May 15, 2019. On July 4, 2018, Gisha filed a High Court petition (Hebrew) against the Minister of Defense, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Gaza Civil Liaison Administration (Gaza CLA), and the Israeli Land Crossing Authority. The petition was filed on behalf of the owners of Sarayo al-Wadia, a Gaza based company that manufactures packaged snacks, including cookies, wafers, potato chips and chocolate-covered marshmallow wafers, and is seeking to market its products in the West Bank and abroad. The petition also demanded that the respondents enable Gaza manufacturers to sell and export non-agricultural goods, including all types of processed foods, from Gaza to markets outside the Strip.
According to Israel’s official procedures, “no limitations apply to the goods permitted for export” out of Gaza. Statements made by the respondents indicate that Israel allows processed foods, including those produced by Sarayo al-Wadia, to be sold and exported outside the Strip. Nonetheless, attempts made by the company and many other Gaza-based businesses to sell non-agricultural goods outside the Strip have been met with failure. Israel has effectively banned the sale of Gaza-produced processed foods outside the Strip since 2007.
Before Israel imposed the closure on the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Sarayo al-Wadia company marketed its products mostly in Israel and the West Bank. At one point, the company sold as much as 80 percent of its goods outside the Strip. The sweeping ban on selling Gaza goods outside the Strip has been one of the major factors hindering economic development in Gaza. Many companies have suffered immense financial loss as a result, including Sarayo al-Wadia, which was forced to scale back production to 30 percent of its full capacity, resulting in many former employees losing their source of livelihood.
The petition stressed that the respondents’ restrictions constitute a violation of their obligations under Israeli law (including matters of good governance) as well as international law applicable to the Gaza Strip. The ban on sales and export is implemented ultra vires. It is disproportionate and unreasonable, and violates the rights of business owners and thousands of workers in Gaza to freedom of movement and freedom of occupation, as well as their right to live in dignity.
In its preliminary response to the petition, dated April 14, 2019, the state alleges that it never received the multiple applications made by the owners of Sarayo Al Wadia to coordinate exit of their products, contradicting an official letter (Hebrew) it sent Gisha where it claims to be processing their request. Israel states that in principle, there is no prohibition on the sale of food products from Gaza in the West Bank or abroad. However, paradoxically, it admits to not having established a mechanism that would allow for coordination of this process in compliance with Health Ministry requirements. The state fails to explain why no coordination mechanism has yet been instituted.
At the hearing, which took place on May 15, 2019, 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 via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, despite the fact that they have already submitted multiple applications throughout the years. In the decision (Hebrew), the court instructed that the petition be deleted, noting that it was sure that a renewed application, if received from the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, “would be handled with appropriate haste in keeping with administrative law.” We will continue to monitor the situation closely.