Israel: Markets without borders

Palestinian farmers harvest potatoes in southern Gaza.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

JERUSALEM – “Buying local” can help reduce a shopper’s carbon footprint. It can also unify warring neighbors – such as Israelis and Palestinians now working under the radar of big business and government officials to form organic-food co-ops.

The goal: Avoid pesticides and circumvent the military closures, which keep most Palestinian produce from getting to Israeli markets. To do so, groups of Israelis buy produce directly from Palestinian organic farmers in West Bank villages and then sell it to a network of people in Israel who are interested in buying “green market.”

For some, the appeal is the organic farming techniques. For others, it’s a quiet ideological statement: a vote against the policy of “separation” that the Israeli government has pursued after the last Palestinian intifada that broke out in 2000.

Though instituted in the name of security, it has been deeply damaging to the Palestinian economy; Palestinians and their West Bank license plates generally are barred from getting out – and therefore are unable to sell their goods at lucrative Israeli markets.

Ilan Shtayer goes weekly to the village of Wadi Fukin to buy produce for scores of Israeli families. He once got detained by the army for trying to bring in loads of eggs without a permit. But other than that, he usually gets through the checkpoints because he’s not traveling in a massive commercial truck.

“For me, it’s an opportunity to meet each other.... The government policy is to try [to] cut off all contacts between us, and that’s something we don’t want to give in to,” he says. “But there are people who are less engaged in this – and more engaged in the taste of the tomato.”

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