GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel’s July 1 decision took the Palestinian dairy and meat producers by surprise, as it prohibits the export of their products to East Jerusalem as of Aug. 1, without explaining why.
The decision, which was printed on a large banner next to the West Bank-Jerusalem Qalandia crossing that Palestinian cargo trucks use, was issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health and State Veterinary Services and Animal Health. The Palestinian government parties are yet to be officially notified of the decision.
Speaking to Voice of Palestine Radio July 1, Minister of National Economy Khalid al-Assaily said that a similar decision targeting Israeli products would be taken by the Palestinian government if the Israeli decision enters into force.
In July 2010 and March 2016, Israel banned five Palestinian companies — Hamoda Group, Al-Rayyan Dairy, Al-Junidi Dairies, Salwa Food Industry and Siniora Food Industries — from bringing their products into East Jerusalem. The Palestinian government responded by banning five Israeli companies, including Tnuva, Tara Dairy and Strauss Group, from bringing their products on the Palestinian market.
Israel bailed on its decisions only a few weeks later, caving into pressure from the US administration, the Quartet and Israeli judiciary. As a result, the five companies resumed their exports to East Jerusalem, which account for 40% of products on the market there.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Bassam Abu Ghalyoun, director general of the Palestinian Food Industries Union (PFIU), said that many Palestinian companies told the PFIU that the Israeli Civil Administration's agriculture staff officer Samir Muadi had notified them about the latest decision.
He noted that the decision is applicable to eight Palestinian companies, namely Hamoda Group, Pinar, Al-Rayyan Dairy, Al-Junidi Dairies, Salwa Food industry, Siniora Food Industries, Ghosheh Industrial Food Company and Hidmi Food Industries, despite being granted quality control certifications and meeting food safety standards and sanitation conditions and having been subject to the control of many government departments.
Abu Ghalyoun anticipates that the Israeli Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development wants these companies to fill out a veterinary questionnaire in order to ensure that the breeding process and the transport of dairy and meat products are subject to quality control, safety procedures and are meeting the requirements relating to food storage, similar to the Israeli decision against some of these companies in 2016.
He added that 4,500 tons of Palestinian dairy products and 100 tons of meat are exported to East Jerusalem every month.
Tareq Abu Laban, assistant undersecretary for the economic sector at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, told Al-Monitor that they had not been informed officially of the Israeli decision, noting that Muadi notified by phone some of the Palestinian companies about the decision.
He said that all of the factories and products are subject to control by the Palestinian General Administration for Veterinary Services and Animal Health to ensure the products' quality and safety. He pointed out that Israel is using the sanitation aspect as a pretext to prevent the entry of products that genuinely compete with the Israeli products into East Jerusalem.
He noted that there was a political goal behind Israel prohibiting the entry of dairy and meat products into East Jerusalem in 2016, namely the requirement that the Palestinian companies obtain “the external source of animal origin” certificate. He added that this demand was rejected by Palestinian government authorities as East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories and is not part of another state. In addition, he noted, these companies were required to fill out a veterinary questionnaire.
The Israeli decision is a violation of the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations that established reciprocal relations between the two sides, when it comes to each bringing its products into the other one’s market.
Mohammad al-Sous, planning and public relations director for Hamoda Group, told Al-Monitor, “We received a telephone call from the Israeli food inspector at Beitunia crossing and another call from the Israeli Civil Administration's agriculture staff officer Samir Muadi of Beit El, located near Ramallah, who told us about the decision to ban the export of goods to Jerusalem.”
He added, “We asked the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy to pressure the Israeli side to back down on the decision,” and that the government told them it would apply the same decision to the entry of Israeli dairy and meat products into the Palestinian market.
He explained that bringing the decision into force as of Aug. 1 would cause Hamoda Group and the other seven companies huge losses, and result in 500-600 Palestinian workers losing their jobs. He pointed out that his company supplies East Jerusalem with 45% of its products.
Sous stressed that they received the ISO 22000 certification that sets out the requirements for food safety management standards, similarly to the companies and factories operating as part of the farm-to-table chain.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Marketing Director at Siniora Food Industries Ahmed al-Karmi warned against the big losses his company and other companies would incur, and added that they would amount to millions of dollars.
Azmi Abdul Rahman, director general of the Planning and Policy Department at the Ministry of National Economy in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor that Israeli companies that would be banned from bringing their products into the Palestinian territories are the same as those banned in 2016.
He said the Palestinian companies and factories are able to meet the total need of the Palestinian market for dairy products and processed meat.
There are more than 40 Palestinian dairy factories whose production capacity ranges from 550 to 600 tons per day, with exports to Arab countries amounting to $6 million.
Ziad Hamouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli decision came in light of Palestinian products successfully competing with Israeli products. He called on the Palestinian government to protect the Palestinian products, so that Jerusalemites are not forced to buy Israeli products.
Talat Abu Rajab, professor of economics at Hebron University, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli decision will have a negative impact on many Palestinian sectors other than the factories, including cattle farms, veterinary clinics and plastics manufacturers, as well as hundreds of employees being laid off.
Israel is unlikely to back down on its decision anytime soon, in light of the tension prevailing over its relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA), after deductions since February from the tax revenues it transfers to the PA and the Palestinian government’s economic disengagement plan.