Gisha in urgent appeal to COGAT: Cancel the ban on the entrance of wood planks into the Gaza Strip immediately

November 2, 2015: This morning, Gisha sent a letter to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, demanding the immediate cancellation of the ban on the entrance of wood planks into the Gaza Strip.

On March 31, 2015, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) issued an order indicating that Israel prohibits the entrance of wood planks that are more than five-centimeters thick. On August 9, the ban was expanded to include wood planks thicker than one centimeter. In an interview (Hebrew) published in early September, Maj. Gen. Mordechai said that Hamas was confiscating lumber sold in the Gaza Strip for the purpose of building tunnels, and that this was the reason for the ban.

Paradoxically, just a few weeks later, COGAT announced that Israel would permit the sale of Gaza-made furniture in Israel (along with scrap metal and textile), with the objective of “boosting Gaza’s economy, reducing unemployment” and “increasing employment as a means of improving security”.

Wood is obviously the primary raw material needed for making furniture and the ban has caused an increase in furniture prices on the local market and layoffs in the industry. Opening up the Israeli market to Gaza-made furniture is meaningless if production is impossible.

Furniture makers in Gaza estimate that the ban on lumber, should it continue, will lead to the collapse of some 80% of the furniture companies and carpentries in Gaza. They also project that sales to the West Bank will grind to a halt and that furniture supply to the local market would also eventually be obliterated, with hundreds working in the sector now joining the already expansive ranks of Gaza’s unemployed (Gaza’s unemployment rate was 41.5% in the second quarter of 2015). This and other manufacturing sectors face additional hurdles as well, such as the need to re-establish ties with former buyers and identify new ones and also reach agreements with the Palestinian Authority about the process for payment of Value Added Tax.

Senior security officials in Israel have repeatedly said that Gaza’s recovery is in Israel’s interest, but the gap between rhetoric and reality is frustratingly wide. Opening up markets to Gaza’s furniture industry, while at the same time denying manufacturers the very raw materials they require, makes a mockery of their professional aspirations and their right to livelihood. Israel must identify real solutions to combat the threats it faces – gutting one of Gaza’s few remaining industries is not one of them.

*The letter can be found here.