Tomorrow at the High Court of Justice: Hearing on Gisha’s petition to remove ban on exit of processed foods from Gaza for sale outside the Strip

  • Since June 2007, Israel has effectively banned the exit of processed foods from the Strip for sale in the West Bank, Israel and abroad.
  • Lifting limitations on exit of goods is vital for economic development in Gaza.
  • In the state’s response to the petition, Israel claims there is no prohibition on exit of processed foods, but admits to never having instituted a mechanism to allow it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019: Tomorrow (May 15), Israel’s High Court of Justice will hear a petition (Hebrew) filed by Gisha against Israel’s Defense Minister, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and the Land Crossing Authority to remove a de facto ban imposed by Israel on exit of processed foods from the Gaza Strip. The petition demands that Israel enable the owners of the company Sarayo Al Wadia to market their products, which include potato chips, cookies and wafers, in the West Bank and abroad. In addition, Gisha demands that Israel enable Gaza manufacturers to sell and export non-agricultural goods, including all types of processed foods, from Gaza to markets outside the Strip. In order to do so, Israel must issue official procedures and clear guidelines for coordinating transit of goods out of Gaza.

Before Israel tightened its closure on the Strip in 2007, 85% of goods exiting Gaza were sold in the West Bank and Israel. Processed foods, once an important sector in Gaza’s economy, accounted for 33% of the goods marketed from Gaza in the West Bank. Prior to the closure, some 80% of the products made by Sarayo Al Wadia were sold in the West Bank and in Israel. Since the ban, they can only sell on the local market, which in itself is shrinking under severe financial strain. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the processed foods sector currently employs more than 5,000 people in some 600 businesses. About half of these businesses are bakeries; the remaining are factories producing canned food, carbonated drinks, juices, pickled items, packaged snacks, candy, and more.

Beginning in late 2014, and predicated on the recognition that economic development in Gaza serves Israel’s interests, Israel began easing some of its restrictions on exit of goods from the Strip; the de facto ban on exit of processed foods remained inexplicably in place.

In its preliminary response to the petition, 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.

Israel continuously pays lip service to its recognition of the importance of economic development in the Strip, while impeding genuine, legitimate economic activity and stymieing the efforts made by entrepreneurs, manufacturers and businesspeople in Gaza to expand their businesses beyond the local market, where unemployment has reached over 50%. Gisha maintains that Israel must fulfill its obligations toward Gaza’s civilian population by refraining from blocking trade and finding practical ways to allow Gaza manufacturers to market their goods in the West Bank, Israel and abroad.