November 3, 2019. In recent months, Israeli and international media outlets have reported that as part of understandings reached between Israel and Hamas, Israel agreed to “ease” certain restrictions it imposes on the Gaza Strip. According to a report (Hebrew) published by Kan, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, Israel had supposedly removed 18 items from its list of “dual-use” materials that require special coordination to enter the Strip, including steel cables for the fishing industry and agricultural fertilizers.
Contrary to the report, a belated response (Hebrew) Gisha received this week to a Freedom of Information request we submitted confirms that Israel has not implemented any changes to its dual-use list. Gisha submitted the request for information to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) back in July, after hearing from officials in charge of coordinating the transport of goods on the Palestinian side that Israel had not informed them of any changes to the list.
The 2008 Defense Export Control Law sets out a list of items and materials that Israel defines as “dual-use,” and stipulates that their entry into Gaza or the West Bank requires special permission from Israel. The designation as dual-use means that Israel acknowledges that these items have an inherent civilian use, but believes they can also be used for military purposes. The section of the law specific to Gaza enumerates items such as chemical agents, fertilizers, metal sheets, and drilling equipment, as well as broad categories such as “communications equipment,” “optical equipment” and “wooden planks thicker than 2 centimeters.” It can take several months, even years, for the Israeli authorities to respond to applications to coordinate the entry of dual-use goods, and applicants sometimes receive no response at all. The lack of access to dual-use items is a major factor thwarting economic development and desperately-needed improvements to infrastructure, including electricity, water, and sewage treatment.
Many applications to coordinate the entrance of dual-use materials must be submitted through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). The GRM was established in late 2014 as a temporary coordination system to support Gaza’s reconstruction following Operation Protective Edge, and has since become entrenched to the point that virtually all construction and infrastructure projects in the Strip must be approved through it. The GRM website lists thousands of applications (currently close to 15,000) to coordinate the entry of dual-use materials. Israel has given itself license to reject or approve applications based on detailed information about the nature of the project, who is funding it, who the suppliers are, and more, and on the condition that the UN oversees the management of the project. Given its ongoing, comprehensive control over life in Gaza, Israel has an obligation to enable decent living conditions in the Strip, a responsibility that Israel has consistently neglected. In its response to our request, COGAT emphasized that it works constantly to assist Gaza’s civilian population by promoting economic activity and trade. Unfortunately, the disparity between statements such as this and Israel’s actions on the ground is as evident as ever.