Egypt’s Agriculture Ministry has announced a ban on the export of palm leaves to Israel starting this year and for the coming two years, a decision that some news reports have linked with recent violence along the Egyptian border with Israel in the past week.
Tensions have been high between the Israeli and Egyptian governments this past week after Israeli military units crossed into Egyptian territory while pursuing alleged terrorists along the border. Six Egyptian police and army personnel were killed by Israeli fire.
The decision to ban the sale of Egyptian palm leaves to Israel has been hailed as an act of defiance on the part of the minister of agriculture, Salah Youssef. However, the minster's decision is not aimed entirely at Israel, but includes a ban on harvesting and exporting palm leaves and hearts nationwide, and reflects growing concern at the poor state of Egypt's population of palm trees, which is under pressure from over-harvesting and disease.
In announcing the decision to ban exports to Isreal during a press conference on Sunday, Youssef made mention of the need to preserve Egypt's wealth of palm trees, which are considered an Egyptian national treasure and which have come under attack from a parasite called the Red Palm Weevil.
Youssef said he reached the decision after reading ministry reports stating the need to preserve palm trees by bringing an end to the cutting of palm leaves and branches clustered around the top of the trunk.
The need to protect the trees has been highlighted before but never enacted, most recently on 26 July this year, when the governor of North Sinai called for a ban on exports to Israel.
In 2010, Egypt exported 600,000 palm leaves to Israel, and around 300,000 palm leaves to Europe.
Israelis use the palm leaves in the ritual celebration of a Jewish holiday known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Israeli Maariv daily reported recently that the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak allowed the Israelis to buy large quantities of palm branches, but that the Egyptian revolution might mean the end of exports.