In court, attorneys for the state claimed that, in theory, Israel it doesn’t oppose exit of processed foods manufactured in Gaza to markets in the West Bank and abroad. So why won’t it accept an application from a company trying to coordinate the exit of its products from Gaza to the West Bank?
In May this year, Israel’s High Court heard a petition (Hebrew) filed by Gisha against the Minister of Defense, COGAT, COGAT’s Gaza Coordination Liaison Administration (Gaza CLA), and the Israeli Land Crossing Authority on behalf of the owners of Sarayo Al Wadia, a Gaza-based company that manufactures sweets and snacks and is looking to market them outside the Strip. In the petition, we demanded that Israel enable Gaza manufacturers to sell and export non-agricultural goods, including all types of processed foods, from Gaza to markets outside the Strip.
In its preliminary response to the petition, Israel made three central arguments. Firstly, that there is no prohibition on exit of processed foods from Gaza. Secondly, that it never received the multiple applications submitted by the owners of Sarayo Al Wadia to coordinate the exit of their products. Lastly, the state admitted that it hasn’t established a mechanism for coordinating the exit of goods in compliance with Israeli Health Ministry requirements, though it failed to explain why no coordination mechanism has yet to be instituted.
On the day of the hearing, Gisha submitted an affidavit by the Palestinian official in charge of coordinating commercial transport of goods with Israel. His statement emphasized that the Israeli side refuses to accept applications for coordinating the exit of processed foods from the Strip, and therefore, that there is no possibility to submit such applications. We also attached our own correspondence with the Gaza CLA, where it claims to be processing an application by the owners of Sarayo Al Wadia, contradicting Israel’s allegation whereby it never received their applications.
At the hearing, the court declined to conduct a principled discussion on Israel’s refusal to allow Gaza companies like Sarayo Al Wadia to market their products outside the Strip. Instead, the court advised the petitioners to erase the petition, and directed them to submit another application to coordinate the exit of their goods from Gaza.
In late June, company owner Wael Wadia turned once again to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza in order to submit another application, as instructed by the court, only to find himself facing the same situation: The committee would not accept his application on the grounds that Israel does not enable processed food products from Gaza to be marketed in the West Bank. In a letter of complaint to the head of the Gaza CLA, we noted that this directly contradicts what Israel had claimed before the High Court earlier this year. The CLA hasn’t responded.
On May 28, we also sent a letter to the director general at the Israeli Health Ministry asking what steps have been taken to set up a mechanism to enable Gaza manufacturers to sell and export processed foods outside the Strip in accordance with the ministry’s requirements, whether there is an active process taking place to establish the necessary procedures, and what the timeframe is for completing the necessary checks. More than two months later, we have yet to hear back from them.
The fact that food products have not exited the Strip since Israel tightened the closure in 2007 is not the result of a procedural error, but rather an expression of Israel’s disturbing disregard for its ongoing responsibilities towards Palestinian residents of Gaza. While Israel claims to be taking measures to allow economic development in the Strip, in practice it stymies efforts made by manufacturers to expand their businesses beyond the local market. We maintain that Israel must fulfill its obligations to enable normal life in the Strip by removing the obstacles it has put in place and allowing manufacturers in Gaza to market their goods outside the Strip.