On the side of the Jordan Valley road the extensive agricultural activity is visible from afar. Dozens of greenhouses and long lines of palm trees add ornamentation to the roadside view and demonstrate the economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, which is carrying on quietly, far from political problems.
"Cooperation between us and Israel began at the end of the second intifada because we had much to learn from you," explains Amid al-Masri, an agricultural landowner in the Jordan Valley, "We cooperate with many Israeli companies on issues like de-infestation, irrigation and seedlings."
Omad Hossam a-Zorbe, a foreman at one of the Palestinian Authority's major agricultural companies, stands at the entrance of one of the modern greenhouses and tells of the recent developments in the field of agriculture with pride. "This project is funded by USAID and we now have 200 dunams (49.4 acres) of greenhouses. Most of the produce is for export, and whatever is left gets sent to the local market."
The collaboration is very simple: Through major Israeli companies, Palestinian farmers export their produce to countries with which they have trade agreements. In addition, Palestinians from the Valley export produce belonging to Israeli farmers, thus by-passing the boycott rules of various countries or economic bodies, mainly in Europe.
"On the one hand, we have no interest in helping Israelis living beyond the 1967 borders out of ideological motives; on the other hand, the economic interest trumps everything else," al-Masri noted. It seems that those interests are essential, as 60% of Palestinian crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs are sold in Israeli markets and supermarkets.
The organization supervising this cooperation is the Civil Administration, which is also responsible for instructing farmers, making sure they adhere to the tough Israeli health standards and of course, the security aspect.
Tomato greenhouse in Jordan Valley (Photo: Elior Levy)
"We're working with farmers and the Palestinian agriculture ministry to help them market their produce in Israel and make sure that the product we get is of a certain quality," said Samir Muaddi, an officer at the Civil Administration's agriculture section. "Palestinians take part in seminars on modern agriculture and are exposed to Israeli and international innovations through the administration."
One example of the major improvements in technology can be seen in the new packing-house established in the village of Ouja in the Jordan Valley, which is at the center of the joint cooperation. "This project is the best example of a win-win situation," said Mazen Snokrut, former Palestinian Economy Minister and now owner of the packing-house.
According to Snokrut, "This is an Israeli-Palestinian connection that has created trust between the two sides. We are working with no enemies here. We have joint creation with many companies from the Israeli economy – we buy their technology and seedlings and through them export to Europe and the US and even have Israeli agronomists here."
These farmers are all set to meet at the Tel Aviv Convention Center Thursday at a conference on the latest Israeli agricultural developments, and this time the Palestinians have their own booth. "If I have a good neighbor I can sleep quietly as an Israeli. Beyond that, we're in the Jordan Valley – so it's our duty to help them out as well," Muaddi of the Civil Administration concludes.