Look to Gaza for cheaper lulavim

Israelis look to Gaza fo

Religion is often blamed as an obstacle to peace between Muslims and Jews. However, the demand for lulavim (palm fronds) ahead of Succot may now foster trade with the Gaza Strip. Gazans will be permitted to export lulavim to Israel after Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi received special permission to do so from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Margi was approached by importers of lulavim to intervene after suppliers in Egypt, Israel's main source, tripled their prices. Israeli importers told The Jerusalem Post that Egyptian suppliers in El-Arish and other locations who provide the bulk of lulavim formed a price cartel this year and demanded $1.50 per lulav, about three times the price demanded in previous years. "If you add shipping and packing costs, customs and value-added tax, the wholesale price of a lulav is at least NIS 8, as opposed to about NIS 3.5 usually," said one importer who preferred to remain anonymous because he was discussing wholesale prices. "I expect lulav prices to rise between 10 percent and 15% compared to last year as a result," he said. Importers said that while Margi's attempt to open the Gaza lulav market was commendable, it was "too little, too late." "The expensive lulavim are already in the market," and part of the demand was being met by growers in the Jordan Valley, said another importer. "So new merchandise from Gaza won't have much of an impact, even if it arrives tomorrow." Margi's spokesman Alon Nuriel said in a statement that Barak agreed to open up Gaza's lulav exports in coordination with the Agriculture Ministry and the IDF's coordinator of government activities in the territories. Nuriel also provided the letter signed by Barak's aide, attorney Ruth Bar, authorizing the export.