Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Av 5765 - August 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Produce Production in the Post-Gush Katif Era

By S. Fried

The settlements along the Gaza coast did not only grow bug- free vegetables, as some people might have imagined. Many hothouses raised cherry tomatoes and other "finicky" vegetables. Others grew flowers and potted flowers sold primarily in Europe.

Sixty percent of geranium exports were grown in Gush Katif hothouses. One geranium grower told reporters that his hothouses alone held a million potted plants. To transport the plants required 100 semitrailers.

These farmers were open to suggestions. One idea they adopted was growing organic vegetables, which are in large demand in Israel. Hardcore organic consumers are willing to pay large amounts for every green pepper and eggplant grown without chemicals and sprays, like in bygone days. Until now 65 percent of all organic vegetables produced in Israel came from Gush Katif.

The spices market was also a thriving enterprise. Mint, coriander, basil, rosemary and other spices were commonly grown in hothouses and exported. The leading product was asphodel, a type of lily resembling a long, delicate green onion, and no self-respecting chef would serve soup without sprinkling a bit of chopped asphodel on top. Again, 60 percent of asphodel exports came from Gush Katif.

But the biggest success was bug-free vegetables, an exclusive Gush Katif invention based on tightly sealed hothouses, special nets and light use of chemical insecticides. As is widely known, this invention transformed kosher kitchens despite the high prices.

The most dramatic story was lettuce. How much effort used to go into checking lettuce on Erev Pesach! Fears of all the tiny, nearly invisible insects prevented the religious public from eating lettuce the rest of the year. The same is true of cauliflower, which many families became acquainted with only in the past few years.

At present there are four companies growing bug-free vegetables with high standards of kashrus supervision and special laboratories. Their products have a chazokoh of being free of small insects, but must be thoroughly rinsed before use because of the possibility of large flies. Every slight change in the kashrus directives, even on a single occasion, could lead to a lack of faith and the rescinding of the hechsher. Ninety percent of the clean leaves sold in Israel today come from the sands of Gush Katif and they also comprise a large portion of exports to chareidi areas abroad.

There are also leaf-eaters in Gush Katif: the well-cared for cows in the Gush Katif dairies. Poultry is raised there as well. Gush Katif residents also made their living in the fields of light industry, commerce and education.

What will happen to the vegetable market in the near future? Nobody has any precise, authoritative information on this question. Much of the information from the Disengagement Authority and other official sources is really disinformation.

The general picture that emerges is a range of possible solutions. Some farmers left their hothouses behind and have been promised compensation for them from the American Aspen Institute that is buying them for the Palestinians. This would make it a bit easier for these farmers to get a new start. Others destroyed their hothouses, wanting to leave nothing behind for the enemy. Still others dismantled them quickly and had them transported or will have them transported to alternative farmlands already set aside for them.

In any case a shortage of coriander and mint and all the rest can be expected. It will also damage export reliability. Foreign importers and buyers who place orders a year or two in advance and base calculations on them are liable to sever ties with farmers due to the failure to deliver in a regular, timely fashion.

According to a report in Ha'aretz, the Director-General of the Agricultural Ministry says the situation is not so grim. Half of the 1,100 acres needed for the hothouses has already been purchased and the Israel Lands Authority has turned over another 100 acres of agricultural land to the transplanted settlers. The cost of rebuilding the hothouses has been estimated at $4,500 per acre and the total could reach $80 million. The funds for land purchase will be provided by the compensation payments the evacuees will receive and most of the cost of setting up the hothouses will be covered by the State, i.e. taxpayers.

The Ministry of Agriculture is also trying to allay consumers' concerns saying that thriving agricultural areas will soon replace the Gaza coast. Among the more outstanding possibilities are the Jordan River Valley and the Western Negev.

One of the biggest concerns is the trauma the cows will undergo. Every emotional disturbance is liable to harm milk production. A dairy has already been set up in Be'er Tuvia which will take in the cows, but these resettled bovines may be unable to cope with the ordeal of uprooting. The chickens seem less troubled. They are in favor of disengagement.


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