Ahead of the Jewish festival of Sukkot which begins this Wednesday, lulavs, palm fronds used in religious rituals of the holiday, are in big demand in Israel. A minor crisis arose therefore when Egypt announced that it will not be exporting lulavs to Israel this year. In response, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture quickly announced that special licenses would be issued to allow the import of lulavs from Spain, Jordan and even the Gaza Strip! However the crisis was not yet averted – the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza subsequently responded that it would not permit the export of lulavs to Israel due to a disease affecting palm trees in Gaza. Eventually, as the festival of Sukkot drew nearer, the import of lulavs from Jordan was approved, and Israel breathed a sigh of relief.
This bizarre story highlights the absurd nature of Israel’s policy regarding the export of produce from the Gaza Strip. For the past four years, Israel has imposed tight restrictions on exports from Gaza. The export of agricultural produce has been permitted only to Europe, only in winter, and in negligible amounts. Since May 2011, not a single truck of produce has left the Gaza Strip. The reasons behind these policies remain unclear as Israel has not gone to the trouble of providing any official explanation. In the meantime however, entire industries in Gaza that traditionally relied on export have collapsed or now stand on the verge of collapse.
Yet suddenly, as a festival approaches, Israel is willing to accept produce from the Gaza Strip. But if lulavs are permitted, why not clothes, furniture or vegetables? Apparently, the need to drive down the price of lulavs was all it took for a hasty amendment to the export ban. This summer, it was the high price of cottage cheese that helped spark widespread social protests across Israel. Could we be looking at the next exception to the ban?