One of the primary crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip stopped operating Monday, after the company that ran it was reportedly forced to shut down, either by Hamas or by striking truckers angry at price gauging by the monopoly.
Nahed Shuhaiber had operated the Kerem Shalom crossing for years on behalf of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which has been at odds with the Hamas leadership in Gaza. The removal of his company froze commerce at the crossing.
However, a truck driver who uses the crossings said the shutdown had come about at the instigtation of truck drivers angry about the company’s exorbitant prices
Palestinian media reported that Hamas officials informed Shuhaiber, whose company has managed the Kerem Shalom crossing for several years, that he had been relieved of his responsibilities.
The crossing has been inactive for several days since a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon last Tuesday. Israel was set to resume the transfer of goods on Monday, but Monday afternoon some 70 trucks sat idling on the Israeli side of the fence, a military spokesman said.
Palestinian sources said Sunday that they expected some 400 trucks to deliver supplies by way of the crossing on Monday. The higher-than-usual amount of goods was to make up for the days the crossing was closed.
However, on Monday morning, nobody came to open the crossing from the Palestinian side, military spokesman Guy Inbar said.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot warned Palestinian Authority officials of the security risks inherent in working with a new concessionaire without proper coordination between the two sides.
The Kerem Shalom crossing is considered a sterile zone where only two companies are allowed to operate: the Nissim Jan company on the Israeli side and the Shuhaiber company on the Palestinian side.
Since the beginning of Israel’s naval blockade in 2007, after Hamas ascended to power in the Gaza Strip, Israel has allowed humanitarian aid to enter the coastal territory overland. Between 150 and 250 trucks pass through Kerem Shalom daily, providing fuel, essential medical supplies and food to the residents of Gaza.
Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli NGO dealing with Palestinian travel rights, told The Times of Israel that in the past Hamas had tried to replace the Shuhaiber company.
But Hatem Shuhaiber, a relative of the current operator who runs his own trucking company in Gaza, told The Times of Israel that Gaza merchants had decided to go on strike Monday in protest against the exorbitant prices the Shuhaiber company charges Gaza truckers.
Shuhaiber said that his cousin’s company was selected without a tender and monopolizes transport within the Kerem Shalom crossing, earning thousands of dollars a day, while other trucking companies in Gaza — such as his — struggle to make ends meet.
“They operate like a mafia,” Shuhaiber told The Times of Israel. “The Shuhaiber company reached an agreement with the Israeli crossings authority, and the PA does not intervene. It’s a scandal.”
Shuhaiber said the Palestinian company charges NIS 500 ($134) for a driving distance of 200 meters (656 feet), while other companies, including his own — authorized to work only within the Gaza Strip but not in the crossing area — charge the same amount for a much longer distance.
According to Ynet, Egypt has pressured Hamas to allow the crossing to reopen in order to relieve the hardships that Gaza residents will continue to experience without the humanitarian aid Israel provides.