July 10, 2019. Over the last few days, media reports have covered the topic of entrance of traders and laborers from Gaza into Israel. Some aspects of the reports are accurate; others are misleading. Here are the facts.
Since late 2014, the arbitrary quota set by Israel for the maximum number of Gaza residents that can hold a trader permit at any given time has been 5,000. Reports about an expanded quota of permits for Gaza traders are false. The quota of 5,000 was introduced against the backdrop of “easings” after Operation Protective Edge and a stated policy of supporting economic recovery in the Strip, but was never filled.
Trader permits are ostensibly intended to allow merchants from the Strip to travel between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank to conduct trade (mostly purchase and sale of goods). Israel, and Israel alone, decides how many permits are issued to Gaza residents in practice. When Israel decides to tighten the closure, the number of trader permits goes down; when Israel decides to “ease” the closure, the number of trader permits goes up. The highest number of Gaza residents holding valid trader permits was around 3,600 in late 2015. As of yesterday, there were 3,227 valid trader permits held by Gaza residents.
One report suggested that although Israel allows up to 5,000 traders to obtain trader permits, the Palestinians “have trouble” filling the quota. The Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, the official body which receives permit applications submitted by Gaza residents and transfers them to Israeli officials at COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), shared the following statistics: In the three months since April 1, a total of 8,964 applications for trader permits were submitted by Gaza residents. Of these applications, Israel approved 3,825 and denied 1,619; some 699 applications are still being processed, and a further 2,821 applications have received no response at all. Some permits that had been approved have since expired, explaining the difference between the total approvals and the number valid as of yesterday.
Yesterday, Haaretz analyst Amos Harel reported correctly that a considerable number of “trader permits” issued by Israel are, in fact, held by day laborers from Gaza. In other words, despite officially banning entry of laborers from Gaza into Israeli territory since March 2006, some the permits Israel gives to traders are held by day laborers.
Amos Harel writes: “This is an old trick, which Israel has used occasionally for the past few years. The permit holders are described as businessmen but in practice it seems the majority of them are workers – manual laborers.”
Before the Second Intifada in the summer of 2000, over 26,000 Palestinians crossed through Erez daily for work in Israel. Today, some 100,000 Palestinians cross into Israel from the West Bank for work every day. It’s unclear how many of the 3,227 valid trader permits are actually held by day laborers.
What is clear is that it is high time that Israel stop engaging in an unnecessary charade of hiding that it allows laborers to enter Israel and toying with people’s livelihoods. Israel must enable Gaza residents to exit the Strip for work in a transparent, dependable and respectful manner, whether as laborers or traders.