Gaza Cargo Closure a Hardship for Palestinians
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Turning to the Middle East now, we're going to hear about life in the Gaza Strip. The Carnie Crossing between Israel and Gaza is a vital conduit for Palestinian imports and exports. Israel has kept the crossing closed for much of this past year, citing terrorist threats. It was open briefly today and yesterday, and some basic goods were allowed in. But market shelves in Gaza are running low, food prices are soaring, and local farmers say they're having to dump hundreds of tons of produce.
NPR's Eric Westervelt, has our report.
(Soundbite of car)
ERIC WESTERVELT, reporting:
Israel opened the Carnie Crossing for a short time yesterday to allow humanitarian goods to cross into Gaza, medical supplies and some food items, such as flour and sugar.
Mr. HASAM SHUHABAR (ph) (Trucker): (Speaking foreign language)
WESTERVELT: Trucker Hasam Shuhabar is hauling a load of sugar headed for a United Nations distribution center. The Gaza price for a kilo of sugar has more than doubled in the last month.
Shuhabar said he's thankful for the first day of work and pay in weeks.
Mr. SHUHABAR (Through translator): Thank God the border is open today. If Carnie is open, I can work and make my living. If not, I will become a beggar.
WESTERVELT: The chronic closures of this main freight crossing have added new strains to the already hard pressed resident of Gaza.
WESTERVELT: In Gaza City, Safa Betaway (ph) shops at a local market with four of her 11 children. She's had to make due, she says, to feed her large family amid scarcity and rising prices.
Ms. SAFA BETAWAY (Gaza resident): (Through translator) This store doesn't have milk, cheese or yogurt now. My kids need milk. My husband is unemployed, so now I'm responsible and I face huge problems finding and paying for food.
WESTERVELT: Asked about her family's prospects, Betaway answers somberly, the future is dark, we see no light.
While some humanitarian goods entered Gaza in the last two days, no goods were allowed out, including produce, a major part of the Gaza economy.
After Israel pulled out of the territory last year, Palestinians took over greenhouses in the former Jewish settlement. But with Carnie frequently closed, farmers here say they're hurting.
Muhammad Barter (ph) manages the Palestinian Economic Company's network of greenhouses. He says so far this year, they've had to throw away more than 1,000 tons of spoiled tomatoes, peppers and other produce at a cost of $5 million. Losses will mount, he warns, unless the border is soon reopened for good.
Mr. MUHAMMAD BARTER (Palestinian Economic Company): We need it now, now we are in the peak of the season. I will not have any benefit if they open it during June or July, there's no products to export.
WESTERVELT: Keeping Carnie open was part of a wider, much touted agreement between Israel and the Palestinian authority brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, last year.
The deal called for steep increases in agricultural exports through Carnie and eventual bus travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Neither has happened. A new World Bank report found no sustained improvement in the movement of Palestinian goods across Carnie.
Muhammad Barter charges that Israel was simply trying to pressure and punish the incoming Hamas-led government.
Mr. BARTER: They close it, against all the agreement. They are aiming to destroy Palestinian economy.
WESTERVELT: Mark Regev (ph) with Israel's Foreign Ministry says the crossing closures' are neither punitive nor political, but based on specific terrorist threats. Israel has offered to send goods through another crossing further south, but Palestinians reject the idea, saying that crossing can't handle the volume of cargo needed.
Regev says there are huge question marks hanging over existing agreements now that a group sworn to Israel's destruction has been elected to govern in the Palestinian territory.
Mr. MARK REGEV (Foreign Ministry, Israel): The crossing's an agreement that was part of getting back on track on the roadmap. And unfortunately, you've got an incoming Palestinian leadership, Hamas, that says that they don't want to see a roadmap to a two-state solution that they reject the notion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
WESTERVELT: Israel says the decision whether to open or close the Carnie freight crossing will be made on a day-to-day basis, after weighing security threats.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.