An olive oil producer from the Gaza Strip wants to sell his olive oil in the West Bank. It probably sounds like a pretty straightforward request, but all goods entering the West Bank require Israel’s approval and Israel rejected the olive oil producer’s request. Why? The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the body charged with implementing Israel’s civilian policy in the occupied territory, tells us that the Israeli Ministry of Health has reservations and therefore the request is denied. The ministry, concerned with public health, says that there is no “standards-enforcement procedure for processed foods manufactured in the Gaza Strip.” Which public is the ministry of health concerned about in this context and with what sort of enforcement would it be satisfied?
The Palestinian Authority of course has its own health standards and system of enforcement and didn’t ask for Israel’s help or intervention in screening goods coming from Gaza. The olive oil producer isn’t talking about selling his product in Israel, which would understandably justify the potential intervention of Israel’s Ministry of Health. If Israel wanted to check a product that passes through its territory it could do so (sample it, test it, draw conclusions) which is presumably what it does with products it approves for import from say Spain or Turkey or anywhere else. In this case, however, COGAT is refusing to take even that simple step.
Instead, and as is the norm, COGAT is denying its responsibility, claiming that its hands are tied by the MOH. The MOH can raise concerns, but there is nothing stopping COGAT from working with the MOH to determine a procedure to check the product. It did just that in 2014, when, after seven years of banning agricultural produce from Gaza from reaching to the West Bank, Israel suddenly allowed it.
The feigned innocence in COGAT’s reply is especially aggravating given that its own social media is plastered with posts, proudly announcing its role in facilitating economic activity in the Palestinian territory, as if it is the one growing strawberries in Gaza and selling them in the West Bank.
Currently, most goods from Gaza that are shipped for sale outside the Strip are destined for the West Bank. The scope of control Israel has granted itself to decide exactly what kinds of products can be shipped, how much, when and where comes with an obligation to at the very least allow producers and manufacturers to get their goods to market. Enough with the excuses.