Hummus Starts Trickling Past Israel's Blockade on Gaza

Documents released show Israel lifted restrictions on the importation of legumes into Gaza.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, formerly acting Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT ), permitted bringing processed hummus into the Gaza Strip in July 2009, for the first time in two years. However, Gilad did not permit bringing hummus with extras, such as pine nuts or mushrooms, into the strip.

Gilad, currently head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security staff, had allowed bringing chickpeas, from which hummus is made, into Gaza a few months earlier, together with other legumes that had been banned there since 2007.

Trucks carrying goods to Gaza.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz / Archive

These details appear in documents COGAT released following a petition filed by human rights groups to the Tel Aviv District Court in February this year.

The groups - Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Doctors for Human Rights and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual - asked the court to instruct COGAT, a subordinate of the Defense Ministry, to disclose the regulations and criteria for permitting people to leave the Gaza Strip.

The documents consist of COGAT's weekly instructions regarding the exceptions that were allowed in or out of the occupied territories.

Although the petition pertained to the movement of people, some of the documents from 2009 came with an appendix listing the merchandise and items that COGAT permitted bringing into the Gaza Strip, such as basic humanitarian food items and other products.

The documents are mainly from 2005, 2006 and from 2009 to 2011. Those from 2007 to 2008, when the harshest restrictions were imposed, are missing.

In September 2007 Israel decided to impose a blockade on Gaza in response to Hamas' taking over the strip. The head of COGAT at the time was Yosef Mishlav.

Adding an item to the list of items permitted to bring into Gaza required the signature of COGAT's head himself. This was revealed in a document released following a previous petition filed by Gisha. Since COGAT is a subordinate of the Defense Ministry, the top official responsible for the permitted list of items was Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

In February 2009 United States Senator John Kerry visited the Gaza Strip and heard from Palestinians there that the banned items that Israel did not allow bringing into the strip included pasta. His shocked response was reported by the media. On March 3 legumes and pasta were still banned, but in May they were permitted into Gaza.

At one of COGAT's weekly meetings, between March 21 and May 2009, the officers decided to permit bringing toilet paper and hygienic products - "on the basis of examining every request individually" - into Gaza. In May the list includes "toilet paper" and "hygienic pads" with no conditions.

In the second half of 2007 Palestinians reported a shortage of toilet paper and hygienic pads for women. The list of hygienic items permitted into Gaza between March and May 2009 included toothbrushes and toothpaste.

In August 23 shampoo and conditioner were listed together with toilet bowl cleaners, in a category of "cleaning products that cannot be used for other purposes."

Between October 13 and October 21 COGAT decided to permit bringing tea and coffee for everyone in Gaza, not only for international organizations. In contrast, COGAT decided that tomato paste and fish preserves will be allowed, as before, only for the use of international organizations and only as donations - not for marketing.

Books, text books and writing instruments, printing ink, metal wires and bookbinding glue were still banned from the public at large and permitted only for international organizations, subject to COGAT's approval of each individual item.

A Gisha attorney told Haaretz that although the lists' existence was not new, "it disturbed us to see printed black on white that Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad himself had to consider bringing hummus into Gaza, despite the security risk it posed, but decided that pine nuts were too much."

In November 2009 Major General Eitan Dangot was appointed COGAT head and the list of permitted items grew. The cabinet decided to abolish the list on June 20 last year, in the aftermath of the raid on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza. However, there is still a list of banned items, consisting of products that can also be used as weapons.



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