In February and March of 2013, even as mortar fire was spilling over into Israel from the Syrian civil war, and the IDF returned fire, some altogether more benign objects were quietly being trucked across the heavily fortified border: Israeli Druze apple growers were able to sell $13.6 million worth of apples to willing buyers in Syria, despite the bloody conflict there.
This remarkable story of commerce prevailing against hostile political circumstances dates back to 2005, when the Red Cross first facilitated the transport of the cargo across the 1967 border. Many of the growers and buyers used to live as compatriots in Syria before Israel captured the Golan Heights in the Six Day War.
The bumper sales followed a season in which trade was suspended because of the conflict in 2012. And the intensification of the conflict meant that no such export was possible this past winter either. It’s highly unlikely to take place this coming winter as well, given the vicious power struggle between rebels and regime forces raging just across the Syria border. The 2013 sale marked a slight jump on 2011’s figures, and was almost double that of 2009, which is the earliest year the Central Bureau of Statistics has data for.
From the Israeli side, the shipments are framed as a goodwill effort. “Nurturing economic relations is perhaps the best way to nurture peace,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson. “Given the dreadful condition of the Middle East at present, it seems only positive to facilitate engagement of civilians in some semblance of normalcy.”
In 2013, precisely 14,200 tons of apples were driven just one kilometer either side of the border by Kenyan drivers under the employ of the Red Cross, who say operations were suspended for only a couple of days due to security concerns. Now, though, growers are said to be hunting for alternate buyers in Europe.