COGAT and Ministry of Agriculture respond to Freedom of Information applications made by Gisha regarding the sale of agricultural goods from the Gaza Strip in the West Bank
In early October 2014 (Hebrew), for the first time since June 2007, Israel allowed the sale of agriculture goods from the Gaza Strip in the West Bank. Since then, Gisha has been trying to have the guidelines and regulations governing these sales made public, primarily for the benefit of Gaza and West Bank suppliers whose livelihoods depend on this information. Gisha has also been trying to obtain information about the extent of the trade, the procedure and the kinds of crops that may be marketed in order to assess the impact of the new policy on the rehabilitation and improvement of Gaza’s economy.
Unfortunately, two Freedom of Information requests sent to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) (Hebrew) and the Ministry of Agriculture (Hebrew), did not help reveal the written procedures and guidelines affecting the sale of agricultural goods from Gaza to the West Bank. The information was not forthcoming despite the fact that this activity, which has effectively been taking place for the past ten months, is obviously supported by regulations and guidelines that govern the trade to the very last detail. These two bodies disregarded their duty to make the guidelines known to the public (as established in the Freedom of Information Act) and ignored requests from Gisha in this matter.
At the same time, partial responses provided by the two bodies, COGAT on January 12, 2015 (Hebrew) and the Ministry of Agriculture on July 19, 2015 (Hebrew) do provide some information about certain aspects of the sale of agricultural goods from Gaza to the West Bank and its scope.
Regarding the type of produce that may be sold, the responses contained contradictory data. According to COGAT, the produce allowed for sale includes, aside from fish: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, onions, strawberries, cabbage and dates. On the other hand, the Ministry of Agriculture submitted a list that also included pumpkin, butternut squash, watermelon, melon and beans. This discrepancy is significant because suppliers and farmers in the Gaza Strip do not know for certain what produce may or may not be marketed. Therefore, they cannot calculate and plan what kinds of produce to grow.
According to the responses, the agricultural goods are shipped only three days a week: Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 8:00 A.M. and 10 A.M. The goods must be marked as coming from the Gaza Strip. Ministry of Agriculture officials perform random testing of all goods to make sure there are no parasites, followed by a security check performed by border crossing staff.
Both COGAT and the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that there are no quota restrictions on the amount of agricultural goods that may be shipped from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. However, COGAT pointed out that no more than 40 trucks carrying agricultural goods may cross on a given day because of the capacity and volume that can be accommodated at the Kerem Shalom crossing. In other words, practically, there is a very significant restriction to the amount of agricultural goods shipped from Gaza to the West Bank.
Gisha was also told that coordination regarding the sale of agricultural goods from Gaza is carried out by officials from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture and the agricultural coordinator in the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO), Uri Madar. The Palestinian representative is required to provide the DCO with a list of goods scheduled for shipping through the Kerem Shalom crossing one day before the actual shipment. The list must include information about the supplier or farmer, the type of goods being transported and the destination.
Gisha will continue to work to uncover all the information, figures and guidelines affecting marketing from Gaza.