November 24, 2014. A convoy of ten trucks loaded with 170 tons of vegetables from the Gaza Strip was detained yesterday at the Kerem Shalom crossing and forced to turn back. Some of the produce on the trucks – cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables – is destined for sale in Hebron and the rest is to be shipped to Saudi Arabia via Jordan. However, the cargo was not screened because of a dispute between the Israeli army and the Ministry of Agriculture. The merchants say that if they are unable to ship the produce tomorrow, they would have to discard it, losing tens of thousands of dollars.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told Israeli news website Walla (Hebrew), that Ministry of Agriculture officials refused to check the produce because they needed more screening officers. The ministry however said that the problem was that their screening officers were not allocated sufficient staff resources to screen the produce sent from Gaza. The Ministry’s response to the Israeli army radio stated (Hebrew) that: “Despite the ministry’s repeated requests to the IDF and COGAT to provide ministry staff with minimal physical conditions for conducting the necessary agricultural product screening, the matter has not yet been resolved. The ministry has ceased conducting screenings pending the resolution of the matter”.
It is unfortunate that issues that have nothing to do with the quality of the produce are interfering with the renewed marketing of Gaza goods in the West Bank. Most of the merchants who were quick to take part in this renewed marketing of produce at this early stage largely express the great need for an economic connection between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a connection that was severed when Israel banned the sale of Gaza goods in the West Bank in 2007. These issues must be resolved immediately as they are harming a battered economy whose rehabilitation is viewed by all to be in the best interest of the entire region.