Despite the main months of the season being disrupted by the conflict, date exporters in the West Bank have continued to reach their customers, while seeking out new markets for the future

The ability of date producers and exporters in the West Bank to sort and ship their produce during the most important part of the season reached a new level of difficulty in October 2023.

Mohammed Sawafta

Mohammed Sawafta of Nakheel Palestine

According to Mohammed Sawafta, general manager of Nakheel Palestine, date growers in Jericho are very resilient, but their capacity to withstand shocks has been pushed to the limit this season.

“October and November are the two most important months for us,” he told Fruitnet. “We harvest on 20 September and then we start sorting, grading and shipping in October. This current situation has created a lot of uncertainty, and many of our customers were not confident that supplies from Palestine could continue.

“Some were reluctant to send down-payments, and all suppliers, especially input suppliers from Israel, were asking for cash in advance. So that put companies under huge cash stress.”

Logistical hurdles have also arisen, including following the issues in the Red Sea. “In the first three weeks of the season, shipments needed a lot of coordination, so there was a delay,” said Sawafta. “But none of the companies in Jericho has the capacity to absorb thousands of tonnes of dates. So everyone was looking for boxes and storage at the same time.

“By mid-November to early December, things had started to relax a little bit, but remained very challenging. Jericho was closed for more than 100 days, so getting anything in and out, including labour, was very challenging. The cost of everything has also gone up, including transportation because of the issues in the Red Sea.”

Despite such challenges, Nakheel Palestine and other exporters in the West Bank have managed to carry on shipping, and continue to look for new business.

“We are a resilient farming community, and we have still been able to reach our main markets, in Turkey, Europe and the UK,” said Sawafta. “We are also looking to grow in the Nordic markets and in the US. This season was very good in terms of volumes. Unfortunately, the quality of the dates suffered due to delays to the harvesting and packing caused by the war.”