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3 detained for protesting Turkey’s trade with Israel at event attended by AKP officials

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Three people were detained for protesting Turkey’s ongoing trade with Israel amid the conflict in Gaza during an event attended by a cabinet minister and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials in western Bursa province, the Karar daily reported on Monday.

The trade between Turkey and Israel, some of which is conducted by people close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan despite his anti-Israel rhetoric, was first revealed by investigative journalist Metin Cihan in late November. Cihan has since then been reporting on the commerce between the two countries based on publicly available sources.

According to Cihan, cargo shipments to Israeli ports continued as part of private business dealings during a period of heightened tension and violence in the Gaza Strip, sparking controversy and accusations of hypocrisy.

“The government should heed the people’s voices. Put an end to trade with Israel. Engaging in trade with Israel is a betrayal to Palestine. … We are appalled by your attitude,” a group of protesters said during the opening of a “nation’s garden” in Bursa, an event attended by Environment Minister Mehmet Özhaseki, AKP lawmaker Mustafa Varank and local party officials on Saturday.

The so-called nation’s gardens are being constructed as part of a project that President Erdoğan launched in 2018.

Three people were detained in the protest, according to Karar.

This was the third protest against Turkey’s trade relations with Israel within the past two weeks, Karar said. Özhaseki was also protested during another public event he attended in Bursa the same day. Protesters held a banner reading “We are ashamed of trade with Israel” while he was giving a speech. The minister continued his speech while police removed the banner.

The government’s stance on trade was also criticized during President Erdoğan’s rally in Sakarya on February 24, when a group unfurled a banner that said “End the shame of trade with Israel.” The banner was removed by the police.

Despite the ongoing conflict and Erdoğan’s condemnation, Israel remains an important trading partner for Turkey, ranking 13th on Turkey’s export list in 2023. Trade between the two countries totalled $5.42 billion last year, accounting for 2.1 percent of Turkey’s total exports, a decrease from $7 billion in 2022.

Data from the Turkish Ministry of Transportation shows that between October 7 and December 31, 2023, an average of eight ships per day made a total of 701 trips from Turkish ports to Israel. Of these, 480 sailed directly, while 221 used Turkey as a transit country. Notably, Turkish exports to Israel rose to $430.6 million in December, an increase of 34.8 percent compared to November, indicating a continued and even growing economic relationship despite the political rhetoric.

According to Karar, Ankara’s trade with Tel Aviv increased by 20.7 percent in February, reaching $422 million. Israeli Ministry of Agriculture data have also shown that Jordan and Turkey were the two countries that sent the most fruits and vegetables to Israel, Karar said.

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