Thurs., Nov. 6, 2014: Israel today allowed a farmer from Gaza to transfer a truckload of cucumbers for sale in the West Bank, marking the first time in more than seven years that agricultural products from Gaza were marketed in the West Bank. Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement welcomed the move and asked that it include not just agricultural goods but also manufactured items to markets not just in the West Bank but also in Israel.

Access to markets in Israel and the West Bank is critical to rehabilitating Gaza’s agricultural and industrial sectors“, said Gisha Director Eitan Diamond. “The restrictions on marketing goods have no security justification. Israel must lift the obstacles that prevent Palestinians from developing their economy and leading their lives with dignity.

A previous shipment of agricultural goods intended for the West Bank was turned back last month after Israel claimed that labeling requirements had not been met. Farmers in Gaza have requested that Israel publish clear procedures and that these include only reasonable security and phytosanitary requirements, which do not unduly jeopardize the profitability of marketing. An additional challenge is the unpredictability of operations at the crossing. Israel closed the crossing for two days this week after militants from Gaza fired a rocket at Israel, in an act of collective punishment.

Since June 2007 Israel has banned transfer of goods from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank. Prior to that, more than 85% of goods leaving Gaza were being sold in Israel and the West Bank. This year, just 10 trucks on average monthly left Gaza, compared with 1,064 trucks monthly just prior to the ban. Gaza farmers have told Gisha that they could potentially market up to 30% of their produce in the West Bank, or in other words between 100-150 trucks of agricultural produce per month.

Today’s move comes amid promises to ease the closure of Gaza, following the recent military operation and statements by senior Israeli officials (Hebrew) of the need to allow economic development there.

Farmer Abed Al Rauf Abu Safar says that the first truck is symbolic for traders in Gaza: “Hopefully this will open the way for others. All the other traders are watching to see if this works so that they can begin marketing their own goods in the West Bank too. There are still problematic restrictions for us, such as the requirement on pallet height, but hopefully this will change in the future and will make the transfer of goods more economically viable”.

Gisha has long claimed that the ban on access to markets in Israel and the West Bank is not justified by a security imperative and is therefore illegitimate. The small quantities of export to third countries has taken place via Israel, clearing Israeli security through the Kerem Shalom crossing and continuing on to Israeli air and sea ports or crossing through the West Bank to Jordan. Military officials have cited the separation policy as the reason for the restrictions.

Gaza’s economy has been crippled by restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed beginning in the 1990s and tightened in the wake of the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Gaza’s GDP per capita is 14% lower than it was 20 years ago.

Gisha called on the government of Israel to allow unfettered access for people and goods into and out of Gaza, subject to individual security screenings only.