease the blockade to relieve economic pressure on Gaza to prevent tensions from boiling over into another bloody conflict.
Israel now allows some 21,000 Gazan labourers to enter Israel for work, and in July, Israel issued hundreds more permits. Over 90 percent more people left the strip than during the same time last year, according to the United Nations humanitarian office.
Under the blockade, Gaza’s businessmen have grappled with what they describe as exasperating bureaucratic controls and routine indignities.
Fishermen say their struggle reflects how the blockade has damaged a vital part of Gaza's economy. In July, fish accounted for 6 percent of all exports, according to the UN.
The restrictions have prevented them from importing engines, fibreglass, and other materials needed to repair their dilapidated boats.
The naval blockade limits how far out into the Mediterranean Sea the fishermen can go – and how much and what type of fish they can catch. If they drift too close to the boundaries, they risk being shot at or having their boats seized by the Israeli navy.