COGAT to Gisha: The ban on wood planks is legitimate. Israel has no obligation to allow products to enter Gaza
Ever since March 2015, Israel has enforced an almost complete ban on the entry of wood planks into the Gaza Strip, as well as other products needed in the furniture industry such as wood lacquer and paint thinners. Israel claims wood planks are “dual-use” equipment, or, civilian equipment that might be used for military purposes. Since the directive forbidding wood planks was issued, traders and suppliers from Israel and from the Gaza Strip have reported a significant blow to Gaza Strip’s economy and its furniture industry.
The wood plank ban has been expanded over the last few months. It was first announced in March 2015, and applied to wood planks that are 5 cm thick and 20/25 cm wide. In August 2015, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said that the ban would now apply to wood planks more than 1cm thick and 20/25 cm wide. In November 2015, an amendment to The Order regarding Monitoring of Security Exports (Controlled Dual Use Equipment Transported into Areas under Palestinian Civilian Authority) 5768-2008 (Hebrew) was published, for the first time featuring wood planks on the list of dual-use equipment prohibited from entering Gaza without a special permit. According to the order, the current ban pertains to wood planks thicker than 1 cm and wider than 5 cm.
On November 2, 2015, Gisha urgently appealed to COGAT to lift the blanket ban on wood planks’ entry into Gaza. Gisha explained its position that the ban was disproportionate and unreasonable, saying it was causing unnecessary harm to Gaza’s civilian population and its furniture industry and throwing a wrench in the efforts for economic and private sector recovery following Operation Protective Edge. The ban also contradicts declarations about Israel’s commitment to Gaza’s reconstruction, and undercuts helpful measures put in place by state authorities, such as the decision to allow the sale of Gaza-made furniture in Israel beginning October 2015. The ban is also a breach of Israel’s humanitarian obligations towards Gaza residents.
COGAT’s response, received on December 16, 2015 (Hebrew), completely ignores Gisha’s arguments regarding the severe harm caused by the ban to the rights of Gaza’s residents and to its economy and furniture industry. According to the answer, the ban is lawful as Israel may determine that certain goods which can or are used in practice for terrorist activities will require a special permit for entry into Gaza. The letter further stated “Israel is under no obligation to allow products of this type to enter Gaza”. The claim is surprising as it contradicts Israel’s undertaking to the High Court of Justice, and the court’s ruling, that Israel is obligated to provide, not just allow, basic and humanitarian equipment to Gaza’s residents given its control over border crossings and Gaza’s dependency on Israel which has developed over the years (al-Basyuni judgment). We note that supply of gas and electricity to Gaza via Israel takes place subject to payment by the Palestinian Authority.