Friday, July 13, 2007

Shmittah produce from Gaza?

The New York Times mentions:
Hamas officials say they want to start negotiations with Israel about reopening the formal crossings. Major Lerner said that Hamas had “a few things to do” first, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and freeing Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured and taken to Gaza in a raid more than a year ago.

But the ultimate test of pragmatism may come in September when the Hebrew calendar enters what is known in Jewish law as a “shmita” year. Then the fields of Israel are supposed to lie fallow, and observant Jews seek agricultural products grown elsewhere. Before the Hamas takeover, Israel’s rabbis had reached agreements with Palestinians to import vegetables from Gaza, Major Lerner said. Given the needs of both sides, it may still happen.

Elder Brother of Ziyon points out an episode that gained some notoriety in 1978 when some Europeans were poisoned with doctored Israeli fruit:

Dinner was finished. Because they had eaten so well, the four children of Mr. and Mrs. Frans Bergs in the southern Dutch town of Maastricht were granted a favorite treat for dessert: big, golden Jaffa oranges from Israel. Unexpectedly, the children complained about the taste. "When we took a closer look," Mrs. Bergs said later, "we discovered small, silver-colored globules inside." The children were rushed to a hospital to have their stomachs pumped; police summoned to investigate erroneously assumed that Mr. Bergs had tried to poison his family. But Dutch health officials began a nationwide search, and by week's end they had discovered 25 oranges from Israel that had been injected with mercury. More sabotaged Israeli oranges were found in nine West German towns.

The pea-sized pellets were not soluble mercury, which can severely damage the kidneys if ingested, but the metallic mercury of the kind used in thermometers —potentially dangerous to very young children but not to adults. Nonetheless, the tampered oranges were a shock to Europe, especially after it became known that they were fruits of political terrorism. In a letter to the West German government, an extremist group calling itself the Arab Revolutionary Army-Palestine Command claimed it had doctored the fruit to disrupt Israel's economy.

It appears that the fruit were not poisoned in Israel, but in some European ports by what appeared to be German radicals sympathetic to the Arabs. But one copycat episode did occur in Israel the following year by the PFLP, in which it was attempted to poison some fruit in Tel Aviv in order to spread panic in Israel.

The definition of terrorism is to spread fear among a civilian population for political purposes, so there is fundamentally no difference in effect between suicide bombings and poisoning a food supply. While there may be good reasons that Hamas may find such methods counterproductive, it seems to be a very serious risk to take when a portion of Israel's population will be dependent on fruits and vegetables grown by non-Jews.

The shadow economy between Israel and Gaza that the NYT article describes can turn out to be deadly if Israelis, prodded by the religious community, import Gazan produce.

EBoZ also points out the fact that the first intifada in 1987 occurred right after a shmittah year - when Palestinian Arabs were flush with money from religious Jews paying them for their fruits and vegetables. While the timing may be coincidental, it is yet another small proof that "poverty" has nothing to do with terror.

UPDATE: joem points out a much more recent poison scare from just last month, where apparently British terror sympathizers painted Israeli basil with bacteria.