Gaza Export Season: Negligible Numbers, Distant Markets
• Israel to allow just 1% of the export promised in 2005 US-brokered agreement.
• Since June 2007, not a single truckload has been allowed for sale to Israel or the West Bank – where most of Gaza's goods have traditionally been sold.
• Gaza's factories crippled by restrictions; unemployment high.
Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011: At the start of Gaza's winter export season which began today, Gisha raises a question for the Israeli Defense Ministry: Why are residents of Gaza banned from transferring goods to their natural markets in Israel and the West Bank?
A select number of farmers in Gaza are beginning to export flowers, peppers, tomatoes and strawberries to Europe. Two truckloads of strawberries were permitted to leave Gaza today as part of an exception to the ban on export that Israel has imposed since June 2007. Each year since then, Israel has allowed a few truckloads of winter agricultural produce to leave Gaza as part of a project sponsored by the Netherlands. Last year (November 2010-May 2011), Israel allowed farmers to export 290 truckloads in total – despite a promise, in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, to allow 400 truckloads of export each day. Even if this year's plan for agricultural export is fully implemented – which is highly unlikely – it would allow fewer than 5 trucks per day for the entire season – just 1% of the promised amount. This exception to the ban is helpful for select growers, but it fails to address the manufacturing shut-down and massive unemployment caused by the export ban. About 83% of Gaza's factories are idle or operating at 50% or less capacity. Unemployment is officially listed at 28%, compared with 15.5% in 2000.
The cause of the problem is Israel's complete ban, since June 2007, on transferring goods from Gaza to Israel or the West Bank. Prior to 2007, 85% of Gaza's outgoing goods were sold in Israel and the West Bank. The profitability of export to Europe is limited, in part due to high shipping costs and low demand.
Profitable deals that Israel is blocking include marketing citrus fruit to West Bank grocers and textiles to Israeli companies. Gisha notes that since all exports from Gaza to Europe via Israel undergo comprehensive security checks and meet all required standards, it is hard to imagine any security rationale behind the ban. In fact, Israeli security officials attribute the ban to a political decision to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
Prior to 2007, Gaza farmer Monthar Alboudi used to export 1,500 tons of strawberries annually. Last year, he was allowed to sell just 7 tons to Europe, and has been prevented from selling anything to his customers in Israel and the West Bank. "Export to Europe is not very profitable, although I think it's important to preserve the European market", says Alboudi. "I hope they will allow us to sell our produce in the West Bank and Israel, our primary markets".
According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: "It is not clear how preventing producers in Gaza from selling eggplants, school desks, and oranges to the West Bank enhances Israeli security, but the ban is clearly harming Palestinians trying to engage in productive, dignified work".