Some 30 Gaza farmers participated in an agricultural expo held in the Eshkol Regional Council last week, despite the hostile relations between Israel and the Strip’s government, run by Hamas.
“Agriculture knows no borders,” said Uri Madar, of the agriculture department in the District Coordination Office (DCO). “There are various parasites that can ‘jump the border’ so there is a clear mutual interest here. If things are calm on the security front, there is no reason not to boost agricultural and economical ties.”
In 2002, Gaza’s farmers would ship about 70 tons of produce to Israel, and the latter would send a similar quantity to the West Bank. However, when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, it enacted new export policies.
Today, the majority of Gaza’s produce is exported to Europe – after being inspected and packaged in Israel, for security reasons.
“Gaza exports produce to Europe every day,” Ahmed Shafi, head of the Gaza City Agricultural Association told Ynet. “We export peppers, strawberries, flowers, cherry tomatoes and spices.”
Since Operation Pillar of Defense came to its end, Gaza has exported over 200 tons of strawberries, 130 tons of tomatoes, 5 tons of herbs and spices and a million tons of flowers.
The Strip’s farmers say they have no problem doing business with their Israeli colleagues. “We want to keep coordinating exports with Israel and even export to Israel,” one of the farmers who visited the expo told Ynet.
“We don’t look at this from a political point of view. We – and you – look at it from a business point of view.”
Another farmer said that Hamas’ government leaves the farmers to decide on their own who to do business with. “There’s no coordinating with Hamas – only with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
The goal, others said, is to reach the agricultural export levels noted prior to Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, and to export produce to Israel and the West Bank as well.
Israel used to be Gaza’s best and biggest market. The Palestinian farmers said that even if Egypt opens the Rafah crossing to exports from Gaza, they would still prefer to export their goods through Israel, because they trust Israel’s facilities more.
“We were able to do good business here,” a Gaza farmer told Ynet after the expo, adding that there is more to Gaza than militants and rockets. “We make a living and create jobs. And when the economy is good, people are happy and there are no political problems.”