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Visual Dispatch: Gaza Before The Truce

Just hours before I arrived on the Israeli side of the Sufa border crossing to Gaza on Monday, the IDF killed three terrorists affiliated with the Islamic Jihad as they were planting a roadside bomb a few hundred meters away. … Read More

By / June 20, 2008

Just hours before I arrived on the Israeli side of the Sufa border crossing to Gaza on Monday, the IDF killed three terrorists affiliated with the Islamic Jihad as they were planting a roadside bomb a few hundred meters away. Business was temporarily disrupted while the scene was being secured, but by 10 am things were back to normal. Every day 70-80 trucks carrying freight are transferred from Israel to Gaza through Sufa. As Shlomo Tzaban, the manager of the crossing, briefed the group of journalists that I was with, a steady stream of 18-wheelers making their way to the crossing whirled up clouds of dust. The returning trucks were empty, since the border crossings only serve Palestinian needs: the only things that are exported from Gaza to Israel are rockets and mortars, which you don't need trucks for.

These border crossings are a part of the unnatural umbilical chord that attaches Gaza to Israel. "When people in Gaza turn on a switch, it's our grid; when they turn on a faucet, it's our water," explains IDF Major Mike Vromen. Eighty percent of the population is completely dependent on the humanitarian aid that flows through Israel into Gaza. This is how it works: trucks with goods, funded primarily by USAID, arrive on the Israeli side of the crossing. They are checked by the IDF and then unloaded onto a 200 meter long conveyor belt, which transfers the goods across the border, where they are then reloaded onto Palestinian trucks and distributed to various parts of the Gaza Strip by a confusing array of actors on the ground: WFP, UNRWA, CHF, to name just a few. It is a multi-million dollar industry.

During a Q&A with IDF Colonel Nir Peretz later in the day, I ask what purpose the conveyor belt has. Why not just drive the trucks across the border? The colonel looks at me like I am a total idiot but sticks the knife in gently: "Gaza is run by Hamas, a terrorist organization. Do you know what they would do with our trucks if we just opened the gate and drove right through?" Well, yes, I have a pretty good idea: they would shoot at them and try to blow them up in the same way that they almost daily attack the border crossings. Case in point: the Erez crossing was blown to smithereens on May 22 when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated 4 tons of explosives packed into his truck. So the conveyor belt does make sense, but that is also an instance of what is so disturbing, namely that an Israeli at some point came up with a practical solution of how to continue to transfer goods into Gaza even when the border crossings are constantly being attacked. The image that comes to mind is that scene from Jurassic Park where a T-Rex is being fed a live cow. What would it take for a basic sense of self-preservation to kick in here?

(Above: Scene from the Sufa border crossing; photography by Paul Widen)

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