Palestinian farmers from the West Bank recently showcased their vegetables, herbs and olive oil in their own national section at the Agro Mashov agriculture fair in Tel Aviv in an attempt to penetrate the Israeli market.
However, achieving this goal, they admit, will not be easy, as Israelis are still reluctant to buy “Made in Palestine” products.
Israeli agriculture officials have acknowledged the challenge facing Palestinian products, and have attempted to expose Israelis to more Palestinian products.
“We currently sell our products in 16 different countries around the world, but we still do not sell in Israel,” Nasser Abu Farha, director of Canaan Fair Trade, told The Media Line. “We have talked to Israeli buyers in the past and there is some kind of reluctance or worry or concern about a Palestinian brand with a Palestinian cultural identity of the producers making it in Israel.”
Israelis do eventually buy products from Palestine but repackage them and sell them later under Israeli labels. About $300 million worth of products were sold last year by Israelis in this manner, according to the Media Line report.
Mohammad Amro, the financial manager of Thimar Nature’s Produce, located in a farm near Jericho in the Palestinian Authority, said that his company’s vegetables and herbs are packaged by an Israeli company and clearly marked a product of Palestine. But they are exported in Europe and not sold in Israel.
“In the beginning, there was a challenge, but now we have good relations with Israeli companies which support us and provide us with support to market our products outside,” Amro told The Media Line. “We are participating in this exhibition to look for opportunities to have markets inside Israel,” he added. “A lot of Israeli people came to our booth and were very happy and asked us ‘From where we can buy this?’”
While it’s easy to find Israeli products in Palestinian retailers in the West Bank, they’d have trouble locating Palestinian brands in stores in Israel. But one major Israeli retailer, Rami Levi, founder and chief executive of an eponymous chain of supermarkets, said he would be glad to place Palestinian products on his shelves.
“I’m willing to put any product in my supermarkets that meets our standards and has a kosher license and is good value. It doesn’t matter if it’s Palestinian, Israeli or from Greece or wherever,” Levy told Media line.
Levy said he planned to meet with Palestinian farmers and food merchants in the near future to discuss deals.
“Yes, there are difficulties, difficulties for Israelis,” said Haim Alush, the chief executive officer of Agro Mashov. He said one of the exhibition’s goals is to encourage Israelis to buy more Palestinian products. “But it is a result of years of hate and years of problems, which I don’t want to elaborate on here … We want that supermarkets in Israel to display and sell the tehina and tomatoes from Nablus and Jenin and even from the Gaza Strip.”
Palestinian exports to Israel also face regulatory hurdles, and Palestinian farmers seek to obtain free entry to Israeli markets within a framework of free trade agreements.
Many Palestinian products are blocked because they don’t meet Israeli health standards or lack a certificate testifying that the food is kosher. Samir Moaddi, chief Israeli agriculture adviser to the Palestinian Authority, said official sales were about 500 million to 600 million shekels ($130 million to $158 million), but unofficial ones are more than a billion shekels a year.
Moaddi added that there are major differences between Israeli and Palestinian products and much cooperation was needed to optimize exports.
(Written by Ikram al-Yacoub)