An inch at a time

There has been no change in the world that can explain why agricultural products at a height of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) more can exit – a change that reduces shipping costs for individual suppliers. Tomatoes shipped to Israel. Photo by Gisha.

February 11, 2016. After years of objecting, Israeli security officials have increased the allowable shipment height on trucks exiting through Kerem Shalom Crossing – for agricultural products only. Goods may now be loaded up to a height of 1.5 meters.

One of the conditions Israel had imposed on commercial shipments out of Gaza via Kerem Shalom was that the total height of goods stacked on trucks could not exceed 1.2 meters (the pallet on which the goods are loaded itself is about 20 cm high, so the resulting difference is about 30 centimeters or 11.8 inches). The reason cited for this height restriction was that it was necessary to conduct security checks.

The new height will allow suppliers to load more crates onto each pallet and therefore onto each departing truck, saving on shipping costs. Ibrahim Bashir, a Gaza trader, told Gisha that previously 48 crates of vegetables could be loaded onto each pallet, or 786 crates on each truck. The new height allowance will mean that 64 crates per pallet can be loaded or up to 1,024 crates per truck.  “This is significant”, he said.

In March 2015, Gisha published a study that looked into the marketing potential of five manufacturing sectors in Gaza, and presented the difficulties reported by leading business-people. Manufacturers in the agricultural, food processing and furniture sectors all cited restrictions on the height of pallets as an impediment to their competitive advantage and to profit. In the past, the military has said that height restrictions relate to how security checks are conducted at the crossing, however, when we asked why the cutting-edge scanner at the crossing, donated by the Dutch government and calibrated according to the military’s specifications, was not being used to its full potential, including for scanning containers at a height of 2 meters, no meaningful answer was forthcoming.

As part of the study we undertook, manufacturers cited several other factors which increase transaction costs, including things like lack of refrigeration and shade facilities at the crossing and the inability to make use of shipping containers or back-to-back transport. Some of the restrictions may be the result of security needs; some are clearly not – as evidenced by the fact that they can be easily removed. There has been no change in the world that can explain why agricultural products at a height of 30 centimeters more can exit – a change that reduces shipping costs for individual suppliers. The decision could have been made a long time ago. Pointless and arbitrary regulations hold back the chances of economic recovery in Gaza and thus needlessly undermine regional stability.