The announcement that Israel would allow lulavs to be imported from Gaza ahead of the week-long Jewish Festival of Succot, which began on Friday night (October 2), was greeted with mixed feelings. Lulavs, the young shoots of palm trees used as part of the religious rituals associated with the holiday, grow abundantly in Gaza and are in great demand in Israel at this time of year. But how did a “hostile entity” suddenly become a legitimate partner for ad hoc trade?
According to the media, it was due to the massive pressure exerted by Israeli importers fearing a drop in their profits on the Minister of Religious Services, who obtained the hasty permit from the Minister of Defense.
Of course, there were also those who claimed that using a lulav bought from Gaza is a Mitzvah Habaa Ba’aveirah (“commandment performed through sin”) because the proceeds would fund Hamas. However, in actual fact it is only when the goods are not exported via the official channels between Israel and Gaza that the Hamas government profits, thanks to taxes imposed on traffic passing through some 600 tunnels that lie beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.
It’s not supposed to be this way.
In the 2005 Agreement of Movement and Access, Israel undertook to allow 400 trucks carrying goods for export to leave the Gaza Strip every day, in addition to seasonal agricultural produce. This commitment has never been fulfilled, and no more than 70 export trucks per day only were ever allowed to leave Strip. Export from Gaza to Israel was officially shut down in June 2007 when the latter closed Karni Crossing, effectively paralyzing the Gaza Strip’s economy and contributing to an unemployment rate of around 40%. It has been claimed that this policy is necessary in order to exert pressure on the residents of Gaza. Under these circumstances, the announcement that lulav exports could resume should have been welcomed in the Gaza Strip. Still, one cannot help wondering just how necessary the export ban really is, if it can be rescinded relatively easily in response to intensified consumer pressure from Israel?
However, conversations with lulav growers in the Gaza Strip, some of whom lost their source of livelihood when the exports were banned, made it clear that in the final analysis there would be no export of lulavs from Gaza again this year. Apparently the Defense Ministry did not realize that following a 27-month ban on exports, it takes more than three days to arrange and prepare lulavs for export. The lulavs are in great demand in the weeks prior to the holiday, but become worthless after it begins, and so the timing was just too tight. As explained by Kamel Aklook, a 43-year-old lulav exporter from Deir al-Balah:
“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.”
On a brighter note, it is still possible to revive the Gaza Strip’s agriculture industry and to resume trade ties between Gaza and Israel, to everyone’s advantage. In order to do this, Israel’s decision makers need to rethink their attitude, and recognize that all parties stand to benefit from this change.