Jerusalem: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish prohibition on agricultural work every seventh year could be a boon to struggling farmers in the Gaza Strip, Israel`s defence ministry announced Thursday.
Israel will import produce from the besieged Palestinian territory for the first time in seven years, the body responsible for coordinating Israeli government activity in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) said.
The move aims not only to help Gaza`s farmers but also to satisfy the needs of Israel`s ultra-Orthodox in one go.
Every seventh year, the ultra-Orthodox are not allowed to consume fruit and vegetables grown by Jews in Israel -- a tradition based on a biblical passage that commands Jews to take a rest from ploughing after every six years of toil.
Hence, they rely heavily on imports, notably from the West Bank and Jordan.
But this year they will have another source -- war-battered Gaza.
"For the first time since 2007, agricultural produce will be marketed from Gaza to Israel during the Sabbatical year, 5775," COGAT said.
"The produce complies with the requirements of Haredi communities in acquiring produce," it said, referring to the ultra-Orthodox.
"This step is one of great importance for strengthening the economy of the agricultural sector of the Gaza Strip."
However, Raed Fattouh, who heads a Palestinian liaison committee, told AFP he had not been informed by Israel of such a decision.
Israel banned produce from Gaza after the Islamist movement Hamas took over the territory in 2007, and imposed a blockade restricting the movement of people and goods to and from the Strip.
COGAT said sales would begin in the coming week, with the first items leaving Gaza being tomatoes and aubergines.
It did not specify the quantities.
Gaza`s agricultural sector was once a key source of income for the impoverished Mediterranean enclave home to 1.8 million Palestinians.
The territory was devastated by a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas last summer, leaving 100,000 people homeless, 2,200 Palestinians dead and 1,000 children permanently disabled, according to the UN.
The Jewish year 5775 begins in September 2015.