Egypt bans export of palm fronds ahead of Jewish holiday of Sukkot

CAIRO (JWN and Haaretz) — In its first blatantly hostile official move since Cairo mobs last week last week ransacked Israel’s Embassy, Egypt has barred the export of palm fronds (lulavim) used ceremonially in the upcoming Sukkot holiday. The ban not only affects Jews in Israel, but also Jewish communities abroad.

The Egyptian government issued the ban just three weeks before the holiday, also known as Tabernacles, when the lulavim are in demand by observant Jews. Israel usually imports some 700,000 palm fronds a year in the runup to the festival, which is about 40 percent of the annual demand.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula also supplies a similar amount to Jewish communities in the Diaspora, or about a third of some two million lulavim purchased in North America and Europe.

The Egyptian Agriculture Ministry announced that the ban would be in effect until the end of 2011, when there is no demand for the lulav.

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry announced it will allow the import of lulavim from Spain, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, in the hope there will be no shortage for the festival.