Israel Stopped Gaza Food Factory From Selling in West Bank. Top Court Says It’s Palestinians’ Fault

High Court backed up state's claim that the factory hadn't filed a formal request – despite admitting that there are no clear procedures for marketing of processed food from Gaza to West Bank

The Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, July 22, 2018.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition by a Gaza snack factory  Wednesday, accepting the state's position that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the failure of processed food factories in Gaza to sell their products in the West Bank.  

Justices Uzi Vogelman, Noam Sohlberg and Yael Willner instructed the petitioners Walid and Wael al Wadiyeh, to file a request to market their factory's products to the Palestinian Authority's Civilian Liaison Committee so that the latter could forward the request to the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration. “Our assumption is that when the request is forwarded it will be processed with the proper speed,” the justices wrote.

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In their decision, the justices ignored the central problem raised by the petition, which is that Israel controls the Gaza crossings and in the absence of clear procedures regarding the movement of such goods, the Palestinian Liaison Committee cannot deal with a request to export goods.

Sarayo al Wadiyeh factory, which makes wafers, cookies and potato chips, was marketing some 80 percent of its products in Israel and the West Bank before 2007, when Israel imposed stricter than ever restrictions on movement of goods and people from and to the Strip.  Though the constraints were partially eased in 2010, processed foods are not among the products allowed to be sold outside of the Strip such as textile, furniture and agricultural products.  Before 2007, processed foods constituted a third of Gaza’s sales to the West Bank.

As a result, Sarayo al Wadiyeh’s plant is operating at only 30 percent of capacity, and scaled back its staff accordingly. The owners say they know there is demand for their goods in the West Bank.

In July of last year, the manufacturer filed its High Court petition with the help of the Gisha non-profit association, which advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement. The petition demanded that Sarayo al Wadiyeh and other food manufacturers be allowed to sell their products in the West Bank, and that Israel clarify the procedures and requirements for doing so.

In response to earlier inquiries by the petitioner and Gisha, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories responded that there was, in principle, no ban on exporting non-agricultural products and that there are no special procedures for arranging the marketing of such products other than customs regulations.

Nevertheless, despite their efforts, Sarayo al Wadiyeh and other manufacturers in Gaza have not been able to determine how to facilitate the export of their wares, which is why the petition was filed.

In response to the petition, the state told the court the Palestinian Coordination and Liaison committee did not give the Israeli Liaison Administration a request from the Sarayo al Wadiyeh plant to sell in the West Bank.

Jonathan Nadav, a senior deputy in the state prosecution’s High Court division, also wrote that the state has not set up a supervisory export mechanism that would meet the demands of the Israeli Health Ministry, so at this stage there might be difficulty in selling these Gazan goods in the West Bank.

The justices didn’t find a contradiction between Nadav’s statement and their position that it was the PA's responsibility.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Nadav repeated that there had been no formal export request from the Palestinian officials to the Israeli coordinating office.

Attorney Mona Hadad from Gisha reminded him that an officer in the Coordinating and Liaison Administration had written to her last year that “We are working with your client [the petitioner] and the Palestinian officials [the civilian committee] to advance the matter.”

When Nadav had difficulty explaining the contradiction between the claim that no request had been submitted and the response from the officer, he said that the officer in question no longer worked at the Coordinating and Liaison Administration.  Justice Vogelman broke in and told Nadav, “You can say there was an error. If they didn’t write what they were supposed to, you don’t have to defend it.”

As a result, the justice dismissed the petition and told the petitioners to submit a request through the Palestinian civilian committee.