Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:11 pm (KSA) 17:11 pm (GMT)

Gaza's Valentine flowers end up as animal fodder

Carnations will feed animals at this Rafah farm
Carnations will feed animals at this Rafah farm

In past years, Ziad Hejazi's colorful Gaza-grown carnations would adorn the homes of lovers across Europe, bringing an early springtime splash of color to wintry Valentine Days.

But the 35-year-old farmer from the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah says that this year his flowers will be fed to animals because of a punishing Israeli economic lockdown of the Hamas-ruled territory.

"I apologize to the lovers on the day of their love because I cannot bring flowers to them," Hejazi says. "Our flowers have become food for the sheep."

Flower farmers across Gaza, whose sunny climate allows for year-round exports to Europe, have been hard-hit by an Israeli closure regime tightened in June after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power there.

"I depend in my work on the Valentine's Day season because I make around 200,000 shekels during this time (about 56,000 dollars)," Hejazi says as he surveys a storage room filled with boxes of pink, red and white flowers.

"But this season I have lost around 30,000 dollars because there is no way of exporting what I produce," he says.

Like most of Gaza's farmers, he takes out loans at the beginning of the season that he must pay back after his produce goes to market. "I can't sleep at night because I am thinking about how I am going to pay my debts," he says.

In 2006, cut flowers constituted three percent of Gaza's total exports, with 45 million flowers annually being cut and processed ready for export, according to official Palestinian figures.

In November, Israel authorized the export of strawberries and flowers from Gaza to Europe, the first time it allowed any exports from the walled-off enclave since Hamas -- which is pledged to Israel's destruction -- took over.

In a bid to curtail rocket attacks, Israel has shut Gaza off to all but basic humanitarian aid, pushing the local economy to the brink of collapse.

Earlier this month Ahmed al-Shafi, a spokesman for flower growers in Gaza, predicted an "agricultural disaster" in the territory if the closures were not eased, estimating losses of up to 15 million dollars.

The carnations that might have adorned February 14 festivities in Europe have meanwhile flooded the local market, taking the place of other flower varieties kept out by Israeli restrictions.

"Last year I had 30 different kinds of flowers but now there is only one, the carnation, and very few roses," says Wasim Abdu, 28, a flower shop owner.

His shop is ablaze with red hearts and candles, artifacts of a more cheerful and romantic time in the increasingly impoverished coastal strip.

The rest of the surplus flowers will end up in Gaza's trash heaps and vacant lots, their pastel colors fading in the cool winter sunlight.

"The farmers have already begun uprooting the flowers and throwing them away," Abu Salih Khalil, the head of a farmers' cooperative in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. "They cannot grow without some kind of return."

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