Over the past few days, the question of whether sale of goods from Gaza will be allowed has seemed more relevant than ever following the reported rise in tomato prices (Hebrew); the response of the Israeli Vegetable Growers Association that it does not oppose the marketing of tomatoes from the Gaza Strip in Israel, and; the end of the season for agricultural export from the Gaza Strip to Europe. We decided to try and provide some answer to the main questions on the topic.
Is there sale of goods out of Gaza today?
Yes, but not enough. Ever since the closure on the Gaza Strip was tightened in June of 2007, Israel has banned the marketing of goods to the West Bank and Israel. Seasonal agricultural export to Europe does exist, but it is negligible in quantity and depends on subsidies provided by the Dutch government in a special export project. The export project accounted for only about 100 truckloads per month at the height of the season, compared to an average of 2,000 trucks that left Gaza each month before the closure was imposed.
Officially, Israel permits export of non-agricultural products from Gaza abroad, such as furniture and textiles, but export abroad is simply not profitable under the current circumstances (see more below) and manufacturers have yet to develop significant commercial ties for marketing their products outside Israel or the West Bank.
On a few occasion in early 2012, Israel granted permission to market goods to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and in one special case also to the West Bank. All these goods were shipped through Israeli territory.
Isn’t it enough that Israel allows export to almost all destinations worldwide except Israel and the Gaza Strip?
No, because Gaza’s industry is suited for sale to nearby markets. The demand for products, packing methods and potential consumers are located in Israel and the West Bank. In fact, there is little demand for Gaza-made products outside these areas. In addition, even if trade ties were established, packing and shipping requirements and the distance of outside markets make exporting to other locations a non-viable and not profitable option for merchants. Prior to 2007, some 85% of the goods that left Gaza were marketed in Israel and the West Bank.
It is important to note that even if Rafah Crossing in Egypt is converted to allow commercial transport, which it currently is not, it would still fail to provide a solution for shipping goods from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank.
Why is export so important?
Gisha’s position is that Israel has an obligation to allow normal civilian life in the Gaza Strip, including allowing the economy to function, with requisite import and export. Israel may condition access of goods on security inspections. Moreover, the current government has decided to allow economic development in the Gaza Strip as part of its policy to distinguish between residents of Gaza and the current government, based on the understanding that a thriving Palestinian economy is also an Israeli interest.
Five years without revenue generated from sale of goods outside the territory have led to an absurd economic model in the Gaza Strip, one in which as the manufacturing sector crashes, government revenue increases. Hamas’ budget in Gaza has grown with revenue coming mostly from funding by foreign entities and taxation on goods coming through the tunnels from Egypt. A new class of millionaires who benefit from import of goods, real estate and retail has emerged, while the unemployment rate among the general population rose to 30.3% at the end of 2011.
In short, a significant increase in sale out goods from Gaza isn’t to be expected in the coming years without reopening Israeli and West Bank markets to Gaza-made goods. And without an increase in sale of goods from Gaza, the industrial and agricultural sectors in the Strip will not be able to recover, unemployment rates will not go down and long-term, sustainable economic development will not be possible.
Are there security reasons for prohibiting the marketing of goods from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank?
All goods shipped out of the Gaza Strip, whether destined to the Ashdod seaport, Ben Gurion International Airport or the Allenby Bridge border crossing, transit through Israel after undergoing security checks. No security official has claimed that goods that transit through Israel require different standards of security screening than they would if they were marketed in Israel or the West Bank.
Considering the permission that was granted for emergency transport of palm fronds or “lulavs” from Gaza to Israel on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot last year, along with the agreement given a few weeks ago to allow, for the first time in five years, to the sale of date bars from Gaza to the West Bank, it is difficult not to get the impression that where there is a will to transport goods, there is also a way – without sacrificing security.
When security officials are asked about the sweeping prohibition on marketing goods in Israel and the West Bank, they do not say it is a security necessity, but rather that it is part of the “separation policy”. Only this week, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Dangot, said that this policy had a clear political purpose – “to put pressure on the Hamas regime”.
As a human rights organization, we do not consider it our role to comment on the content of the government’s political goals, but rather to insist that they are pursued in a manner consistent with international law. Any policy seeking to “put pressure on the Hamas regime” by indiscriminately harming Palestinian residents of Gaza is an unlawful policy. To this, one might add the fact that there is broad consensus in Israel that this tactic has failed. Those who still speak in these terms are living in 2007.
We will soon publish a document in which we detail what we know about the “separation policy” for the purpose of providing a comprehensive factual basis for a public debate on the policy and its various implications.