May 5, 2019. Over the years, Gisha has repeatedly requested information according to the Freedom of Information Act from the Israeli army and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) pertaining to the sale of Gaza-grown agricultural produce in the West Bank, Israel, and abroad. Though produce from Gaza is sold in all three markets to one extent or another, coordinating with Israeli authorities to market Gaza produce outside the Strip remains extremely difficult due to a lack of clear, workable procedures.

In early 2018, Gisha, on behalf of farmers from Gaza, again contacted (Hebrew) the MoA and Israel’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which operates under the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), to request specific provisions with regards to the sale of guavas, grapes and olives from Gaza in markets outside the Strip.

After many months of waiting, Gisha received a partial response (Hebrew) from the Ministry of Agriculture, listing the types of produce prohibited or permitted for sale outside the Strip, without any clarifications on how a permit to sell this produce may be obtained and which official should be contacted to apply for such a permit. COGAT and the CLA did not respond to the query, and have never released proper procedures or clear instructions for coordinating the exit of produce from Gaza.

On November 25, 2018, Gisha filed a High Court petition (Hebrew) against COGAT, the Gaza CLA and the MoA, demanding that they institute and publish clear procedures for marketing agricultural produce from Gaza in the West Bank, Israel and abroad. The petition was filed on behalf of a Palestinian farmer in Gaza who wished to sell his grapes and guavas in markets in the West Bank and abroad. For a previous update on the petition, see here.

Gisha argued that at the time the petition was submitted, there seemed to be an arbitrary list of produce cleared for sale outside Gaza with no indication of how it was compiled and why it includes so few items. We further argued that despite the fact that all produce may, in theory, be sold from Gaza abroad, the lack of procedures makes such sales practically impossible. The petition provides a comprehensive description of the disparity between Israel’s public statements whereby it actively encourages economic activity and prosperity in Gaza and its policies on the ground, which stymie the genuine efforts of Gaza farmers and traders and deter economic activity in practice.

The state filed its response (Hebrew) on April 18, 2019. With respect to the publication of procedures, the state rejected the claim it was its duty to do so, but did attach two new procedures to its response “beyond legal requirement,” one pertaining to marketing Gaza produce in the West Bank, and the other to sales in Israel. The state claimed that the procedures would be posted on the MoA’s website. With regards to the specific matter of the petitioner, the state claimed that he was not precluded from selling produce abroad, provided he filed the appropriate application. The state claimed that Israel’s prohibition on the sale of grapes and guavas from Gaza in the West Bank was grounded in phytosanitary concerns. The response provides a lengthy description of various phytosanitary risks in different parts of Africa and around the world, and includes a review of the risks prepared by the MoA. Another document in the state’s response details phytosanitary risks specifically associated with grapes and guavas. The state claimed that given these risks, these particular types of fruit may not be sold in the West Bank.

At the hearing on May 5, 2019, Gisha argued before the High Court that the state’s response and the documents presented do not point to concrete risks associated with fruit grown in the Strip, and that it neglected to address the question of the state’s ability to inspect fruit for possible diseases prior to transport to the West Bank. It also failed to say whether there were methods it could use that it chose not to that would guarantee that only healthy produce is transported. The panel, presided over by Justice Daphne Barak-Erez, refused to consider these argument and held that the petitioners should address all claims to the MoA, and only return to the court if and when a specific application is rejected on its merits by the relevant authorities. The court also accepted all other arguments presented by the state.

Although the petition included the permit application filed by the petitioner, Mr. Astal, via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee prior to the petition, the court accepted the state’s contention that he had not yet received a permit to export abroad simply because he had not filed the proper application. The court ordered the petitioner to file yet another application.

Even with the new procedures presented by the MoA in response to the petition, operative instructions are still lacking and the process for obtaining a permit has not been appropriately clarified. The court refused to instruct the state to post the procedures on the COGAT website or provide directives and other information that are lacking. In its judgment (Hebrew), the court only went so far as saying, in a general remark, that it was “confident that the respondents will make the relevant information accessible using the appropriate, effective channels.”

 

Additional documents related to the petition (all Hebrew):

Gisha’s 2015 Freedom of Information application regarding sale of produce in Israel

Ministry of Agriculture’s response to Gisha’s 2015 Freedom of Information application

COGAT’s response to Gisha’s 2015 Freedom of Information application

Working Protocol – Import of Vegetables during Shmita Year for Proper Shmita Observers: Customs Exempt Import until the end of 2015

Gisha’s request to COGAT 2017

Gisha’s appeal to Ministry of Agriculture 2017

Contradictory responses regarding sale of produce abroad: First response, second response, third response