Despite Israeli Permit, Lulav Exports from Gaza Blocked Again

October 2009

Due to Israel’s restrictions on exports from the Gaza Strip, lulav traders and growers in Gaza were once again denied their livelihood this year. Meanwhile, buyers of lulavs, the young shoots of palm trees used as part of the religious rituals associated with the week-long Jewish Festival of Sukkot, which began last Friday night (October 2), were forced to pay higher prices due to the decreased supply.

Israel’s one-off permit to export lulavs from the Gaza Strip, which was received about three days before the holiday began, did not give the traders sufficient notice to arrange the transfer of the goods to the market in time. Lulavs are in great demand in Israel in the weeks leading up to the holiday, but become worthless once the festival begins.In the final analysis, the export of lulavs from Gaza to Israel was once again effectively shut down.

Gaza farmers forced to buy lulavs from Egypt
For 20 years, up until 2006, Kamel Aklook, a 43-year-old trader from Deir al-Balah, exported lulavs to Israel, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. But the almost total closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip has struck a grave financial blow to his business: "Since 2006, we have not exported lulavs to Israel before Sukkot. In 2006 I amassed 25,000 lulavs but in the end I had to throw them away because I didn’t get a permit to export them. Since then I have not exported a single lulav to Israel from Gaza. Since then, I’ve been unemployed.”

Like everyone in Israel, Aklook received notice that an export permit had been issued only three days prior to the start of Sukkot this year. It was too late to do anything about it. “We all knew that the holiday was starting on Friday and that there was not enough time to complete the whole process. Gaza has the capacity to export up to 120,000 lulavs but it takes time – to harvest, assemble, prepare, and pack them, and the time remaining to us was insufficient to do all this and export them."

In an attempt to make some money this year despite the rigid restrictions of the closure, Aklook decided to buy lulavs from Egypt, even though his workers in Gaza were still jobless. “This year I bought 180,000 lulavs from Egypt and exported them to Israel via Egypt. I have Israeli traders that I have worked with for years and also traders in Egypt that I know. So I bought some from Egypt and sold them to the Israeli traders. I earned something, but not what I would have got had I sold directly from Gaza.”

Three Decades of Trade Cooperation Ended by One Policy
Jebreel Baraka, a 40-year-old farmer from Deir al-Balah has been exporting lulavs to Israel since 1980, just as his father did before him: “In 2007, I prepared 4,000 units for delivery but I didn’t get a permit and they went to waste.” Barakaexplained that he needs at least a week’s notice in order to harvest and prepare the lulavs and so he lost any opportunity to earn money from exporting lulavs again this year.

Export from Gaza to Israel officially ended on June 14, 2007, when Israel announced the closure of the Karni border crossing, the main trade crossing point from the Gaza Strip. This is despite Israel’s undertaking in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access to allow 400 export trucks from the Gaza Strip through per day, in addition to unlimited quantities of seasonal agricultural produce.Prior to the tightening of the closure in 2007, due to the frequent closures of the Karni crossing, the average number of trucks passing through per day was only about 70 – between 1,200 and 1,300 trucks per month. But over the past 27 months, when Israel has been implementing the closure policy, it has approved the passage of less than 140 trucks in total.

The closure policy, which does not allow any export of processed goods or the import of raw materials for factories in Gaza, has led to a collapse of the local economy. About 97% of the Gaza Strip’s factories have shut down since June 2007 and the unemployment rate, which is constantly rising, currently stands at over 40%.

Meanwhile, it is clear to all that exports from the Gaza Strip stand to benefit all parties – Israeli traders and consumers can get the products they want and Gaza residents can exercise their right to earn a dignified living.