Farmers in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip began exporting hundreds of tons of produce to Europe on Sunday after Israel cracked open its border with Gaza for Palestinian goods.
A truckload of strawberries left Gaza to launch the season, which is to run through May.
Israel has tightly controlled the flow of goods to and from Gaza since the Islamic militant Hamas violently overran the tiny seaside territory of 1.5 million people in June 2007.
Israel imposed a sweeping land and sea blockade immediately after the takeover in an attempt to put pressure on Hamas. But that tactic only deepened Gazan resentment against Israel, and the Israeli government relaxed the land blockade last year after a deadly raid on a blockade-busting flotilla sparked an international outcry and focused international attention on the embargo.
Yousef Shaath of Gaza’s Agricultural Development Association said 250 farmers hope to export 600 tons of strawberries, 350 tons of bell peppers, 160 tons of cherry tomatoes and 17 million carnations, for estimated revenues of $25 million.
That’s up dramatically from 300 tons of berries, 6 tons of peppers, 6.5 tons of tomatoes and 10 million carnations last year.
The Israeli military did not give an explanation Sunday for easing the flow of produce out of the seaside strip.
Still, exports out of Gaza remain heavily restricted.
Before the Hamas takeover, 85 percent of Gaza’s outgoing goods were sold in Israel and the West Bank, according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that lobbies on behalf of easing Palestinian travel restrictions.
The current exception to the export ban “is helpful for select growers, but it fails to address the manufacturing shutdown and massive unemployment caused by the export ban,” Gisha said.
According to Gisha’s statistics, about 83 percent of Gaza’s factories are idle or operating at 50 percent or less capacity. Unemployment is officially listed at 28 percent.