Hamas bans Israeli fruit imports to support Gaza farmers

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A Palestinian vendor sells fruits at a market in Gaza City on 24 September, 2012. The Hamas-run ministry of agriculture in Gaza decided to ban the import of fruits from Israel except apples and bananas to support the local Palestinian products. Photo – Wissam Nassar/Xinhua

Gaza’s Hamas government announced on Tuesday it would restrict fruit imports from Israel to help local Palestinian agriculture and “resist” the Zionist state’s crippling siege.

Gazan growers have welcomed the move and said it was necessary to support them.

Gaza’s Agriculture Ministry said that with the exception of bananas and apples, no fruit would be imported from Israel. Reports said the ban affects at least seven kinds of fruit, constituting around a 50% cut in imports, with a value of $26 million put by the ministry in 2011.

Tahseen al-Saqqa, the ministry’s director of marketing, said Israel’s refusal to allow the export, through its border with Gaza, of staple Palestinian fruit like grapes and guavas forced Hamas to take the move.

“The Palestinian farmer is suffering because all doors to export have been closed,” Saqqa said.

The charge was denied by Israel, which limits traffic in and out of Gaza and whose dealings with Palestinians there are often circuitous, given long-running hostilities with Hamas. “I know of no request to export agriculture products from Gaza that has been refused,” said Guy Inbar, spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

Vested Interests

Some Gazan fruit importers are not happy with the Hamas government ban.

“The local product is not nearly enough to offset the shortfall. What do we have in large quantities, other than guava?” Gazan fruit importer Jaber al-Shanty said.

He added that other importers had made advance payments to Israeli suppliers that would now be difficult to claim back.

Hikmat Abu al-Qombuz, another importer, predicted spiraling fruit prices – which Gaza, most of whose 1.6 million Palestinians depend on aid, can ill afford.

Ibrahim al-Shaer, 52, who grows dates and guava in Gaza said the move would help farmers by raising prices. But he admitted some imports from Israel remained vital.

“Israeli fruits compete with our produce in the market and they push down the prices. The government should allow imports at a reasonable level so the prices of our fruits do not go down sharply,” Shaer said as he stood in his field in Mawasi in southern Gaza.

The price of peaches has doubled to NIS 8 kilogram ($2.05), while dates were selling at NIS 11 ($2.82) a kilogram, up from NIS 7 ($1.79) since the import ban went into effect.

Saqqa said the Hamas government would crack down on any Gazans deemed to be gouging fruit prices, and urged Palestinians to view the hardship through the prism of their struggle against Israel.

“We are people under blockade and we should have the culture of resistance,” he said. “Why should someone have all kinds of fruits on his table?”

Hamas won a Palestinian ballot in 2006, and had an uneasy alliance with the Western-backed rival Palestinian faction Fatah until they fought a brief civil war in Gaza a year later. Under Hamas rule since, Gaza has suffered an often grinding embargo by Israel and Egypt, alleviated by goods smuggled in through tunnels from the Sinai.

Israel, which bombarded Gaza for three weeks in December 2008 to January 2009, refuses to ease overland travel restrictions citing security concerns. Hamas has urged Egypt to open up its border with Gaza since Islamists swept to power in Cairo this year, but the call has not been heeded yet.

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