Import restrictions impede delivery of services and humanitarian assistance

Cutting Beams on Site. Photo by Shareef Sarhan for CRSCutting Beams on Site. Photo by Shareef Sarhan for CRS

List of items restricted as “dual” civilian-military use expanded

Following the easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip in mid-2010, all goods could be imported, with the exception of items defined by the Israeli government as dual-use, i.e. “weapons and items which can be, and often are, used for military purposes”, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Israel maintains two lists of items restricted as “dual” civilian-military use, including one list specifically relating to Gaza. This is in keeping with the international standard to prevent the transfer of certain items. However, the lists are more inclusive than existing international lists. According to the Israeli authorities, the restrictions are justified as many items, including “electronic and electric equipment, communications equipment, and industrial raw materials, are used to rebuild and upgrade offensive tunnels leading to Israel; to manufacture weapons, particularly rockets; and to create technological combat support units.”

For the second time this year, the Israeli authorities revised the list of goods classified as “dual-use” (civilian and military) items banned from import into Gaza without special authorization. In February, screening machines, including X-ray machines were added and more items were added in August, including wooden boards thicker than 1cm (as opposed to 5cm previously). The latter was added as wood had reportedly been used by armed groups for tunnel construction.

These import restrictions impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance, basic services and reconstruction programs, and undermine the response capacity for emergencies. For example, some categories on the list, such as drilling equipment or telecommunications equipment, are very broad. In addition, the list does not differentiate between items that are permitted entry following special authorization and those that are strictly prohibited (e.g. steel rods that exceed certain dimensions). In practice, some items are treated as dual-use items even though they are not explicitly included in the list (e.g. solar panels and some batteries).

The inclusion of basic construction materials, including cement, gravel and metal bars, as dual-use items has severely impeded repairs and the reconstruction of homes and basic infrastructure. Shortages of some items critical to the health sector, including x-ray machines, items with a chemical content such as disinfectants, UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units used to ensure the unbroken functioning of life-saving equipment, and materials needed to safely dispose of poultry affected by avian influenza, have had a detrimental effect on the delivery of basic health services and undermined the prevention of public health risks.

Import restrictions also apply to a range of items vital to the Palestinian Civil Defence and other actors responding to emergencies, such as ambulances, drilling and lifting equipment, cranks and water pumps required to respond to flooding. While international agencies have managed to import some items into Gaza with authorization from the Israeli authorities, the approval process, monitoring and storage requirements have proven burdensome and have delayed implementation and increased costs.

Humanitarian project to erect temporary shelters on hold due to restrictions on wood imports

Over the past year, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) installed 254 prefabricated wooden housing units to serve as transitional shelter solutions for over 2,000 individuals whose homes were completely destroyed during the 2014 hostilities in the Gaza Strip. These units can provide displaced families with a dignified transitional shelter that is culturally and socially appropriate. Erected on land belonging to the displaced family, the units have easy access to basic services available in the family’s original location, and ease the process of rebuilding permanent homes.

The recent additional restrictions on the entry of wood into Gaza have severely impeded this transitional shelter response. Although the Israeli authorities had previously approved a further 221 wooden shelters by CRS, in early July a truck carrying wooden panels (4.4 cm thick) was turned back at Kerem Shalom crossing. A month later, another shipment of wood was rejected at the crossing on the grounds that all wood over 1cm thick is restricted. An application by CRS for the import of wood through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is pending. CRS estimates that the associated costs to date amount to at least $US 10,000 (and growing) in lost staff time, shipping costs, and the procurement of materials available on the local market.

In the interim, CRS has procured materials available on the local market and has made some modifications to the shelter design. This has enabled them to complete the construction of the 254 units. Another 150 transitional shelters scheduled to be erected for the benefit of 150 highly vulnerable families by December are now on hold and, if the restrictions remain in place, these families risk spending another winter homeless and exposed to the elements in the rubble of their destroyed homes.