Since the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, Israel has used its military rule to the advantage of Israeli corporations and economic interests, many times to the detriment of the Palestinian economy under its control.
All Palestinian imports and exports have been controlled, restricting the competition with Israeli producers, and making the Palestinian consumer market into a captive market for Israeli goods. Severe restrictions on movement of Palestinian labor and products inside the occupied territories and to neighboring areas have further increased the dependency of the Palestinian economy on Israeli companies as employers and retailers. The growing network of checkpoints and walls has all but destroyed Palestinian local production and the Palestinian labor bargaining power.
Israeli companies have a relatively high concentration of capital, freedom of movement, and favorable legal conditions. When operating in the occupied territories they also enjoy special governmental support, access to cheap resources, tax incentives, and a very lax enforcement of labor laws and environmental protection laws. These advantages often result in the exploitation of Palestinian labor, Palestinian natural resources, and the Palestinian consumer market (http://www.whoprofits.org/involvement/economic-exploitation).
1. What is AHAVA, what international laws does AHAVA violate and why are we calling for a boycott?
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories (www.ahava.co.il) is a privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea. Ahava’s products—such as Grape & Avocado Body Wash, Dead Sea Mineral Mud, and Mineral Foot Cream—are widely available in high-end department stores and pharmacies throughout the United States and in Europe. The Hebrew word “Ahava” means love, but there is nothing loving about what the company is doing in the Occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. The company’s practices are against international law.
The company’s main factory and its visitors’ center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied West Bank. Ahava products are labeled as of “Israeli origin,” but according to international public law, the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. Ahava uses in its products mud from the Dead Sea, excavated in an occupied area, and thus it exploits occupied natural resources for profit, which is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (http://www.stolenbeauty.org/article.php?id=5015).
2. What is Hadiklaim and why are we calling for a boycott?
Hadiklaim is an Israel date growers cooperative that deals with several major supermarkets internationally. Hadiklaim exports under the “King Solomon Dates” and “Jordan River” brand names. Their products are exported by the Israeli company, Almog Tradex Ltd, which claims to export 10,000 tons of Israeli fruits annually. Hadiklaim boasts that Hadiklaim growers and packing houses have approvals from international standard setting bodies (including Bio USDA), as well as the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the Bio-Organic Agriculture Association. Hadiklaim packages dates under U.S. supermarket labels, the Hadiklaim name may not show up on the label, yet the fact that the USDA is involved makes it clear that their dates are getting here under some form of packaging.
Hadiklaim signage is displayed on packing houses in the settlements of Beit Ha’Arava, close to the Dead Sea Coast, and Tomer, close to the Palestinian village of Fasayil. In October 2007, a group of campaigners from the Brighton Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group (www.brightonpalestine.org) entered Tomer settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley and photographed Hadiklaim medjoul dates, packaged by Carmel Agrexco, labeled “Made in Israel” and marked as bound for Tesco stores (UK). Products exported as “Made in Israel” benefit from the preferential trade terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which came into effect in 2000, when ITN (a British broadcaster) screened an expose in 2007 accusing supermarkets of misleading British consumers. Tesco admitted it had acted “in error” and stated that Israeli dates originating solely in the West Bank will (in the future) be labeled as such.
Date picking in the Jordan Valley is a hazardous business. Workers are hoisted into the trees with a cherry picker and are often left to work on a platform high above the ground for the duration of the working day without meal or toilet breaks. The majority of workers are Palestinian or Thai migrants—who are uniformly paid below the minimum wage. For more info on labor conditions for date pickers in the Jordan Valley see Kav’La Oved and UNISON’S 2009 film, Bitter Dates at http://www.leedspsc.org.uk/?p=1671. http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/hadiklaim-in-the-jordan-valley/
3. Why are AHAVA and Hadiklaim being singled out by the PC(USA)?
There is a lengthy list of Israeli, U.S., and international companies involved in making a profit as the result of illegal occupation in the Palestinian territories. The AHAVA and Hadiklaim have been named because they are two of the most blatant violators of international law that prohibits exploitation of occupied natural resources for profit.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is no stranger to calling for boycotts, both nationally and internationally, because corporate practices violated the human rights, and even threatened the lives of peoples being exploited. In the early 1980s, it called for a boycott of the Swiss corporation, Nestle, because of its promotion of breast milk substitutes in less economically developed countries contributing to the unnecessary suffering and deaths of babies. In 2002 it called for the boycott of Taco Bell as a result of its parent company’s (Yum Brands Food) exploitation of farm workers from Immokalee, Florida. Both boycotts were successful and achieved their desired ends.
The boycott of AHAVA and Hadiklaim is especially relevant because these companies engage not only in the exploitation of Palestinian workers (along with others), but are also inextricably tied to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank. This makes these company’s activities both illegal, according to international law, and immoral, in accordance with the witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in very recent history.
4. Does boycotting the Israeli occupation harm Palestinians?
Yes, it can have an economic impact. Any kind of economic pressure is bound to harm first and foremost the Palestinians, who are already economically vulnerable because of the restrictions that the Israeli occupation imposes on their ability to study, work, and move people or goods. Despite Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian labor, Palestinian natural resources, and the captive Palestinian consumer market, Palestinians themselves have asked for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions because they see them as effective tools to express international solidarity to oppose the Israeli occupation.
We call upon the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to remain consistent in its historical witness against human exploitation for the sake of power and profit anywhere that may occur in the global community.