Israel recently announced that it will permit exports of furniture from the Gaza Strip. But since it still bars the entry into the Palestinian territory of the boards used in making this furniture, critics say the decision is largely irrelevant.
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In September the army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced that for the first time since 2007, Israel would allow furniture, steel and textiles made in Gaza to be exported to Israel and the West Bank. COGAT said the decision was meant to guarantee stability in the Strip by improving its economy and reducing unemployment.
But in April Israel prohibited the entry into Gaza of wooden boards thicker than 5 centimeters, and in August the restriction was extended to boards thicker than 1 cm.
Israel says the ban is necessary because Hamas has used such panels as substitutes for scarce cement in rebuilding its tunnel network. Palestinians reject this claim, arguing that enough cement has been allowed into Gaza over the last year to build dozens of tunnels.
Gazan furniture makers say the import restriction will lead to the closure of about 80 percent of the Strip’s furniture manufacturers and carpentry shops and put hundreds of people out of work in an already weak economy. The unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip was 41.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.
“We don’t know how to cope with this situation,” said the secretary general of the Palestinian Wood Industries Union in the Strip, Wadah Bessisso. “On one hand, they want us to manufacture and to work, and they’re even letting us sell furniture in Israel and the West Bank. But on the other hand, I have no raw materials. How can one build furniture without lumber and other basic materials? How can we produce, how can we maintain the quality of our goods, in the shadow of such an order?”
Bessisso said the union raised the issue with COGAT officials in a meeting about four months ago, “but since then, nothing has happened. There’s already a severe shortage of raw materials that could lead to plant closures.”
Before 2007, when Israel imposed its partial blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power, the Strip’s furniture sector employed some 9,000 people and brought in about $3 million a month, Besisou added.
In a statement, COGAT said wood imports required a special permit, entailing a security check, “due to fear that the wood will be used for hostile terrorist activity.”