Though Gaza manufacturers hired 1,200 new workers last year, the total number of employees is less than half of those who had jobs when the militant group Hamas took control of the coastal strip in 2007, according to the Palestinian statistics bureau. Unemployment has dipped but remains at 37 percent.
Since Israel first began imposing restrictions on Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza in the 1990s, it justified such restrictions as necessary for its security. But after the 2006 abduction of Sgt. Gilad Shalit on the Gaza border, and Hamas’s ascension to power four years ago, the border restrictions were described as political leverage to pressure Hamas.
Now, Israeli officials have reverted to portraying limits on movement as security precautions.
Israel’s army says that the number of shipping containers at the border more than doubled in May from April, and that there are some 70 development projects by international groups that are either in progress or have been completed.
So far, only flowers and produce destined for Europe have been authorized. Exports to nearby markets in Israel and the West Bank are still banned. Officials insist, however, that the policy is to loosen restrictions on exports.
"If you get a container from Gaza to Israel, how do you know it isn’t going to explode?" says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "There are logistic and security issues, but the policy is to widen."