Agriculture: A Story of Palestinian-Israeli
Cooperation in Times of Conflict
|by: Mohammed Daraghmeh|
Unlike the normally cautious rhetoric by a Palestinian when talking
about his relationship with an Israeli party, Muhammad Hamlawi,
coordinator of the European Standards Project at the Palestine Trade
Centre (Paltrade) in Gaza speaks with great excitement about the
relationship between his institution and the Israel-Palestine Centre
for Research and Information (IPCRI), an Arab-Israeli
non-governmental centre specialized in research and training. The
reason behind this is the transformation that the agricultural
sector in Gaza is witnessing as a result of a joint project started
last year between the two institutions.|
A number of cases of
non-official cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis had been
recorded after the Oslo agreement in 1993, but most of them ended
with the start of the intifada in September 2000.
relationship between Paltrade and IPCRI has resulted in
export-oriented agriculture in the Gaza Strip entering a new era
never before witnessed in this region. It started with a training
project funded by ACDI-VOCA, a private, American-based
nongovernmental organization, and carried out by IPCRI, aimed at
training agricultural engineers and pioneering farmers in Gaza on
implementing European standards in agricultural production. As a
result, 90% of strawberry and cherry tomato growers in the strip,
who are implementing these standards, now enjoy the benefits of
exportation to European Union countries, thus raising prices of
their produce substantially, reaching an additional 45 cents per
Hillel Adiri, IPCRI agriculture expert, states that
the idea of cooperation emerged after the EU requested agricultural
products exporters to comply with modern export standards when
shipping to EU countries.
He adds that IPCRI sees this
project as one of the most important means for supporting peace and
cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. "We at
IPCRI believe that economic stability is key to political stability.
Peoples divided by wars are united by economic cooperation," states
Amid Al Masri, Director of the Development and
Promotion of Agricultural Trade Project at Paltrade, agrees with
Hillel, pointing out that IPCRI today plays an important logistical
role in assisting the Palestinian agricultural sector in their
interaction with the Israeli authorities, which have imposed
stringent restrictions on the Palestinian people's movement over the
past four and a half years.
Al Masri mentioned that the
training sessions included office and field training as well as
field trips to model and other farms of the famous Vulcani
Agricultural Research Institute in Rishon LeTzion, Israel. They also
included designing a special computer program to implement European
standards in agricultural products.
European standards for
agricultural imports include 15 items related to various production
stages, including land history, planting, irrigation, types and
quantities of agricultural insecticides and chemicals, methods of
harvesting and packaging, facilities at farms (including toilets and
dining rooms for workers, lighting, and windows), and
Hamlawi says: "European standards are very stringent,
and reach the level of imposing conditions on harvest workers such
as clipping their nails, eating their meals far from the produce,
using plastic windows and lamps on the farm and others."
Prior to export, the produce is inspected by a European
agricultural specialist, who also inspects farm facilities, levels
of chemicals in the produce, and other criteria, and decides, based
on that, whether to grant or withhold a compliance-with-standards
The success of the cooperation experience
between IPCRI and Paltrade in developing the production of
strawberries and cherry tomatoes in Gaza has opened the way for
repeating it with other crops.
Al Masri says, "The results of
this experience have been tremendous, and if the necessary support
for funding new projects is made available, it can be replicated in
other export products such as cut-flowers, for example, of which 50
million flowers are exported from the strip annually." Al Masri
points out the need for additional funding amounting to $600,000 to
complete farmer training programs and establish export
infrastructure according to European standards.
Al Masri also
notes: "Agriculture in Israel is the most advanced among the
countries of the region, and Palestinians have a chance to benefit
In all events, Israel, for Paltrade is the first
resource for training Palestinian specialists.
that, "Politics aside, Israeli agricultural expertise is an
important source for developing agriculture in Palestine. In
addition to being the most advanced, it is also the closest. If an
institution like IPCRI is available to provide permits for our teams
to enter Israel and reach research and training institutions, this
will be very important for us."
* Mohammad Daraghmeh
is a Palestinian political author and analyst.
Common Ground News Service, July 1, 2005.
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