US firms had to bribe their way into Gaza

Computer makers Dell and HP are among a number of US firms that complained of having to pay bribes at Israel's 'border' to Gaza in order to have merchandise allowed into the big prison camp.

According to a WikiLeaked memo from 2006, published today by Norway's Aftenposten newspaper, numerous US companies complained of "widespread corruption at Karni crossing."

A Coca Cola distributor, named as Joerg Hartmann, said he was asked to pay more than $3,000 to pass through the Karni Crossing, the route for goods entering the securely fenced-off Strip.

"Hartmann also alleged that he has been asked to pay as much as 13,000 to 15,000 shekels ($2,890 to £3,334 dollars) per truckload, which includes a flat fee plus an additional two shekels per case charge, which is not recorded on the invoice," the cable said.

Other firms complaining to US diplomats of being forced to pay bribes to get their wares into the stricken Strip include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Motorola, Aramex, Philip Morris, Westinghouse, Procter & Gamble, and, somewhat ironically, Caterpillar.

Caterpillar was the one firm that said it had refused to cough up.

"The deeply problematic procedures and allegations of endemic corruption at Karni terminal constitute a major non-tariff barrier to trade," the cable read.

"Corruption extends to Karni management and involves logistics companies working as middlemen for military and civilian officials at the terminal." according to the cable, which was authored by the US ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv and the American consul-general in Jerusalem.

Israel shut off the Karni crossing when Hamas was democratically elected to govern Gaza in June 2007. Goods are now transferred to the Strip by conveyor belt and it's not clear whether you have bribe your way onto that.

In another cable published earlier by Aftenposten, US diplomats passed on statements from Israeli officials about how they intended to keep Gaza's economy on teetering on the edge of meltdown, but avoid a humanitarian catastrophe that might prove internationally unpopular.

According to cable from March 3rd, 2008, penned by an American diplomat, Israeli officials told American diplomats "on multiple occasions that they intend to keep Gaza's economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge."

Israel has made no comment on the contents of either cable

Your correspondent has visited Gaza a couple of times. Conditions there are probably the worst you'll see anywhere on the planet and this isn't the result of any natural catastrophe but of good old-fashioned, man-made racism.

You can read reports of those experiences here and here. And it's got even worse since then.