March 21, 2017

Over the course of February and March 2017, Israeli authorities seized large quantities of medical equipment designated for use by the civilian population in Gaza, and refused to let it in to the Strip. The large deliveries contained dental supplies, including professional machinery and instruments, anaesthetic syringes, gloves, bowls, molding materials and amalgam filling materials; purchased from Israeli, Palestinian and foreign companies at an estimated cost of 140,000 shekels (approximately 39,000 US dollars). The equipment was purchased by two companies that import and sell dental equipment and supplies in Gaza, and intended for marketing to local dental clinics.

Although both companies had made all necessary arrangements with Israeli authorities for transporting the equipment into Gaza, officials from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) at Kerem Shalom Crossing decided to seize the equipment and hand it over to the Ministry of Defense, until further notice. It was only after the seizure that the owners of the companies found out Israel had decided to consider the amalgam filling material as a “dual-use” item, which requires a special permit to be brought into Gaza. Amalgam had not previously been considered dual-use, and had entered Gaza without difficulty and with no need for a special permit.

In a letter sent to COGAT (Hebrew), Gisha claimed that treating amalgam as dual-use, that is, as a material that may be used for civilian as well as military purposes in the Gaza Strip, is completely unfounded. Amalgam, a substance used for dental cavity fillings, is sold to dental clinics as a capsule, usually containing silver and mercury. When centrifuged, the capsule turns into a stable material that is used for fillings. The amount of mercury contained in each capsule is miniscule (about half a gram), and certainly not enough to be used for military activity. The civilian-medical use of amalgam is so well-documented and self-explanatory that defining it as dual-use constitutes disproportionate harm to residents of Gaza.

Gisha further explained that amid harsh living conditions in the Gaza Strip, there is no alternative to using amalgam for fillings. This is the only type of filling that can withstand conditions of irregular electricity and running water supply, no fluoridation and dilapidated hygiene and sanitation systems. Additionally, the equipment and professional expertise needed for resin fillings (“white” fillings) are unavailable in Gaza. Amalgam fillings are also the only affordable option for many residents of Gaza; an amalgam filling costs 50 shekels in Gaza, while a white filling costs double. In these circumstances, Gisha said, refusing to allow amalgam into Gaza would further exacerbate the harm to the health of Gaza residents, as many will be forced to simply forgo treatment.

Gisha added that the decision to seize not only the amalgam itself, but also the remaining medical equipment in the shipment was an inappropriate, punitive measure against the company that purchased the equipment and against Gaza’s civilian population as a whole, as the equipment is required for the health of Gaza’s residents.

The practice of seizing goods that aren’t considered problematic, simply because they were transported together with other products Israel treats as potential threats, has been gradually expanding in recent months. COGAT officials at Kerem Shalom have even begun seizing the actual trucks used to transport the products, if some of their cargo is viewed as problematic. Some of the trucks that have been seized are specifically designed for transporting certain types of products, such as sensitive medical equipment, and are therefore of high value and necessary for supplying the ongoing, basic needs of Gaza residents. In a letter sent regarding this issue on March 15, 2017 (Hebrew), Gisha asked COGAT to intervene and order the immediate termination of this practice, which harms a wide range of people involved in transporting essential products into Gaza.