Israel and the West Bank are the natural markets for Gaza-made and grown goods given their geographic proximity and the social-cultural affinity between the areas. About 85 percent of all goods shipped for sale outside Gaza in the first half of 2007 (before the closure was tightened by Israel) were sold in Israel and the West Bank. In June 2007, after Hamas took control of the Strip, Israel forbade the sale of goods originating in Gaza in the West Bank and Israel, allowing only very limited export of produce from Gaza to Europe as part of a Dutch government aid project. Blocking access to markets outside the Strip has been a major factor in Gaza’s economic decline, contributing to the collapse of numerous businesses and to the soaring unemployment rate.
From June 2007 to October 2014, only 14 truckloads of goods destined for sale abroad left Gaza on average each month, most of them carrying agricultural produce. This is just a fraction of the monthly average of trucks that exited Gaza before the closure was imposed. In late 2014, faced with the devastation created by the military offensive over the summer, Israel began allowing limited sales of Gaza-grown produce in the West Bank. In 2015, it added a quota of tomato and eggplant to be sold in Israel, later permitting a few other types of goods to be sold in Israel and the West Bank. Israel currently allows limited amounts of tomato and eggplant from Gaza to be sold in its territory, as well as textiles, furniture, and scrap metal. Israel also allows exit of pepper and zucchini but these types of produce are not currently marketed due to bureaucratic difficulties at Kerem Shalom.
In 2019, an average of 262 trucks exited Gaza via Kerem Shalom each month. In 2020, the monthly average was 265. To this day, the restrictions on exit of goods from Gaza, particularly to Israel and the West Bank continue to act as a major impediment to economic activity and make significant development difficult.
The sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank is subject to numerous restrictions imposed by Israel. The reasoning behind which items are prohibited and which are permitted for sale is entirely unclear. Even when certain items are not prohibited, they cannot always be shipped out in practice. In some sectors, such as processed foods, Israel has delayed creating a system that would allow exit of goods, and it has claimed that applications to coordinate the exit of goods for sale outside Gaza were never received, and therefore never processed. Even if all the arrangements are made in advance, there is always a chance that Israel will unexpectedly decide to close the crossing (Hebrew).
While Israel places few, if any, restrictions on exports from Gaza abroad, without access to shipping via air or sea, goods can only be transported from Gaza abroad by land via Allenby Bridge Crossing, or through a port or airport outside Gaza, making shipping costs prohibitive.
The Procedure for Export of Goods from the Gaza Strip (Hebrew), made public in 2019, is short on details and fails to address the complexity involved in export or the immense importance of developing it. According to the procedure, shipping goods out of Gaza for export abroad requires coordination between the Palestinian Authority’s Commercial Coordinator and the Israeli Gaza CLA. The volume of goods permitted for export depends on capacity at Kerem Shalom Crossing and is subject to the protocols issued by Israel’s Customs and Tax Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Economics, as well as “security restrictions.”
For further information about the exit of goods from Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing over the years, see here.
Israel maintains a short, limited list of agricultural products from Gaza permitted for sale in the West Bank, and a much shorter one of produce permitted for sale in Israel. However, a combination of extensive restrictions and a rigid, complex bureaucracy prevent Gaza’s agricultural sector from developing and thriving. In 2019, following a petition filed by Gisha, Israel’s Ministry of Health posted the Procedure for the Transfer of Fresh Produce from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank (Hebrew), which had previously been unavailable to the public. The procedure notes that the types of produce permitted for sale are determined based on phytosanitary considerations reviewed by the Quarantine Division of the Plant Protection and Control Department at the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture.
The procedure contains a list of Gaza-grown produce permitted by Israel for sale in the West Bank, including tomato, pepper, eggplant, strawberry, cabbage, cauliflower, dates, cucumber, zucchini, onion, and sweet potato. The procedure notes that the list is not exhaustive and that applications can be made for other types of produce. Though the procedure states that the list will be reconsidered and updated periodically, as far as Gisha is aware, the list has never been changed. While the procedure ignores the issue of prohibited produce, the state’s response in a High Court case suggests that there is also a list of prohibited types of produce, drawn in 2014 and never publicized. Some of the items included in this list are guavas, citrus fruit, peach, figs, apricots, plums, herbs and potatoes. When Gisha asked the Ministry of Agriculture how flowers from Gaza can be sold in the West Bank, we learned that flowers are banned for sale.
The Procedure for the Transfer of Fresh Produce from the Gaza Strip to Israel (Hebrew) was also made public in 2019 following Gisha’s petition. While Israel imports large quantities of produce from abroad, it only allows Gaza farmers to sell it tomatoes (subject to a quota of 400 tons per month) and eggplants (subject to a quota of 50 tons per month).
Both procedures on the sale of produce from Gaza specify how the produce must be prepared and packed and what phytosanitary tests must be conducted in Gaza and in Israel to ensure the produce is pest-free. The procedures also note that the Plant Protection Supervisor in Israel may disqualify a shipment or require further tests, paid for by the supplier.
From 2007 to late 2020, processed food manufacturers from Gaza were blocked from selling their products in the West Bank and Israel. In response to a petition filed by Gisha on behalf of an industry leader in Gaza in 2018, the state said: “According to the policy currently in place, there is no general ban on the transfer of goods from the Gaza Strip via Israel for the purpose of transport abroad or to the West Bank.” However, the state also noted that every application to transfer processed foods out of Gaza would be considered with attention to public health considerations, among others, an issue under the purview of the Israeli Ministry of Health. Repeated inquiries with the Ministry of Health on this matter indicate that in contradiction to the state’s claims, the exit of processed foods was effectively banned given the numerous bureaucratic hurdles involved in doing so.
The Procedure on the Sale of Goods outside the Gaza Strip (Hebrew) states that the sale of food products requires the approval of the Food Administration within Israel’s Ministry of Health. Responding to our repeated inquiries, the Israeli Ministry of Health eventually provided information on the sale of Gaza-made processed foods in late 2019. The process for obtaining approval for exit of food products involves meeting many requirements, including proof that the manufacturing factory uses a quality control system meeting the international ISO 22000 standard, and subject to supervision by the Dutch government. According to a list the Ministry of Health provided to Gisha, only eight factories in the Gaza Strip meet these requirements. When processed food manufacturers from Gaza contacted the Gaza CLA, they were informed that approval from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health in the West Bank was a prerequisite for submitting their applications.
In late November 2020, for the first time in 13 years, a large factory in Gaza (one of the eight approved) managed to finally market its goods in the West Bank. There are currently only two known factories in Gaza that have successfully coordinated the exit of processed food products (mostly snacks) for sale in the West Bank and abroad. No factory in the Strip has a permit to market its products in Israel.
Export of processed food abroad
The Procedure for Exporting Goods from Gaza Abroad was finalized by the Ministry of Health in February 2020, in coordination with COGAT and other entities. According to the existing arrangement, processed food shipments must be closed with seals, which are tested both at Kerem Shalom Crossing and at the point of access abroad. The Israeli Ministry of Health explains that this requirement is meant to ensure that goods from Gaza do not trickle into Israel. Few Gaza factories have managed to export their products abroad so far.
Textile and furniture
In November 2014, the first truckload of Gaza-made clothing left for the West Bank. In 2015, clearance was given for the sale of textiles and furniture in Israel as well, albeit on a very limited scale. Like agricultural produce, the sale of these products has run up against many indirect obstacles. The main difficulty lies with the severe restrictions Israel places on the entry of raw materials essential for manufacturing textile products and furniture. These include wood planks beyond a certain thickness, paints and dyes, as well as glues. Israel considers these items dual-use, and although they are needed for patently civilian purposes, they are difficult to bring in, which hinders steady manufacturing and makes it difficult to meet supply commitments.