Why does Israel ban Gazans from recycling?

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A little over a year ago when I was visiting my family in Gaza, driving all the way from the southern tip of this narrow strip to the northern tip, “About an hour’s drive”, it was hard to imagine all the news Gaza received for being such a tiny piece of land. But throughout the drive on Salah Aldeen Road, one could not help but notice piles and piles of scrap metal stored in huge warehouses on the road. Anyone visiting Gaza can tell you those scrap metal piles cannot be missed.

When I asked my family about those warehouses, I was told those loads of scrap metal were waiting to be let into Israel for recycling. Since 2006 Israel, where the only recycling facilities are, has not allowed the Palestinian warehouses that collect and process the scrap metal to let it into Israel so they can be recycled and brought to life again. As a kid, I remember old men on donkey-pulled carts with annoying horn mics asking people to bring their metal junk–mostly aluminum and copper back then, but now they also take steal and plastic. As a kid I would sell old kitchenware pans and pots for a few shekels that would pay for ice cream after school. I would also see kids collecting empty soda cans and whatever they thought they could sell and wait for the old man on his donkey-pulled cart to show up. Items like car parts, pipes, cans, and barbed wire are also popular items to recycle. That was the late 90s, and early 2000, but once Israel imposed its siege on Gaza, Israel banned the import of all metal junk from the Palestinians.  

According to a recent article by Elaph.com, the Arabic news site, there is now 100 thousand tons of scrap metal in Gaza waiting for permission from Israel to be recycled. There are 20 large warehouses that collect recycling material, those twenty warehouse are individually owned by Palestinians. Although the people of Gaza appreciate replacing and having less trash to deal with, for the many Palestinians this is purely a business transaction. For example, a ton of scrap metal in Gaza is bought for a 100 shekels (about 30 US dollars), the warehouse would sell it to the Israeli recycling facilities for 250 shekels (about 70 US dollars). On average, each of those 20 warehouses sold 500 tons of scrap metal a month. Prior to the blockade each of those 20 warehouses employed 10 workers, and there are a reported 9 thousand individuals with donkey-pulled carts.”

Those warehouses would make a nice profit, improve the environment and provide local jobs.

As for the Israeli recyclers, they seem to have found alternatives for the time being as the Israeli government continues to maintain the blockade on importing the Gaza scrap metal. More recently, a few tunnel operators started smuggling their brass, aluminum and copper into Egypt  for recycling, but there is so little you can smuggle underground when you are talking about 100 thousand tons of scrap metal. For Israel, it is about economic activities. They do not want anyone in Gaza to have an economy that stands on its own; instead, they want the people of Gaza to turn into a nation of beggars chasing food stamps. According to Israel this breaks their will and tells them that Hamas is really bad for them. But when Palestinians recycle and create jobs in the process, Israel’s hideous and cruel plans fail.

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