The discovery of a terror tunnel running from Gaza into Israel had a number of important ramifications. As a security measure, Israel stopped allowing construction materials into Gaza.
At the same time, this significantly undermined the NGO campaign to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza and to force Israel to end restrictions on goods entering Hamas-controlled territory.
Within Israel, this campaign has been led by Gisha, an NGO (non-governmental organization) that lobbies for unfettered freedom of movement of goods in and out of Gaza, and which is funded by European governments (EU, Norway, Ireland, UK, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands), UN frameworks, and the New Israel Fund (NIF) and other foundations. Its allies include groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and dozens of international NGOs.
In a press release (“Following exposure of Gaza tunnel to Israel: No construction materials to enter the Strip from Israel,” n.d.), blog post (“The tunnel to Ein Hashlosha: Five short questions,” October 16, 2013), and media statements, Gisha has speculated that the cement for the tunnel came exclusively from Egypt, denied that Hamas would steal from international organizations, and labeled Israel’s decision to halt transfer of construction materials into Gaza as “punitive.” However, Gisha has not condemned Hamas for its diversion of materials that could have been used for building schools or medical facilities.
1. Gisha Claim: “The cement for the tunnel likely came from Egypt.”
Response: As reported in the New York Times (and Israeli media), Hamas “had been using construction materials approved by Israel for civilian purposes to build tunnels like the one discovered recently.” In fact, in 2012 alone, Israel allowed hundreds of thousands of tons of aggregate and cement into Gaza. An article in Ynet, which Gisha cites, reported that bags of construction material from Egypt were found, but also reported that slabs of concrete from Israel were used.
2. Claim: “Why would Hamas buy expensive cement from international organizations, or risk stealing it, if it can buy the same cement cheaply through the tunnels?” (emphasis added).
Response: It is unclear what “risk” Hamas, a brutal and repressive terrorist organization with complete control over Gaza, faces from diverting resources from humanitarian organizations operating within its jurisdiction. In fact, it has previously done so.
3. Claim: “Israel allows construction materials to be sold to international aid organizations after a very long and arduous approval process. It also demands proof that the project is being executed and that the construction materials are safe-guarded at all times. In other words, such a claim would mean that the army somehow lost track of cement in quantities used to make 800 tons of concrete, that somehow made their way from international organizations into the hands of Hamas” (emphasis added).
Response: Gisha makes this assertion despite its lack of expertise regarding Israeli abilities, international NGO procedures and capabilities, and Hamas operations. Israel’s approval process for international projects is irrelevant to whether there is proper oversight over construction materials once those projects are underway. Moreover, Israel’s ability to keep “track” of the cement once it reaches Gaza is limited as there is no Israeli presence within Gaza. From Israel’s perspective, the discovery of the tunnel was grounds to suspend transfers to international organizations and reevaluate their capacity to responsibly conduct operations in Hamas controlled Gaza.
Furthermore, Gisha cannot have it both ways. It cannot demand that Israel loosen restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza, and marshal European diplomatic pressure against Israel, and then blame Israel when materials are diverted due to these looser restrictions.
The primary responsibility for protecting construction materials from Hamas interference lies with the international organizations and NGOs.
4. Claim: “It is unlikely that materials purchased by the United Nations –- very carefully monitored by Israel –- made it out of UN hands.”
Response: Again, Gisha lacks the expertise and knowledge to make this claim. It has no direct knowledge of the rigor of oversight mechanisms on the ground in Gaza, let alone enough information to discount the myriad of possible ways that Hamas would be able to circumvent such measures.
5. Claim: “It is not clear how blocking the entrance of construction materials, including those intended for international projects, promotes that goal [of protecting the lives of its soldiers and citizens]… The connection drawn between announcing the discovery of the tunnel and blocking the transfer of construction materials raises the specter of a punitive act”
Response: The discovery of a terror tunnel built with concrete that came through the border with Israel is certainly sufficient grounds to suspend transfers to international organizations and reevaluate their capacity to responsibly and effectively conduct operations in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel has an obligation to its citizens to ask whether these groups are capable of preventing Hamas theft. Moreover, pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1373 and other international law relating to the suppression of terrorism, Israel has a legal obligation to prevent any assistance to terrorist organizations like Hamas, whether directly or indirectly.
The international organizations and NGOs have an obligation to conduct thorough audits of their own construction materials to verify that cement and equipment are entirely accounted for and used for their intended purpose, and implement security protocols to prevent further abuse.