September 18, 2019
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Israel blockades stem exports from Gaza

 Wael al Wadia, president of confectionery company Sorayo, in Gaza, May 23, 2019. EFE/Laura Fernández Palomo

Wael al Wadia, president of confectionery company Sorayo, in Gaza, May 23, 2019. EFE/Laura Fernández Palomo

By Laura Fernández Palomo

Gaza, May 23 (efe-epa).- Wael al Wadia runs his candy and potato chip company from an industrial complex in Gaza not far from warehouses belonging to the United Nations and Coca-Cola but his production has been stuttering since the Israeli blockade on Palestinian territory 12 years ago.

Al Wadia's business is functioning at 30 percent of its potential output and two production chains, one for biscuits and the one for Krembo, a type of marshmallow covered in chocolate, have been halted.

He has lodged a legal challenge at Israel's Supreme Court.

"Egypt, India, China, the United States and Turkey are exporting their products to Gaza, for this reasons we are asking Israel to do the same or at least create a partial opening to the West Bank," he told Efe during an interview from his offices in Soroya, which was founded in 1985 and has become one of the pillars of industry in the Gaza Strip.

Al Wadia said he does not want investment or donations as he believes in the potential of his business, which before the blockade exported 80 percent of its products to Israel and the West Bank.

He has made this point to the UN envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, and the Gaza director of the UN Relief and Works Agency, Matthias Schmale, when they visited.

The businessman has lodged a lawsuit with Israel's Supreme Court through the Israeli NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, where he is calling for an end to the export ban that came into force weeks after the Islamist movement Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and expelled the Palestinian National Authority.

"The petition actually asks for three things: one was to allow the company to market its goods in West Bank and abroad.

"One was a principal request to allow all factories to sell their goods and the third request was if it works to allow these things but they need to issue procedures and guidelines on how to do it," Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, told Efe.

Israeli authorities allow companies in Gaza to export certain textiles, fish and vegetables although Hary said guidelines change arbitrarily and do not allow for economic development in the area, which relies on humanitarian aid.

"We are unable to get transparency about the policy, we tried to compel them to publish the information and people in Gaza can use it and make plans to market their goods," Hary said, branding the blockade's guidelines "arbitrary."

"As you know, the business has foundations, the first is exportation, which is its soul, for which reason country that wants success needs to be open, without limits or borders," Al Wadia said.

He has only been able to keep on 100 of his usual 250 staff members on a permanent basis, while 70 others work on a part-time basis one or two days a week.

According to the Palestinian statistics office, the food industry employs around 5,000 people across around 600 registered businesses, over half of those being bakeries.

Roughly half the Gaza Strip's population and 70 percent of its young people are unemployed.

The first hearing at the Supreme Court last week stalled when the State of Israel cited "procedural failures" and claimed it had not received any notification from Al Wadia on how to coordinate the exportation of his products to the West Bank, meaning the case has to be resubmitted.

"They didn't get into the general questions (about the blockade).

"They focus on the procedures aspect on the case," Hary said.

"In theory, they don't have a ban on exits of goods to the West Bank and abroad, at the same time they don't have the mechanism to allow it," she added. EFE-EPA

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