This week, the Egyptian government decided to ban the export of Lulavim – the date palm branches used during the Sukkot holiday – to Israel and the wider Diaspora Jewish community.
During the Holiday of Sukkot, the Lulav is waved with three other fruits and branches: the citron known as a Etrog and the branches of the myrtle and willow trees known as Hadassim and Aravot. The holiday, which begins October 12 and lasts for seven days in Israel and eight in the Diaspora, commemorates the 40 year travail in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt.
In the days leading up to Sukkot, traders have booming businesses as the religious communities buy the fronds and other items en masse, to the tune of about 850,000 fronds per year.
In the past, Israel imported around 700,000 fronts annually, most of which came from the Sinai. The Egyptian government gave no reason for the ban, although current Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the current “cold” peace between Egypt and Israel was “not sacred”. The statement prompted the foreign ministry to summon the Egyptian Ambassador for an explanation. As of today, it appears the ban will be in effect until the end of the year and possibly beyond.
In wake of the ban, the Ministry of Agriculture issued permits to import the palm fronds from other countries such as Spain and Jordan on the condition that each frond is inspected for diseases. The move is expected to prevent a shortage from occurring. However, it is unknown if local Israeli growers will be able to produce more than the 200,000 fronds they usually provide annually.
Agriculture Minister Orit Noked said she would not allow the prices to be inflated by encouraging farmers to increase their supply. Date farmers also said they do not intend to raise prices. Last year, prices were between 100 and 120 NIS.
It is also unknown how Diaspora Jewish communities will be affected by the ban, although the prices on Lulavim will likely skyrocket thanks to elevated import taxes and fees.