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Israel’s date and other harvests at standstill with no workers available

The first few days of Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip means a rapidly developing situation has forced the fresh produce industry in the South to halt most operations while the rest of the country cautiously continues as things change by the hour.

The fresh produce sector in Israel, in many ways the bedrock of society through the Kibbutz system, is in further shock with the news of what is described as a bloodbath. The bodies of 100 people slain by the terrorists were found at the Kibbutz Be'eri near Ofakim, a few kilometers from the Gaza border. They were overrun and attacked by the terrorists in a 17-hour siege before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fought to free people and take control of the Kibbutz.

Israel's date industry, which includes the Medjool dates the country is known for, is in the middle of the harvest but has now been forced to a standstill due to workers not being available. All borders are still closed, with no workers from the West Bank allowed to cross into Israel. Gal Twig, from Israel's Date Board: "We are in the middle of the picking time. There's a shortage of manpower because most of the people are Arabs. Mostly in the Jordan Valley, everybody has been asked not to leave their houses. Nobody is picking and sorting. We hope in the next couple of days we can have even half or a quarter of the manpower to try to do something with the dates."

Tal Dagul, from the date grower and exporter Agrifood: "Israel is facing a very challenging situation in the South with almost 1,000 murdered and thousands injured and taken hostage. The war that was started by Hamas seems likely to continue for the time being, leading to a reduction in activity in all sectors. The dates production sector is obviously affected as well, with packaging houses operating at a reduced capacity and some not operating at all. Growers, packing houses, and exporters are trying to adapt to the situation and revive production activity as long as it's possible in terms of port activity. Agrifood will do its best to provide its customers and partners with the products that are already waiting to be sorted in the packing houses. As in the past, Israel and therefore Agrifood as well will overcome this challenge and continue to be there stronger and determined."

Farming areas and towns in the South have been evacuated, with areas in the North near the Lebanon border, where it was initially quieter also being evacuated due to a high risk of attacks. The IDF has started to place troops and tanks in this area too.

According to Omer Kemp, based in Israel, from Europe Retail Packing B.V., there is fear that the war could spread with the often hostile neighboring countries getting involved. This would have a greater effect on the exports of fresh produce from Israel. "Trucks are not driving. The port was closed, and there are big question marks on what is going to happen going forward. There is a good possibility of an all-out war. If this happens, Israel will not be able to export anything for at least a few weeks. We don't know what exports will be, the quantities will be reduced a lot."

As people continue to shelter in their homes, supermarkets in key cities in Israel started running out of essentials after long lines developed over the past few days with people buying trolley loads full of groceries. Farms in the South of Israel are big growers and suppliers of domestic potatoes and other vegetables but cannot supply anything due to the evacuations. The State of Israel is reportedly considering importing potatoes while supermarkets are restocking various items. The key ports of Ashdod has been opened and closed several times with local exporters saying it changes all the time.

Israel's Shekel also weakened and fell to a near eight-year low on Monday due to the developments. The Bank of Israel responded by selling $30 billion of Forex to stabilize the Shekel as the war response to Hamas intensifies. Exporters there say they hope to get through the worst couple of days while they wait for some form of normality to return so that they can resume or increase the much-needed harvesting, packing, and export activities.

For more information:
Gal Twig
Israel Dates Board
Tel.: +972524312978
Email: [email protected]

Omer Kamp
Europe Retail Packing
Tel.: 0174 282 510
Email: [email protected]

Tal Dagul
Tel.: +972 50 4388866
Email: [email protected]