In response to a Freedom of Information application, COGAT provided figures on the issuance of BMG (Business Man Gaza) cards to Gaza residents
For several months now, Gisha has been trying to get information from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) regarding the implementation of the procedure for issuing a “Business Man Gaza” (BMG) certificate for merchants in the Gaza Strip (Hebrew), published in February 2015. As a part of measures taken to improve and drive the Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip, and as part of a plan for “controlling security in Gaza through stabilizing the economy”, a decision was made in September 2014 to offer Gaza a “civilian package”. The package includes issuance of special certification to prominent Gaza businessmen (BMG – Business Man Gaza), which offers significant exemptions from restrictions imposed on travel from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, much like those offered to BMC holders (Hebrew) in the West Bank.
The procedure set the initial quota for BMG cards at 250, with an increase implemented in two phases over the course of 2015. The procedure also lists the criteria for receiving the cards under the categories of business owners, importers, business people in the service industry, businesswomen and bank or corporate employees.
Beginning in July 2015, Gisha sent a series of letters (Hebrew) to COGAT asking for information on the implementation of the procedure, including figures on the number of BMG card holders since the decision to extend the benefit and information on what benefits are granted to them in practice. The brief and extremely partial answers (Hebrew) provided by COGAT left Gisha no choice but to file an application under the Freedom of Information Act, which compels COGAT to reply to requests. The application (Hebrew) was sent on December 31, 2015.
The response sent by COGAT on January 28, 2016 included a great deal of information about issuing Gaza residents BMG cards – the same information COGAT had previously refused to provide. The response included that the quota stood at 350 at the time, and the first increase was implemented only on September 24, 2015, more than six months after the procedure was publicized. The quota was fully filled, as 350 BMG cards were issued to Gaza residents to date. Of the 350 BMG cards issues, 344 of them are still valid. Only four cards were issued to women.
COGAT received a large number of applications for BMG cards, but many were refused due to the limited quota. Applications are prioritized by COGAT in cooperation with the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, based on the financial activity reported by each applicant. COGAT also said that 252 women received permits to accompany BMG holders and that no applications for exit via Israel’s international airport had been received, though the option is available to BMG cardholders under the procedure.
COGAT did not respond to all the questions posed by Gisha, and most notably, refrained from listing what restrictions are mitigated for BMG cardholders in the various crossing points and in travel from Gaza to Israel, the West Bank and abroad. COGAT persisted in its refusal in another response sent on February 11, 2016 (Hebrew).