IDF official says Gaza exports have soared, as Israel seeks to incentivize calm

Military’s liaison to Palestinians says ‘combined policy’ of helping civilians while not allowing terror buildup has also led to over 300% increase in movement through border

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: A Hamas security officer checks trucks carrying materials that are waiting to enter Gaza, at the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, September 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Illustrative: A Hamas security officer checks trucks carrying materials that are waiting to enter Gaza, at the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, September 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The military’s liaison to the Palestinians on Sunday touted steps Israel has taken to strengthen the economy in the Gaza Strip while also foiling military buildup by terror groups there.

In a briefing to reporters, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories — widely known by the acronym COGAT — said Israel was employing a “combined policy” toward Gaza.

“The policy consists of a military effort to thwart military buildup, and critically striking at any attempt to harm the security of Israel, alongside a proactive civilian policy aimed at the general public,” Alian said.

In data shared by COGAT, exports from Gaza to the West Bank were expected to shoot up by 27 percent this year, continuing a trend. In 2020, the total number of trucks exporting goods from Gaza to the West Bank was 3,397; in 2021 it was 4,003; and by the end of this year it is expected to reach 5,117, according to estimates.

Exports from Gaza to Israel were also expected to rise by an unprecedented 93.8%, according to COGAT. In 2020, some 1,181 trucks carrying exports entered Israel from Gaza; 2,588 in 2021; and this year the number is expected to reach 5,016.

According to COGAT, crossings between Gaza and Israel increased by 311% percent this year. In 2020, some 122,400 crossing were recorded; in 2021 the number rose to 163,500; and this year the number shot up to 672,000, according to the data.

Illustrative: Palestinians from the Gaza Strip enter Israel through the Erez Crossing. (Israel Defense Forces)

Currently, some 14,000 Gazan Palestinians have work permits to enter Israel. The Defense Ministry has signed off on a tentative plan to eventually raise the number of permits to 20,000, an unprecedented increase. In mid-2021, just 7,000 Palestinians from Gaza had permits to work or trade in Israel.

Defense officials say allowing more Gazans to work in Israel will pump much-needed income into the impoverished coastal enclave while encouraging stability.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for over 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to the terror group’s efforts to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.

Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel a highly attractive option for those lucky enough to receive permits.

According to COGAT, Gaza’s local unemployment rate dropped by 5.5% over the last quarter to 44.7%, with the average daily salary rising slightly to NIS 61.7 ($19).

The workers allowed to cross into Israel to work might get as much as NIS 400 ($115.66) per day, according to a report by Times of Israel sister site Zman Yisrael.

COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian in a video message to Gazans on August 5, 2022. (Screen capture/COGAT)

According to Alian, after last week’s fighting against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, Israel “returned to the implementation of the civil policy towards the Gaza Strip with limitations on the issue of reconstruction, until there is progress with the missing and captured.”

Israel has said it is preventing large-scale reconstruction of Gaza after last year’s 11-day war, unless Hamas returns detained civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and the remains of IDF troops Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul who were killed in 2014’s war.

Hamas has rejected the condition.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash90/Courtesy)

“The residents of Gaza must know that we have no interest in being dragged into a war against them,” Alian said. “And the Israeli security establishment will continue to allow a civilian humanitarian policy towards the Gazan public, but this is subject to the preservation of security stability.”

“If Hamas and the other terror groups in the Gaza Strip try to fracture the peace, Israel’s policy will change accordingly,” he said.

“I suggest that the residents of Gaza take a look at [the West Bank], and the steps that Israel is advancing there, and realize what is at stake, and what damage Hamas is causing them,” Alian continued.

“Hamas is an enemy of the State of Israel and, unfortunately, also of the residents of Gaza,” he added.

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