An opportunity to once again export fruits and vegetables to the Israeli market
could be game-changing not only to Gazan farmers but also to the larger
relationship between the Gazan people and their Israeli neighbors, farmers from
the territory told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“We want to sell in
Israel,” said Mahmoud Ikhlain, chairman of the Beit Lahiya
“The market in Israel is a good market. All the time, we and
Israel are in contact.”
“We are neighbors,” Ikhlain added.
and his colleague Ahmed Shafai, who is head of the Gaza Cooperative Association,
spoke with the Post
on Wednesday under the booth of the Palestinian firm Harvest
Export at the Fresh Agro- Mashov International Fresh Produce Summit and
Exhibition in Tel Aviv.
Up until 2006, when Hamas took control of the
Gaza Strip, farmers in the territory were able to export their fruits and
vegetables to Israel. Since then, however, the farmers have been forbidden to
sell to their neighbor, and they focus exclusively on exporting their goods to
European markets through Israeli and Palestinian companies like Harvest Export,
Arava Export Growers and Agrexco.
While the Gazan farmers cannot export
their crops to their neighbor, they do import all of their agricultural
equipment from Israel – a relationship that Shafai said he would like to see
“We hope that Israel will open its markets – we can
import from them and then they can receive exports from us – in order to build a
good relationship between the Palestinian and the Israeli people,” said Shafai,
who, like Ikhlain, is from the Gazan town of Beit Lahiya.
“As you see
from our visit here, we are friends,” Shafai continued.
“We are not
political people; we are economic people.”
Agricultural partnerships and
trade could become a catalyst for warmer ties between Gaza and Israel, Shafai
explained, noting that the two sides can live a better life by working with each
Today, among Gaza’s main export crops to Europe are strawberries,
cherries, bell peppers, carnations and herbs, Shafai and Iklhain told the
In the future, the region’s farmers would like to expand their
production to other types of fruits, vegetables and flowers, they said. However,
Gaza suffers from a lack of both water and space for agriculture, the latter due
to the overpopulation of the Strip, Shafai explained.
Hillel Adiri, one
of the Israelis responsible for coordinating the Gazan delegation’s visit, said
that these farmers, water experts and land reclamation professionals “love to
come here to agriculture events.”
They are no strangers to such
exhibitions and meetings in Israel and face no problems attending quite often,
said Adiri, who is a senior marketing adviser in the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations on behalf of the Netherlands
Approximately 65 Gazans and 200 West Bank Palestinians
participated in the exhibition on Wednesday, according to event
While no decision has been made yet by the Israeli
government on the status of Gazan exports to Israel for the next harvest season,
Adiri told the Post that discussions are underway about this possibility. A push
from the Dutch government, he said, may steer Israel toward a more positive
response to the idea.
Palestinians in the West Bank, on the other hand,
face much fewer restrictions in selling their agricultural products and are able
to “market their exports effectively and efficiently to clients in Europe” as
well as the United States, said Muhammad Khader of Lausanne Trading Consultants,
a West Bank agricultural shipping firm based in Beitunya.
and [in the] current season [the] civil administration at Beit El exerted
outstanding efforts to facilitate the movement of Palestinian products from the
Jordan River Valley in containers for certain products,” Khader said during a
conference – called “Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in Global Fresh
Produce Marketing” – at the exhibition Wednesday morning.
on the other hand, receive no guarantee that they will proceed across the Kerem
Shalom border crossing at all times, and in cases that crops do not move across
as planned, the farmers must simply discard their products, he told the Post in
an interview after the conference.
Khader in large part credited Lt.-Col.
Moshe Braha of the civil administration’s economic branch for the smooth
transport of West Bank Palestinian goods.
These products undergo an
inspection at the Sha’ar Ephraim crossing point, and then the goods are
transferred to Israeli trucks before going to Haifa or Ashdod ports, Khader
explained, stressing that “the process of inspection and transfer is usually
This does not mean, however, that the export processes are
without need for improvement, he acknowledged. For example, due to the
restricted road usage and many checkpoint terminals in the West Bank,
Palestinian farmers must spend much more on tranport than their Israeli
colleagues, Khader said.
Another problematic issue is the fact that
Palestinian farmers are not always allowed to use stuffed containers to truck
their goods, as the containers pose increased security concerns, he explained.
In recent years, however, the civil administration has allowed some Palestinian
agricultural containers into Israel, Khader said, after they go through
Although glitches still at times impede the transport
process, by working with Israeli distributors such as the Hadiklaim Israel Date
Growers’ Cooperative and Arava Export Growers, the West Bank Palestinian farmers
are able to market their products abroad, Khader stressed.
developing and improving,” he said.