Israeli authorities are preventing a variety of plants used to celebrate Sukkot from coming into the country.
A task force is charged with implementing the ban, which applies to three of the four species used by observant Jews to celebrate the holiday. The force will begin work in the coming days at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The Agriculture Ministry said the ban on the lulav, a frond from a date palm tree, leaves from the myrtle tree and willow branches is rooted in the need to prevent the spread of plant diseases and pests rather than any protectionist policy.
Israel is the only country in the world that exports all three plants, and one of a handful where the lemon-like etrog, the fourth of the species, is grown commercially. Inbound passengers may bring a single specimen of the etrog pending an inspection by Agriculture Ministry experts for plant diseases, the Makor Rishon daily reported Sunday.
All four plants are either cultivated in Israel or occur there naturally and are used in rituals connected with Sukkot, which this year begins on the evening of September 23.
Those caught bringing in the proscribed plants will be subject to fines and may be charged with a criminal offense, a ministry official told Makor Rishon. But the ministry task force also has purchased thousands of sets of four species deemed kosher for Sukkot rites that will be distributed for free at the airport to anyone who may wish to have one.
Last week, ministry inspectors prevented the smuggling in of 40 etrogim, valued at more than $1,000, by a woman in her 40s from Barcelona, Spain. The etrog by far is the most expensive of the four species.
The woman falsely declared her suitcase was lost in the hope of retrieving it later without subjecting it to a customs inspection on the way out of the terminal, Makor Rishon quoted a ministry official as saying.