A worker at a textile workshop in Gaza. If you don’t know whether your products will be bought, it’s risky to manufacture.
In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, Israel approved certain Gaza goods for marketing in the West Bank, including textile and clothing items. In November 2014, the first truckload of clothing set out from Gaza to the West Bank. By March 2015, goods from Gaza, including textile, were cleared for marketing in Israel, albeit in a very limited manner.
Our focus group two years ago included four manufacturers who, before the closure, had marketed the lion’s share of their goods in Israel. Going back to them now, it turned out one of them had sent a couple of shipments to Israel, while the others hadn’t sent any. Here we present a conversation with a manufacturer who markets to the West Bank, but did not participate in the original focus group.
Quantities of goods marketed. On average, nearly three trucks per month leave from Gaza to the West Bank. The last two years have failed to live up to participants’ expectations, who predicted that 30 trucks per month were going to exit. In other words, the current amount going out constitutes roughly 10% of the rate anticipated by the manufacturers we spoke with in 2014.
According to Tayseer Al-Ostath, head of the Textile and Garments Union in Gaza, the total revenues of the industry in 2016 were roughly eight million NIS, up by roughly 60% from 2015. He says that out of 160 companies registered with the union, about 26 market to the West Bank, while approximately 18 market to Israel. Data gathered about movement through the crossing does not reflect this reality. Because of difficulties in issuing value added tax (VAT) invoices, trucks of goods first go to the West Bank, where all tax-related procedures take place and from there, goods make their way to Israel.
Textile sector employment. In the year 2000, the industry employed around 37,000 workers; by 2005, this number was down to 25,000. It is estimated that in 2015, the industry employed approximately 3,000 people, while it has since gone up to 5,000; roughly 20% of the 2005 total and only 14% of the total in 2000.
As noted by traders two years ago, in order for them to be able to market and resume a work output of 40-50 percent of the industry’s peak production times, they must re-learn the West Bank market and re-establish connections with traders there, following many years of being denied commercial ties.
To save on shipping costs, traders share expenses by coordinating shipments. A trader can send 500-1,000 items in an order, and in the current state of affairs, it is simply not cost-effective to cover shipping expenses alone. Shipping cargo by truck from the storeroom in Gaza to the Tarqumiya crossing, outside Hebron, costs more than 3,000 NIS.
Given the revocation of thousands of traders’ permits, the ability to coordinate shipments has been compromised as traders lose their markets. Union head Al-Ostath notes that recently, there have been attempts to meet with representatives in Israel in an effort to improve marketing and boost business ties, but as Gaza traders have yet to obtain permits, these meetings have yet to take place, and marketing to Israel is set to be heavily affected as a result.
Hoping to market to Israel
Majd Zaqout is the owner of Majd Clothing, which manufactures jeans, children’s clothing, and traditional women’s attire. He employs 75 people: “We have been selling traditional attire for women, the jilbaab, in the West Bank from almost as early as the region was opened up for marketing. The economic situation is tough over there too, but nevertheless, we’ve managed to develop new ties, and we’ve been marketing there, though on a small scale”.
Zaqout says that due to marketing efforts in the West Bank, the company’s sales have gone up, leading to an increase in the number of employees working for the company. Before the West Bank was opened for marketing, they employed 50-60 workers. West Bank sales volumes now stand at 100-200,000 shekels per month, varying by season and demand. These figures are hardly significant, but better than no sales at all, says Zaqout, so he is envisaging some improvement and development for his company.
Zaqout’s company employs a head sales agent in the West Bank, who supplies goods to several local companies. On average, they send approximately 1,500-2,000 items per month, mainly dresses. The marketing of children’s jeans failed to meet expectations. Zaqout says that before the closure, jeans accounted for most of his profit in the West Bank. These items had a very extensive market, from Hebron to Jenin, and as late as the year 2000, the Gaza business was prospering due to their marketing operations in the West Bank.
Transport of goods. A single pallet would be stacked with 20 cardboard boxes of clothes, Zaqout explains. Each box is packed with 10 winter gowns or 18 summer gowns. The shipping cost of each pallet can reach roughly 400 NIS. Before the closure, transport costs were lower and above all, no complex pre-coordination was required.
Majd Zaqout, owner of a clothing manufacturing company in Gaza, in his sewing workshop with employees. The company provides employment for 75 people and markets to the West Bank
Since the marketing of goods to the West Bank was permitted in 2015, the number of employees at the factory has risen slightly and Zaqout feels optimistic about the expansion and development of his business
“We have been selling traditional attire for women, the jilbaab, in the West Bank almost since the marketing of goods was first permitted. The economic situation is tough over there too, but nevertheless, we’ve managed to develop new ties and we sell goods there, though on a small scale”.
For the time being, Zaqout’s company is not marketing to Israel. Zaqout says he lacks the connections to make it happen, and is making an effort to find suitable companies to market to in Israel
A single pallet can be stacked with 20 cardboard boxes of clothes, Zaqout explains. Each box is packed with 10 winter dresses or 18 summer dresses. The shipping cost of each pallet can reach about 400 shekels. Before the closure, transport costs were lower and, most importantly, no complex pre-coordination was required
An average of 1,500-2,000 articles are sent to the West Bank each month, mainly dresses
For the time being, Zaqout’s company is not marketing to Israel. Zaqout says he lacks the connections to make it happen; he is making an effort to find suitable companies to market to in Israel, through meetings and gatherings in Gaza and Israel held by the union. In the meantime, his efforts are focused on his ongoing marketing to the West Bank, where he has contacts.
Muhammad Abu Shanab, owner of the Abu Shanab Textile factory and former head of the Gaza Textile and Garments Union, used to employ ten people. Today, he says, his factory operates at a production output of 10% of its capacity. His focus is actually on the Israeli market, but “things have been very tough. Most factories and manufacturers are almost out of work. The lot of us, put together, market no more than a single truck a month, two at best”.
In an interview Gisha held with him a few months ago, Abu Shanab says he hasn’t started manufacturing winter products yet, because there’s no point. The winter has yet to set in and most importantly, demand is yet unclear. When the going gets tough in the market, he says, you don’t risk it by manufacturing products that are not necessarily going to sell.
“Ramadan, the holidays, and back-to-school season are supposed to be excellent times for sales. Not this year. There was not a day where I worked to full capacity or nonstop. There’s no demand, and in periods where you expect to prosper, you find yourself out of work, let down, and full of worry”.
Security blocks. “Gaza traders must encourage their West Bank and Israeli counterparts to work with them, so that they have places to market to, and things at the moment are very tough, particularly due to security blocks imposed on traders and the denial of trader permits. Traders’ ability to travel in and out is essential for their work, so they can meet colleagues, promote sales, and close deals”.
As noted in the focus groups of two years ago, Abu Shanab too asserts that around the West Bank, they can identify the goods coming from Gaza; their quality is higher than those arriving from Turkey or China, who took over the market in the absence of products made in Gaza.
Abu Shanab sells his goods in Israel as well. He says that traders in Israel are interested in his products, but are fearful that the security situation could deteriorate, compromising the steady flow of goods. In 2016, he supplied products to religious Jewish buyers: yarmulkes, neckties, and children’s socks.
Due to the complications related to VAT invoice issuing and thus to direct marketing to Israel, Abu Shanab opened a West Bank factory. Between February and June this year, he marketed to Israel from there. He argues that West Bank workers are not as skilled and professional as their Gaza counterparts, and in addition, they are paid higher wages. The West Bank project turned out to be unprofitable and Abu Shanab ended up shutting it down.