March 12, 2015: For the first time in eight years, Gaza farmers have been permitted to sell vegetables to Israel. Two trucks carrying 25 tons of tomatoes and eggplant were shipped through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing this morning, to be sold in markets in south of Israel. More trucks are scheduled to leave Sunday, to be sold in other markets in Israel.

Today’s shipment was the first time Israel permitted marketing vegetables from Gaza to Israel since the Hamas regime took over internal control of Gaza in June 2007. In the past eight years, the only goods from Gaza allowed into Israel were two truckloads of lulavs, palm tree shoots used in religious rituals and allowed into Israel exceptionally, in response to a shortage. According to the Israeli authorities, the current permission for produce is also a response to religious needs, because Jews are prohibited from consuming produce grown in Israel this year due to “shmita”, a commandment to periodically allow farmland to lay fallow.

Gisha welcomed the move and expressed hope that it marks the resumption of crucial trade between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Before June 2007, more than 85% of all goods shipped out of Gaza were sold in Israel and the West Bank. Israel was Gaza’s main trade destination, with merchants selling produce, furniture, textile products and more.

In recent months, Israel has made some tentative steps to backtrack from some of the restrictions it had placed on the sale of Gaza goods in the other part of the Palestinian territory, the West Bank. So, for example, in November of 2014, limited amounts of produce were cleared for sale in the West Bank, followed by seafood, wood and textiles. Despite the easings, restrictions continue to apply to sale of goods to Israel and the West Bank, and outgoing goods from Gaza still reach less than 10% of their level prior to the ban.

Gaza farmers told Gisha that produce will now be shipped to Israel on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are also the days on which produce is permitted to be shipped from Gaza to the West Bank. Farmers have been told that cucumbers and zucchini will also be approved for sale in Israel. Over the past week, 17 traders in Gaza sent samples of their produce for phytosanitary inspection in Israel, at a cost of 20,000 NIS, which they paid for.

According to Gisha Executive Director Eitan Diamond:

“Top Israeli security officials have said that Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery are an Israeli interest and may help bring calm and stability to the region. We hope that the resumption of sales to Israel becomes permanent and is expanded to additional sectors in Gaza, giving its residents a horizon for economic development”.

For a report on the economic potential of lifting travel restrictions, see Gisha’s A Costly Divide.