April 2, 2017. Following a prolonged legal battle and concerted advocacy, including alongside other Israeli and international organizations, the publication of the List of Dual-Use Goods requiring Approval for Entry into the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria Area brings with it a certain sense of satisfaction. The list was published on the website of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), in Hebrew, English and Arabic. In fact, there are two lists. The first contains 56 items requiring “special approval” to be brought into the occupied Palestinian territory in general (that is, Gaza and the West Bank). The second contains 61 additional items specific to the Gaza Strip. These lists are themselves additions to the items listed in the ‘Control List’ of dual-use items provided for in the Wassenaar Arrangement, which is the international standard. But while compelling the publication of the list is no small feat in and of itself, its very existence and consequent implications continue to pose disproportionate challenges to Gaza’s economy and are of great concern to Gisha.
The implication behind the term “dual-use” is that items which are primarily civilian in nature could also have military uses. It’s clear there are valid security arguments to be made about the military “value” of many of the items, yet the management of the list as a whole is problematic at best, and arbitrary, disproportionate and even punitive at worst.
The published lists include particularly broad definitions, such as “vehicles,” “communications equipment” and “communication-support equipment.” These are categories, not items, behind which are dozens, if not hundreds of other items. In fact, the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) has a tab on its website showing follow-up information on dual-use items that various agencies have asked to bring into Gaza, noting the application’s status (approved, rejected, or pending). More than 8,500 items are currently listed. We repeat: eight thousand five hundred items. In other words, there is no real way of anticipating what items should be applied for as dual-use, what the answer might be, or when, if at all, it will be given. Either way, almost any type of item could be banned, temporarily or permanently, based on the claim that it is “dual-use.”
Over a year ago, Gisha released a position paper cautioning against the terrible toll exacted on Gaza’s economy in light of the ever-expanding list of dual-use items. We also noted the alarming lack of transparency as to what the list actually includes and what the screening and decision-making processes are which govern which items are allowed in eventually and which are effectively banned. We raised questions about the procedures supposedly guiding the production of the lists. Though the list is ostensibly gray, it often functions more like a blacklist, or, in other words – the policy is actually one of banning items, disguised as a screening process.
Those who bear the ensuing burden, Palestinians, mainly from Gaza, as well as international organizations bringing in items for projects, find themselves trapped in a maze of strict but obscure regulations.
The uncertainty surrounding the dual-use list precludes any attempt at what might be considered normal economic activity. A supplier who has ordered goods, and paid for them, cannot know with any reasonable certainty whether the goods will arrive, arrive without delay, or be confiscated at the crossing, even after Israel ostensibly cleared them for entry into Gaza.
COGAT has done well to finally meet the minimum requirement of the law and make the lists available to the public. However, while Israel’s official position is that all items can be brought into Gaza with the exception of a list of dual-use items, the reality is far from it. Thousands of items, which do not appear on the list, cannot be brought into Gaza “without special approval,” and items that do not require special approval still undergo a routine approval process, complete with individual security screening.
The Palestinian economy, especially in Gaza, has no real hope of progress under these conditions. A stagnant, even recessive economy, unemployment and despair do not bode well for stability in the region; nor are they inevitable. They are the result of a policy that has spiraled out of control. It is high time to revise the list, in keeping with international standards, in order to allow the Palestinian economy to fulfil its potential.