Israel returns tomatoes to Gaza, sparking rumors
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Israel returns tomatoes to Gaza, sparking rumors

IDF and Hamas say shipment was sent back because it was hidden among cabbages; others cite more sinister reasons

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Palestinian farmer gathers tomatoes for export in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip, March 2, 2011 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)
A Palestinian farmer gathers tomatoes for export in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip, March 2, 2011 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Israel on Tuesday dispelled the notion that several tons of Gaza-produced tomatoes were rejected from import because they were found to contain carcinogenic chemicals.

Palestinian activists had said the produce was sent back because it was tainted, likely due to an improper use of pesticides. One activist posted images to Facebook profile of a particular pesticide, Nemacur 400 EC, which he claimed was causing cancer due to its “improper use in Gaza for years.”

An IDF source confirmed to The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the tomatoes were rejected, but said there was no connection to cancer-causing chemicals. “Last Thursday there was a shipment of cabbage from the Gaza Strip to Israel that had within it a concealed shipment of undeclared tomatoes,” the source said. “This is against the protocols of the Agriculture Ministry and the tomatoes in question were sent back.”

Tahsin Al-Saqa, the head of marketing for the Gazan Agriculture Ministry, told Palestinian media Monday that the tomatoes were indeed hidden in a shipment of other vegetables. But, he claimed, the rumors of cancer-causing chemicals were malicious lies “spread by the occupation.”

According to Saqa, the tomatoes were embedded among the cabbages by enterprising Gazan agricultural traders who were trying to bypass a ban against tomato exports issued by his ministry two weeks ago. “Tomato exports to Israel are currently banned due to their scarcity in the Gaza Strip and the rise in price,” he said, attributing the dearth of tomatoes to a recent cold snap.

Tomatoes for sale at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, September 2012 (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Tomatoes for sale at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, September 2012 (Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

In the period prior to the ban, Saqa said, 300 tons of tomatoes had been exported to Israel and the West Bank. He noted that the Gaza Strip has 8,000 dunams (some 2,000 acres) devoted to cultivating tomatoes, among them 4,000-5,000 in greenhouses.

The import of produce from Gaza to Israel was banned by Israel completely after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007; however, that ban was rescinded last March, and Palestinian farmers in Gaza have since been exporting to Israel mainly tomatoes and eggplants.

Before Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza in 2005, the settlements there were known as an agricultural powerhouse, particularly in the production of tomatoes — there were responsible for 45 percent of Israel’s tomato exports and 95% of its cherry tomato exports. Much of the output was attained through advanced agricultural techniques in state-of-the-art greenhouses. During the pullout, the greenhouses were purchased by international donors for the benefit of the Gazan agricultural sector. However, they were soon ransacked by locals from the city of Khan Younis who caused them irreparable damage.

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