Palestinian strawberry farmers hope for rich pickings as export markets open up this season

A farmer picking strawberries on his farm in Beit Lahia, Gaza. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 13 December 2019

Palestinian strawberry farmers hope for rich pickings as export markets open up this season

  • “This season may be different in terms of production volume and quality.”

BEIT LAHIA/GAZA: Farming in the Gaza Strip can be unpredictable at the best of times, but for strawberry grower Akram Abu Khousa years of toil under Israeli restrictions are starting to bear fruit.

The Palestinian farmer is celebrating the success of the first major export of his crop from Gaza to Gulf markets, business he hopes will compensate him and his fellow growers after years of heavy financial losses suffered due to Israeli blockades and restrictions on border trade crossings.

“Over past years we have faced problems with marketing, which was almost confined to the local market. This forced us to reduce prices significantly and inflicted heavy losses on us, as a result of the deteriorating economic situation in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Khousa told Arab News.

“This season may be different in terms of production volume and quality.”

The blockade imposed by Israel following the success of Hamas in the second Palestinian legislative elections in early 2006, led to huge losses for strawberry farmers, and caused the areas of cultivated land to be reduced to only 450 dunums (111 acres) in 2015.

However, Israel increased the export allowance in 2017, reviving hopes among farmers of a more prosperous future.

The strawberry harvest season begins in early December and continues until the end of March.

This year Abu Khousa planted an area of more than eight dunums (almost 2 acres) of strawberries in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, seven dunums of which were in the traditional way and one using hanging pots.

“The trend for hanging planting has increased the rate of production. One dunum cultivated in the modern way gives more than three times the traditional cultivation,” he said.

The soil and climate of Beit Lahia contain characteristics that distinguish the area from the rest of the Palestinian lands, making it ideal for the cultivation of high-quality strawberries.

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The blockade imposed by Israel led to huge losses for strawberry farmers, and caused the areas of cultivated land to be reduced to only 450 dunums in 2015.

At the beginning of December, Abu Khousa and other strawberry farmers began the process of harvesting and exporting their crops to West Bank cities. The Ministry of Agriculture had asked them for samples, and after testing their quality, the daily average of trucks allowed to leave Gaza was determined by the Israeli side.

The price of 1 kilo of strawberries locally, usually at the beginning of the season, was about 10 shekels (nearly $3), but gradually decreased, reaching four shekels at peak periods.

“If the export process does not continue, we will suffer a major setback and loss,” added Abu Khousa. He pointed out that local sales did not cover the basic cost of production.

He noted that the vast experience of the farmers of Beit Lahia made them capable of producing crops to meet strict international specifications.

The strawberry season provides hundreds of work opportunities during harvest times, helping to alleviate high unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip.

According to the latest data from the Palestinian Statistics Center, jobless rates were running at 53 percent, and 67 percent among youth.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, Adham Al-Basyouni, told Arab News: “Israel has tried over the years of the blockade to control the export of strawberry products in particular, because it knows that it is one of the distinct crops that come out to the West Bank and European and Arab markets.”

The success of the experimental export of strawberries — which included 8 tons going to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — had been a major boost for farmers and the local economy in Gaza, said Al-Basyouni, and he hoped it would be a prelude to further shipments of strawberries and other crops.

Strawberries are exported through Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing in the Gaza Strip, and then moved on to Jordan via King Hussein Bridge, and from there to the Gulf states.

The director of the Agricultural Cooperative Society in Beit Lahia, Mohamed Ghaben, said: “Gaza strawberries have very high-quality specifications and compete with the global product.”

There were 1,700 dunums planted with strawberries this season, compared to 1,100 dunums last season, and he expected production levels this time round to reach 5,000 tons, half of which were planned for export, he said.

The cultivation of strawberries in the Gaza Strip began at the end of the 1960s, with an experimental area estimated at one-and-a-half acres, and after achieving remarkable success, it gradually expanded until it reached 2,500 dunums in 2005.


UAE, Israel reach ‘historic deal’ to normalize relations

Updated 14 August 2020

UAE, Israel reach ‘historic deal’ to normalize relations

  • Abu Dhabi Crown Prince says agreement will stop the further annexation of Palestinian land
  • Donald Trump brokered the deal and hailed it as a 'huge breakthrough'

DUBAI: The UAE and Israel have reached a historic deal that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The agreement, brokered by US President Donald Trump, means Israel has suspended plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. 

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Full text of joint statement on UAE and Israel normalizing ties

World reacts to UAE's opening diplomatic ties with Israel

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A joint statement from the UAE, Israel and the US said: "This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region."

The agreement was reached after talks between Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Sheikh Mohammed said the agreement would stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory.

“During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” he said. “The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”

Netanyahu said it was “a historic day” and that the deal would lead to a “full and formal peace” with the UAE.

“It’s an incomparably exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.

 

 

The deal means the UAE would become the third Arab country to have full diplomatic relations with Israel.

The statement said Israel would suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in Trump’s peace plan for the region and focus on expanding ties with other Arab and Muslim countries. 

It said efforts would continue to achieve an “enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal,” the statement said.

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Delegations from Israel and the UAE would meet in the coming weeks to sign agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and telecommunications among others.

They would also discuss establishing embassies.

“Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East's most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation, and forging closer people-to-people relations,” the statement said.

 

 

Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the agreement, with President Mahmoud Abbas ordering the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE to return home.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and US trilateral, surprising, announcement,” said Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

But other Arab countries welcomed the step.  

Egypt, which along with Jordan, already has full diplomatic relations with Israel, said the deal would halt Israeli annexation of Palestinian land.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said this would help bring “peace” to the Middle East.

 

 

“This historic step will contribute to strengthening stability and peace in the region,” Bahrain’s government said.

Speaking in the White House, Trump said similar deals were being discussed with other countries in the region. He said a signing ceremony with delegates from either side would be held in Washington in the coming weeks.

"Everybody said this would be impossible," Trump said. "After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations. They exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the border.”

*With Agencies