Saud Abu Ramadan
October 28, 2010 - 12:00am

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- Groves full of green citrus. Gaza farmers proud of their old trees. Businessmen busy with exporting fruits to Jordan. But that was 10 years ago.

Around one kilometer before reaching the Erez crossing point between northern Gaza Strip and Israel, the vast land has been barren, although Ahmed Za'aneen, 75, still recalled the town "all in green."

Za'aneen, better known as Abu Nabil, a resident of Beit Hanoun town adjacent to the borders between the coastal enclave and Israel, used to grow hundreds of orange and lemon trees in a land of 37 dunums (37,000 square meters).

"Some of the trees were over 50 years old, and I used to export citrus from my groves to Jordan every year," Abu Nabil told Xinhua with a sigh. "One night, the Israeli army bulldozers razed all the trees in my grove and other residents'. The Israeli soldiers were afraid the dense trees would shadow militants and fire rockets," he said, pointing his finger towards the barren citrus groves.

He said the town was subjected to frequent incursions of the Israeli forces over the past decade. The latest large incursion was during Israeli large-scale military offensive Cast Lead on the Gaza Strip in late December 2008. The three-week operation damaged the agricultural land and houses.

The old man, a fighter before 1967, now only grows vegetables. He said he was reluctant to replant his land with citrus in fear that Israeli army forces would come again and destroy it within half an hour.

Before the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in the Palestinian territories against Israel in late September 2000, the national income of the Gaza Strip, which kept its economy stable to some extent, depended basically on two sources of income: citrus and the labor force in Israel.

Khaled Abulqomsan, a Gaza-based economist, told Xinhua that 60 percent of the Gaza Strip income depended on fruits and vegetables, including citrus between the 1970s and early 1990s, "but since then, mainly in 2007, it dropped to 23 percent."

"The Gaza Strip used to export citrus to so many countries in the world and the annual income in year 2001 hit 30 million dollars," Abulqomsan said. "But now, due to the Israeli siege, I believe the citrus export business has receded."

However, experts say that the citrus business in the Gaza Strip has dried up, not only due to the Israeli incursions, uprooting trees or bulldozing land, but also to the improper use of pesticide and the flourish of other kinds of agricultural products, such as strawberries and flowers.

"Israel is interested in beating Gaza economy, because Gaza was one day famous for producing citrus. Before the Intifada, we made juice using fresh oranges and grapefruits, but for almost a year, we stopped due to the lack of citrus," said Amar al-Yaziji, sales director of Gaza al-Yaziji Soft Drinks Co.

"Due to the Israeli destruction of citrus groves all over the Gaza Strip and the Israeli siege, we can't get raw materials ( abroad) and we can't get fresh citrus," he said.

After the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 31, where nine Turks were killed, Israel eased the three-year blockade it imposed on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. More products of food, juices and soft drinks are now allowed in the enclave.

"Now Gaza markets are distended with Israeli-made juices, which are less expensive and of better quality. Such a reason as well as the growth of Gaza population have affected the citrus productions and obliged us to close down our business," said al-Yazigi.

Gradually since 2000, the economy of the Gaza Strip has been declining due to the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel imposed a blockade on the enclave and carried out hundreds of actions on the ground in response to Palestinian militants attacks.

Mahmoud Khalil used to buy citrus from farmers and owners of the citrus groves in the Gaza Strip and export them to the outside world, mainly to Jordan, former Yugoslavia and the Arab Gulf states.

"Citrus used to be Gaza's national income, it was like the oil in the Gulf area," he told Xinhua. "But now I can assure that this business is very closed to extinct. I'm so sad to say that Gaza merchants are importing citrus from Israel and Egypt."


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