Israel to start importing produce from Gaza
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Israel to start importing produce from Gaza

Religious Jews seek alternatives to local crops as sabbatical year prohibits eating food grown in the land of Israel

A Palestinian farmer harvests flowers at his greenhouse in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on December 20, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian farmer harvests flowers at his greenhouse in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on December 20, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

For the first time since 2007, Israel will begin importing agricultural produce from the Gaza Strip, acceding to ultra-Orthodox demands to supply goods manufactured outside the Jewish State during the shmita, or sabbatical year.

Religious groups in Israel follow a strict interpretation of the tradition, which involves a biblical prohibition against tilling the land and cultivating crops every seventh year.

Over the course of this shmita year, the principle suppliers of fruits and vegetables for ultra-Orthodox Israelis have been neighboring Jordan and the West Bank. But due to increased demand, authorities began searching for other options to satiate ultra-Orthodox requirements — and because of its proximity to Israel, the Palestinian coastal enclave was seen as a natural choice.

Under the move, brokered between the Civil Administration, the Israeli governing body that functions in the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority, Israel will at first import tomatoes and eggplants before moving on to other fruits and vegetables.

Revenues for Gaza’s farmers are expected to stand at NIS 3,000 ($751) per metric ton.

Israel’s agricultural consumption is estimated at 1.2 million metric tons per year, of which the ultra-Orthodox community consumes roughly 10 percent.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the IDF’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, said that the move would assist in the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and help bolster its beleaguered economy.

“These steps are intended to support the Palestinian population in Gaza, while differentiating from the Hamas terrorist entity which delays Gaza’s reconstruction and exploits its resources,” Mordechai told the NRG news site.

“The import of agricultural goods into Israel [from the Strip] will be done under heavy surveillance with stringent security measures,” he said.

The shmita year’s mandate to let the land lie fallow is relevant only to Jewish-owned tracts in Israel, and the issue was dormant until Zionist pioneers began farming the land in the late 19th century.

In 1889, shortly after the first wave of Jewish immigration to Israel, Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spektor of Kovno issued a religious ruling allowing Jews in Israel to sell their land to a non-Jew for the duration of the sabbatical year, while retaining the right to work it and reap the fruits of the land.

Some ultra-Orthodox sects however, believe the ruling does not apply to subsequent sabbatical years.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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