Residents of Gaza this week are celebrating Eid el-Fitr, the holiday marking the conclusion of the month of Ramadan. During this festival, it is customary to eat lots of sweets. However, this year, once again, the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel for the past 27 months, includes a prohibition on importing chocolate and other sweets. Why ban chocolate? Because Israel considers chocolate, along with the majority of the other consumer goods that were once sold in Gaza, as “beyond what is essential for the basic existence of the population.” Israel has a point. It is possible to exist without chocolate. But isn’t it a shame?
Despite the repeated requests of the Palestinian Coordination Committee, which is in charge of sending requests to Israeli security officials controlling the border crossings, Israel has stood firm its refusal to allow chocolate and other sweets into Gaza for the holiday. Requests that products such as jam, sesame seeds, and halva be allowed in have been rejected time and again. Each time the Committee tries to include them on a faxed list of requested items – Israeli security officials call, ask them to cross them off the list and re-send the fax.
Lacking any other way to stock their shelves, Gaza shopkeepers must rely on goods that arrive via the tunnels. Naturally by the time the chocolate completes its journey to the store it is crumbled, melted and misshapen due to the intense heat of the tunnels. Often, it arrives mixed with sand. And it costs a small fortune. Muhammad Rasmi, a Gaza shopkeeper, says that a shopkeeper’s profit from goods that come through the tunnels is very small due to the many middlemen whose hands it passes on its way to the store. Rowanda chocolate, for example, costs 21 Egyptian Pounds in Egypt, equivalent to NIS 14, but a shopkeeper in Gaza buys it for NIS 57 and sells it for NIS 60. Along the way, the Egyptian merchant, the tunnel owner, the driver, and the trader who buys it from the tunnel owner all take their cut. This means that the price of a kilo of chocolate, which before the closure cost no more than NIS 40, and was of far superior quality – has shot up by 150% or more for a population of whom 70% are living below the poverty line.
“In light of this situation – where the shops are not earning and there are no good-quality sweets, the customers are not rushing to buy and there is no demand for sweets – I don’t feel the holiday spirit that we used to feel before the closure,” says Rasmi.
For Palestinians living in Gaza, and for many people in Israel, there will be plenty of time over the holiday to try and figure out exactly how banning chocolate promotes the security of the State of Israel.