In first since 2010, Israel halts food imports from West Bank

Israeli authorities prevent five major Palestinian foodstuff companies from bringing their goods to Jerusalem, firms charge

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

The Qalandiya checkpoint near the Atarot industrial zone, between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, seen on April 7, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Qalandiya checkpoint near the Atarot industrial zone, between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, seen on April 7, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel is preventing West Bank producers from transporting their goods into East Jerusalem, manufacturers said Sunday, in what appears to be the first move of its kind in over five years.

The staff of five Palestinian companies — whose goods have been prevented from entering Jerusalem — protested Sunday near Israel’s Ofer Prison outside Ramallah.

Israeli authorities reportedly told the pertinent firms last Wednesday that their products would not be allowed to pass through the commercial Beitunia Crossing, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported.

The five companies are Hamoda, al-Juneidi Dairy and Food Products, al-Rayyan Dairies, Salwa Foods, and Siniora Food Industries.

The move appeared to be the first time since 2010 that Israel has prohibited West Bank goods from entering East Jerusalem, which it considers sovereign Israeli territory. In that year, Israeli authorities attempted a similar prohibition of West Bank food products, saying they did not meet Israeli standards.

The ban was rescinded shortly afterwards, following international pressure, including from the Mideast Quartet and the US administration.

Fadi Abu Hilweh, the director of marketing for Hamoda, told Ma’an the new ban could result in the loss of an estimated 1.2 billion shekels ($309.5 million) per year for the companies. Consumers in East Jerusalem — in addition to Arab Israelis — account for more than 50 percent of the five companies’ sales, he said.

Another Hamoda official claimed that Israel imposed the ban to protect its domestic firms from outside competition, the al-Watan news outlet reported.

Amjad Muhtaseb, a marketing employee at al-Juneidi, told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Israeli authorities cited a lack of Hebrew labels on the companies’ products as the reason for banning their entrance into Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities did not respond to a Times of Israel request to comment on the decision.

An official in the Palestinian Ministry of Economy told Ma’an that his ministry was never informed of the Israeli decision.

The official called the decision a “flagrant breach of the Paris Protocol,” referring to the 1994 agreement that set the framework for economic relations between Israel and the PLO.

Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, said in a statement on his Facebook page that Israel’s decision amounted to a “massacre of national Palestinian products” and was the beginning of “an official Israeli boycott against Palestinian products.”

Barghouti called on the Palestinian Authority to respond by announcing an immediate ban on all Israeli products into the West Bank and a complete boycott.

In February 2015, the PA called for a boycott of major Israeli food companies in response to Israel withholding tax revenue. Israeli foods, however, have continued to be sold in supermarkets across the West Bank.

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