Export from Gaza, via Israel and the West Bank but not to them, is allowed once again: this time tomatoes to Saudi Arabia

The tomatoes belong to Abed Al Rauf Abu Safar, a resident of Gaza and merchant February 6, 2012: Israel has allowed limited export of tomatoes to Saudi Arabia. Three trucks exited the Gaza Strip today following long delays at Kerem Shalom. The tomatoes are expected to arrive at their destination in two days. Despite the fact that on their way to Saudi Arabia, the trucks will pass through Israeli and West Bank territory, Israel continues to ban sale of goods from Gaza in these areas.

The tomatoes belong to Abed Al Rauf Abu Safar, a resident of Gaza and merchant who owns the Abu Safar Company for export of fruits and vegetables. Before 2007 and the imposition of the closure, Abu Safar regularly marketed hundrerds of trucks carrying vegetables a year to the West Bank, Israel and Saudi Arabia and also purchased fruit from Israel.

In order to receive permission to export the tomatoes, Abu Safar underwent an expensive and complicated process, both because of the various security procedures and because of the fact that Israel prevents the sale of goods from Gaza in the West Bank and Israel. To give a sense: the tomatoes arrived to the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom in two truckloads and were then unloaded and transported to a "sterile" area between the Palestinian and Israeli side of the crossing. Because of an unexpected demand that the crates be arranged in one layer, instead of stacked, the shipment would now no longer fit in the two Israeli trucks Abu Safar had ordered. As negotiations went on regarding the arrangement of the shipment and finally an additional truck had to be ordered, the tomatoes sat in the unseasonably warm sun all day long. Finally, this morning, the three trucks were finally ready to leave Kerem Shalom for the journey to Allenby Bridge, where they were re-processed and then re-packaged again to fit into two refrigerated Jordanian trucks, which will be taking the goods on to Saudi Arabia.

Even though the tomatoes will travel through Israel and the West Bank, Israel continues to ban selling them there

The cost for transport in one Palestinian truck is 500 shekels, the cost for one Israeli truck is 4,500 shekels and the cost of one Jordanian truck is 800 dinar (about 4,200 shekels). All these fees were paid by Abu Safar, who was forced to spend an additional 6,000 shekels for the Israeli trucks that waited all day at the crossing, bringing his grand total to 28,900 shekels (approximately $7,795), not including labor costs. He told us that because of the additional costs, it was likely he would lose money on the whole venture and that he was reconsidering trying to export again.

Like we wrote two weeks ago when a truckload of furniture was permitted to reach Jordan, we welcome the expansion of export from Gaza and the development of new markets for Gaza's products. We remind, however, that Gaza's products already have established markets and customers in Israel and the West Bank. We hope that the logistical and security mechanisms that allow export to Jordan and Saudi Arabia can be applied soon to allow goods to reach markets in Israel and the West Bank.