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Monday, October 10, 2011

Leftists, UNRWA complain over Israeli willingness to import lulavim (palm branches) from Gaza

On the upcoming Succoth holiday, Jews make a blessing on the four species - the palm branch, the citron, the myrtle and the weeping willow. For the last thirty years, Israel has imported most of its lulavim (palm branches) from Egypt - specifically from the area around El Arish, which is just across the border from Gaza. This year, as yet another side benefit to the 'Arab spring,' the Egyptians decided that they would not export lulavim to Israel - or to anyone else. I have heard rumors that this has caused havoc with prices and the ability to obtain lulavim in the United States.

But the United States only needs 200,000 lulavim each year. Here in Israel, we need 700,000, and the government is involved. So we have been aware of this issue for months and the government has been trying to resolve it. One solution the government attempted was to import lulavim from Gaza. At the last minute, Hamas decided not to allow the export of 700,000 lulavim from Gaza. This was believed to be political (Hamas did not want to help out the Israeli government or Israeli Jews), but a Hamas spokesman, Tahsin a-Saka, claims that the issue is a plague of red palm beetles (see picture below) which have attacked Gaza's palm trees (link in Hebrew).
Just like we don't want this plague to develop in our territory, we don't want to export infected goods to you. This has no connection to the political dispute between Hamas and Israel.
For Hamas, business is business and in the long-run, they want to keep potential export customers happy.

But business isn't business for Gisha, a far Left Israeli organization that opposes the blockade of Gaza, nor for Chris Guness, the director general of UNRWA. They are more pro-Hamas than Hamas. Both claim that the fact that Israel attempted to import lulavim from Gaza shows that the blockade is political, and has nothing to do with Israel's security. In Gunness' words (from the same Hebrew link):
When Israel's religious population needs agricultural exports for a religious ceremony, exports from Gaza are approved. But since June 2007, it was a security threat that could not be overcome, and that was the reason that a prohibition was imposed on the export of goods from Gaza. Now, the truth is being disclosed in all of its glory.
But Gunness is wrong. First, there is a huge difference between how much Israel needs to be concerned with what goes into Gaza (i.e. weapons) as compared with how much it needs to be concerned with what comes out of Gaza. Second, Israel has allowed exports from Gaza several times since 2007. Third, if we have accepted the principal that the blockade is intended only to keep weapons out of Gaza - and not to free Gilad Shalit (a move I opposed at the time) - then the only reason to ban harmless exports is to prevent Hamas from earning money with which to buy weapons. While that is a worthy cause, I'm not convinced that the amount they would have earned from selling lulavim is especially significant. For example, in 2005, the wholesale price of lulavim was NIS 10; you can bet that the growers are receiving significantly less.

Finally, one cannot escape the feeling that Gisha and Gunness wish to punish religious Israeli Jews for the Gaza blockade by denying them access to lulavim.

In the end, the government found a better solution: It is importing lulavim from Jordan.

Obviously, that's not ideal either. In a perfect world, we would grow enough lulavim for our own needs rather than importing them from less than friendly neighbors. But for now, it will have to do.

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