In the course of the past two weeks, Ben Gurion Airport customs officials seized about 400 etrogs – or citrons, that are used in the Sukkot holiday – in the wares of three passengers who tried to smuggle them into Israel.
The smugglers attempted to avoid paying customs and applying for permits from the Plant Protection and Inspection Services, and the Food Service in the Ministry of Health.
Among the smugglers is a yeshiva dean from Beitar Illit, who tried to pass through the Green Lane – for people who have no goods to declare – with 125 high-quality etrogs in his belongings. When questioned, he said that he had come to Israel accompanied by another man, who had already passed customs. The officials located the second man and found that he was carrying the yeshiva dean's personal bag, which also contained etrogs.
The yeshiva dean explained that he returned to Israel without any personal belongings except the etrogim.
“I went to Djerba [in Tunisia] to bring these etrogim,” he said. “They are the only ones we pray over.”
Another etrog smuggler was a French Jew who arrived from France with 150 fancy etrogim, in stylish cases, in his suitcase. He said he wanted to "perform a mitzvah," and brought the etrogim from France “in order to distribute them to Jews in Israel.”
The third smuggler was an Israeli citizen who tried to pass through the Green Lane with about 125 fancy etrogs in his suitcase.
Customs charges on etrogs are 2.72 shekels per kilo, but no more than 144%, plus VAT. The worth of every etrog for tax purposes is estimated at $30.