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Why Palestinian Companies Can’t Obtain Kosher Certification for Their Products

Why Palestinian Companies Can’t Obtain Kosher Certification for Their Products

Red tape, kashrut supervisors’ security fears, opposition from Israeli competitors seen standing in the way of increased trade

Many Palestinian companies are interested in expanding their sales to the Israeli market. The consequent increase in sales would also enable them to hire more workers, providing a badly needed economic boost in the West Bank.

The food companies in the Palestinian Authority have long understood that for major Israeli distributors to count them in, they would need kosher certification for their products. But since PA is neither Israel nor a foreign country, they have fallen between the cracks. Some Palestinians hope things will change under the new Israeli government.

Just one year has passed since the mutual ratification of the peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and bilateral relations are in full bloom. One indication of this can be easily found in a random Israeli neighborhood supermarket, which now offers a baklava that is produced in the UAE and adorned with a kashrut certificate.

“It’s a simple and clear process. The recognized kosher certification agency abroad can grant the company or the factory its seal of approval (hechsher), and after that, the importer may apply to us, the Chief Rabbinate, to obtain an Israeli kashrut certificate,” Kobi Alter, the spokesperson of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, tells The Media Line.

However, when the company in question is Palestinian and based in the heart of a Palestinian city or in one of the industrial zones in Area A of the West Bank, things start to get complicated. Under the Oslo Accords that were signed in 1993, the PA exercises full civil and security control in Area A, which comprises approximately 18% of the West Bank.

The vast majority of Palestinians live and work in Area A, whereas Area C, which is administered by Israel, comprises 60% of the West Bank.

In January 2021, Israel’s Channel 13 reported from the production plant of Al-Amin Aish, a Palestinian halva and tahini company whose tahini had become a hit in Israel. Al-Amin Aish has a kashrut certificate from the Chief Rabbinate because it is located in Hawara, a village in Area C, rather than in the nearby city of Nablus, which is in Area A. Alter confirmed that Al-Amin Aish products bear kosher certification.

The problem is that rabbis cannot travel to Area A; they are prohibited from doing so by the Chief Rabbinate for security reasons

“The problem is that rabbis cannot travel to Area A; they are prohibited from doing so by the Chief Rabbinate for security reasons. There is no problem for factories that operate in Area C, but the majority of our companies are situated in the industrial zones in Jericho, Nablus or Bethlehem,” i.e., in Area A, Suheir Izhiman, a Palestinian entrepreneur from Jerusalem, tells the Media Line.

“Before the Oslo agreements were signed and the PA was established, many Palestinian companies had the kashrut certificate. The Chief Rabbinate addressed all of the occupied territories as Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Today things have changed. The PA is not part of Israel, but it’s also not a foreign country,” says Izhiman, who is pushing for the establishment of a comprehensive arrangement between the PA and the Chief Rabbinate

“Many companies express interest in obtaining a kosher certificate and extending their business to Israel,” says Izhiman. He is awaiting approval from the PA that will allow him to open communication with the Chief Rabbinate. “We are ready to provide full security for kashrut supervisors,” he says.

Efforts to obtain kashrut certification for Palestinian food companies go back several years. In 2011, the Peres Center for Peace initiated a meeting dedicated to this issue during the Israfood food and beverage industry trade event in Tel Aviv. Three rabbis who specialize in providing kashrut certification to foreign companies reviewed requests from 14 Palestinian companies, including the Al-Aloul tahini factory in Nablus.

Ten years later, Al-Aloul still does not have certification, and, according to one of its employees, does no business with Israel.

Raed Anabtawi, the owner of the Al-Arz Ice Cream Co. (also based in Nablus), says that in addition to obtaining a kashrut certificate, there are many other obstacles, such as the red tape required by the Israeli Health Ministry.

Anabtawi exports his ice cream to Gulf countries and Jordan. He was planning to expand his operations to Israel as well, but the Health Ministry declined to give his company the necessary permissions, even though Al-Arz prides itself on observing top European standards.

Some Palestinian businessmen told The Media Line that the reluctance of Israeli governmental bodies to allow the Palestinian companies into the market has a lot to do with the power of monopolies and their fear of competition.

Rachel Hadari, the director of the Medicine and Healthcare Department at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, tells The Media Line that another attempt to explore the possibility of obtaining kashrut certificates for Palestinian firms was made in 2015-2017. It was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and included 20 Palestinian companies.

“The Chatam Sofer kosher supervision organization offered to supervise the process via cameras. They said they’ll charge NIS 5,000 [currently about $1,150] a month and provide annual or quarterly visits to factories, according to the type of the food,” she says.

“Also, the Or Akiva [Municipal] Rabbinate said that there is no problem, as they provide kashrut certificates in Areas B and C. They were, however, reluctant to pay visits to companies based in Area A, due to security problems. Perhaps it would be possible to check which kosher certification agency provided the certifications for Emirati companies and rely on that,” Hadari says.

According to a study conducted jointly by the Peres Center and the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in 2012, 71% of West Bank Palestinian imports and 81% of exports originated in or went to Israel. The two economies are closely integrated.

The West Bank economy has deteriorated significantly over the last few years, and many Palestinians are desperately looking for work in Israel or even in settlements to provide for their families.

Israel is worried the PA will collapse and during the last few months, the new government led by Naftali Bennett has taken a few steps to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian businessmen and entrepreneurs are ready to cooperate with Israelis for mutual profit and to create jobs. All they need is a little help in overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles.

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