Regimes have come and gone, governments have been replaced and the Middle East has changed beyond recognition. But there was one thing that we thought would not change so quickly: the ban on selling goods from Gaza in the West Bank or Israel. This ban has been in place for six years. It remained after Israel decided to remove most of the restrictions on import into the Gaza Strip. It remained after the Gaza fishing zone was expanded and after Israel permitted gravel to enter the Strip for the private sector. It seemed almost eternal, as if it had always been here and always will. And then suddenly we find out that, when the need arises, this ban can just disappear. So what broke through the closure? What Gaza product was important enough, essential enough, to make a crack in a ban that has been in place for years? Well, lulavs. Lulavs are palm fronds used as part of the religious rituals associated with the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot which took place earlier this month.
Strawberries – no, spices – no, tomatoes – no, furniture – no, even though all these goods have been transferred through Israel to be sold abroad. But the lulavs got around the closure. Two truckloads of lulavs left the Gaza Strip for Israel at the end of August, and it took a Freedom of Information request to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to find out that lulavs from Gaza were also sold in Israel in 2012.
So first, we owe you an apology. For six years, we have been criticizing the ban on the sale of Gaza’s goods in Israel and the West Bank and now we find out that lulavs from Gaza were sold in Israel back in 2012. How did we not know about this? To be honest, it’s not clear. We closely follow COGAT’s reports and those published by international organizations on activity at Gaza’s crossings. As far as we know, in 2012, news on the lulavs did not appear in any of them. This time, on the other hand, the information was published both in an UNSCO report and in COGAT’s weekly report.
But now that we know, we have to say a couple of things about the story. First of all, it shows what’s possible. Trucks were loaded with goods from Gaza that were then sold in Israel. A Palestinian merchant sold goods to an Israeli merchant, just like merchants all over the world do, and the sky didn’t fall in. This is of course not surprising, but it is still worth mentioning.
And something else: why lulavs? This is also not so surprising. Israel actually allowed lulavs from Gaza to be sold in Israel in 2009 and 2011, but for various reasons the sales did not take place. In 2011, for example, the lulavs never made it to Israel because Hamas said Gaza’s palm trees had some sort of disease. Why did Israel approve the sale of lulavs back then? Simple economics. The Jewish festival of Sukkot was approaching, demand for lulavs skyrocketed and Egypt said it could not export lulavs to Israel. Since you can’t have Sukkot without lulavs, the Ministry of Agriculture quickly approved export from Gaza.
It may be simple, but it does not happen for other Gaza goods. The price of vegetables is significantly higher in Israel than in Gaza, and although the Ministry of Agriculture has said it has no objection to the sale of certain types of produce from Gaza in Israel and the West Bank, the policy remains unchanged. So why lulavs? Maybe because when it comes to the price of lulavs, there is strong enough pressure. Maybe. It’s hard to know for sure. We can only hope that lulavs are just the first step, and that one day this, now rare sight – a Gaza merchant selling to an Israeli merchant – won’t seem so surprising.