Since the end of December 2009, 36 trucks loaded with strawberries and cut carnation flowers were permitted to leave Gaza for Israel’s Ashdod port, from which they were shipped to Europe. This is the first time since January 2008 that strawberries have managed to leave the 41 kilometer-long Strip. The flowers have been a little luckier – prior to December 2009, Israel permitted the export of 19 truckloads of flowers during the past 2.5 years of closure, mostly around Valentine’s Day.
Prior to the June 2007 closure, 30-35 trucks of agricultural produce were exported every working day of the agricultural export season (November – March), carrying mainly cherry tomatoes, flowers and strawberries. This amount is from a total daily average of 70 trucks of exports, mostly furniture, garment, cash crops, vegetables, processed food, metal products, handicrafts, and other kinds of goods. Gaza export –halted except for the trickle of strawberries and flowers – used to account for 10.8% of the Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP), valued at $330 million. That is now lost. Estimated annual losses from the inability to export agricultural products alone stand at approximately $32 million, and tens of thousands of people in the agricultur! al sector have lost their livelihood.
The flower and strawberry export is part of a one million Euro program, sponsored by the Dutch government, to support Gaza’s farmers. The Dutch government insists that Israel permit the flowers and strawberries to reach European markets as an exception to the ban on all other kinds of export from Gaza, a ban which has forced other donors to convert development programs into humanitarian hand-outs. If Gaza’s crossings were fully open for export and Gaza residents were afforded the right to engage in a dignified living, European taxpayers could spend less money on aid and more money buying strawberries grown in Gaza, rumored to be among the sweetest and reddest in the world.