In the former Israeli settlement in Zahra City, southern Gaza Strip, there is a 100-hectare field used for growing vegetables. Now managed by the Hamas-run Ministry of Agriculture, herbs, chives, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers and carnations are produced her for export to Europe.
The frequent closure of the Israeli border, Kerem Shalom, tends to constantly suspend the export of such crops, causing a major obstacle for the agricultural industry in Gaza Strip.
“If it weren’t for the closure of the Israeli border, we would have exported the exact day Israel declared the operation Pillar of Defense on Gaza; November 14. We were also scheduled to export these vegetables on the 25th but the borders are once again closed,” Isleman Kahwaji, one of the 25 farmers working in the field said.
“These closures have led to great losses for this industry. With the five tons worth of crops that were supposed to have been exported, which instead went bad, we could have made 20,000 NIS. We are capable of earning 8,000 dollars per hectare on an annually basis meaning 800,000 dollars for the entire 100 hectares,” he added.
Mohammed Zwayyed, the marketing officer of the cash crops project at the Palestinian Agriculture Relief Committee (PARC) in Gaza said that “prior to 2007, we had been able to export an average of 50 million carnations and 1,500 tons of strawberries every year. Before the blockade, the export of vegetables was much higher as well. We are now down to only 9 million carnations and less than 500 tons of strawberries.”
Textile, furniture manufactures and agricultural industries are the main sectors of Gaza’s economy that relies on export.
“We had been capable of exporting furniture, garments, scrap metals, textiles and of course agricultural crops to Israel, the West Bank and other Gulf countries. Since then, we haven’t been able to export to Israel though it is considered the second largest sector for agricultural products after Europe,” Zwayyed added.
From June 2007 to June 2010, after Israel’s imposition of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, an annual average of nearly 255 truckloads of carnations as well as strawberries were exported from Gaza to Europe compared to the pre-blockade average of 10,000 trucks that left Gaza in the year 2005.
The recent eight-day conflict beween Israel and Hamas resulted in a 20% decline in both production and revenue for Gaza’s agricultural industry.
“We were confronted with several troubles during last week’s conflict. Many strawberry fields in Beit Lahia…had been targeted by Israeli tanks. In addition, the majority of farmers weren’t able to tend to their farms during the eight-day escalation. In fact, much of their harvest ended up withering away into nothing; all their years work gone within seconds,” Ghassan Kassem, head of Gaza Agricultural Cooperative Society, said.
Israel’s imposed restrictions on the transfer of goods into Gaza has led to the establishment of tunnels along the Gaza-Egyptian border.
“With the closing of the Israeli border Kerem Shalom, much of our crop goes to waste unless we resort to selling them in the local market for much less. Other than that, we would sometimes have to resort to the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza, as another alternative to the usual Israeli border,” Mahmoud Hamad, a farmer in Rafah said.
Whether or not they are required to start from scratch, a great deal of farmers in Gaza have already begun tending to their farms with the hope of the borders opening soon for the exportation of their produce.