By Ruth Tenne – London
Through a great part of my life the only food I have eaten came from an Israeli source for the simple the reason that I was born in Israel and it was the only choice available. Little was I aware that a significant part of the produce I consumed was grown on fields confiscated by the State of Israel from Palestinian villages which were razed to the ground in the aftermath of the 1948 Israel's "war of independence". No one in my kibbutz ever gave much thought to this fact. Indeed, as children we were taught to believe that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish nation by law, and is part of our biblical and traditional heritage.
As an adult, who does not live in Israel any longer, I no more purchase, or consume, Israeli produce and goods. In fact, I am a member of a Jewish group, which is Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-Big) and is being an active section of the global BIG campaign. Our group is an outcome of the deep frustration felt by Jewish peace activists towards the inaction displayed by the Jewish community with regard to Israel's repressive occupation of Palestinian land. J-BIG's founding statement (2007) proclaims that Israel's policies "constitute a betrayal of the best trends in Jewish ethical tradition" and operate a form of racism, which is reminiscent of South African Apartheid - inflaming hatreds that render impossible the achievement of a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. Along with the wider BIG campaign, members of our group are taking part in direct actions aiming to prevent the marketing and selling of goods and produce originating from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. The global BIG campaign has been gaining momentum. In recent years trade unions from Britain, Canada, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and South Africa declared their public support for the boycott of Israeli goods.
Government's opposition to the ongoing expansionism of the illegal settlements in the West Bank was re-affirmed by David Miliband (25th July) who publically stated - "I was dismayed to learn of plans for a new settlement construction in the Jordan Valley. These are clearly outside Israel's Roadmap and Annapolis commitment ". Settlements are also illegal under international law. UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465 deplore the building of settlements on Palestinian land and instruct member states not to assist the building of settlements. Likewise, the Geneva Convention states that the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory is a war crime. Being ancillary to this crime is also regarded as a crime in English law and the UK government's policy is quite clear on that. The government's website states: "Settlements are illegal under international law" and settlement construction is viewed as an obstacle to peace. It follows from this statement, that the import of settlement produce into the UK could not, and should not, be considered as legal.
The UK forms a large part of the market for settlement produce, which is marketed by an Israeli 50% state-owned company - Carmel-Agrexco. The company clearly profits from Israel's illegal occupation and from the entrenched system of racial apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. In the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, Carmel-Agrexco sets its farms on confiscated Palestinian land offering Palestinian farmers less than a living wage. Carmel-Agrexco can deliver fruits and vegetables to Europe in 24 hours while the produce of Palestinian farmers cannot get through the Israeli military checkpoints and has to be left to rot in the field.
In its recent press release (30 June) the Palestinian General Delegation to the UK has stated "whilst encouraging, protecting and providing economic incentives for illegal settlers in the occupied territory to steal and farm Palestinian land, Israeli authorities have been applying unjust policies aiming at strangulating Palestinian economic activities particularly the agricultural sector. Among other policies, the confiscation of land, the building of the Wall, creeping annexation and expansion of settlements, construction of hundreds of bypass roads for Israeli settlers only, denying access to natural resources particularly water, movement restrictions and siege, all meant that Palestinian economy is near collapse and the Palestinian people are being imprisoned in an ever shrinking Bantustans.
We commend our many British friends who are standing firm in defending the laws of the UK that safeguard the right of British consumers for accurate information and in upholding international law."
The call of the Palestinian delegation, which was repeated by the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, ought to appeal to any member of society who cares about safeguarding British and international law. In allowing import from illegal settlements the British Government knowingly contravenes international and human rights laws, thus, colluding with Israel's colonial expansionism in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has been publicly calling for banning settlements' products entering the UK. The British people have the choice of:
A. Acting as responsible consumers by joining the BIG campaign for banning Israel produce - especially that which is sourced from the West Bank settlements. This could include fruits and vegetable such as oranges, lemons, Gallia melons, grapefruits, avocados, peppers, strawberries and Medjoul dates which are grown in the Jordan valley. In many cases the source of such produce is not clearly labelled, or purposely mislabelled as West Bank - thus, leading consumer to believe that they support the Palestinian economy while, in fact, they encourage trade from the illegal settlements. Recent reports by ITN and The Observer's (6 July) revealed that illegal Israeli settlement produce from the Palestinian Occupied Territories has found its way to British supermarkets and continues to do so by being misleadingly labelled as produce of Israel. Moreover, it appears that settlement produce unlawfully benefits from preferential rates of customs duty granted to the State of Israel under its trade agreement with the EU (2000). This could cost British taxpayers millions of pounds in unpaid customs duties as well as constituting an unlawful breach of the Agreement.
According to the regulations of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA, 2003) the source of produce should be made clear to consumers, and retailer labelling has to state the exact local source of the sold product. In practice, consumers' request, for clear labelling could be channelled through the Manager of their local supermarket, or by complaining to the Head Office of the company. Conscientious consumers may also join store picketing and campaign events organised regularly by BIG, (details could be found on the website - www.bigcampaign.org.uk).
B. Concerned citizens may wish to write to their constituency MP complaining about the entering of produce from the illegal West Bank settlements into the UK market. Such a letter may ask the MP to raise this issue with the Foreign Minister - David Miliband - requesting that produce and goods from the illegal settlements should be banned altogether (a model letter could be found on the website of the BIG campaign-as above). Equally, conscientious citizens may wish to meet with their MP (individually, or in groups) and raise their concern face to face, or hand the MP a signed petition/letter stating their demand.
By acting as ethical consumers and conscientious citizens British people of all faiths have the choice of taking a stance against the unjustifiable (if not unlawful) Government's practices which stand in contradiction to international law and to publicly declared policies regarding the illegality of the West Bank settlements.
Personally, I travelled a long journey from being brought up on the unshakable belief that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by a divine right, to the painful realization that Zionist expansionism, in form of brutal occupation and colonialist settlements, constitutes a brazen violation of international and human rights laws. My hope is that the members of civil society will take the same road, which I, along with thousands of peace campaigners, have been taking in order to achieve justice for the Palestinians.