Egypt has made a curious and, some would say, hostile move to forbid the picking and exporting of palm fronds -- an essential element used to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This has left Israel scrambling to make up for an unanticipated shortage.
The large palm leaves are waved and blessings are said during the seven-day celebration, beginning October 12, which commemorates the ancient story of the Jewish peoples' exile from Egypt. About.com has more:
Sukkot is...related to the way the Jewish people lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43). As they moved from one place to another they built tents or booths, called sukkot, that gave them temporary shelter in the desert.
Hence, the sukkot (booths) that Jews build during the holiday of Sukkot are reminders both of Israel's agricultural history and of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.
According to CNN, Israel's Agriculture Ministry is taking action to try and ensure that there will be enough palm fronds in time for next month's celebrations. The ministry said:
"As a result of the new circumstances, the Minister of Agriculture, Orit Noked, encourages Israeli palm tree growers to significantly increase the number of lulavs to be given for the Sukkot holiday. At the same time, we will advance alternatives to importing palm trees so that everyone can observe the obligations of Sukkot."
The ministry claims that Egypt notified Israel about the decision earlier this week and that no official reason was given for the policy change. Since Egypt supplies about 700,000 of the nearly two million fronds that are imported each year, finding them elsewhere will be a major task. Israel has said that replacing these fronds will likely be more expensive.
One wonders why this decision has been made, but considering the major political changes going on in Egypt, it's no surprise that this less-than-friendly gesture was made. This policy reversal comes after an Egyptian state-run newspaper compared Israeli generals to Nazis and after the Israeli embassy was stormed last month, among other hostile occurrences between the two Middle Eastern nations.
Of course, it's possible that the holiday serves as a reminder of rocky relations -- be they ancient -- between the two nations. This, teamed with recent events, may be further sparking a negative response from Egyptian authorities.