The Case Against Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories is a privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea. The company’s main factory and its visitors’ center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied West Bank. (All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.”) 37% of the company shares are held by the settlement of Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, 37% by Hamashbir Holdings (the investment fund of B. Gaon Holdings and the Livnat family), 18% are held by Shamrock Holdings (the investment fund of the Roy E. Disney family), and 7% by the West Bank settlement of Kibbutz Kalia. (See Who Profits? for this and other information on the company.)
The settlements of Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia are cooperative companies owned by the settlers living in them, and together they own 44% of Ahava. Both of these settlements are deep inside Palestinian territory. Mitzpe Shalem is about 9 km from the Green Line and Kalia is 30 km from the Green line. Ahava profits are therefore subsidizing these illegal settlements and their residents. According to mapping done by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, formerly there were a few Palestinian communities on the lands on which these two settlements are located: Nabi Musa where Kalia is now situated and Arab al-Ta’amira near Mitzpe Shalem.
A person of any nationality can establish a factory in any country, but if one does so, he or she must generally pay taxes to the local government and comply with local laws. Ahava’s manufacturing plant is within occupied Palestinian territory and yet it neither pays taxes to the Palestinian Authority, nor does it get its license to operate from the Palestinian Authority.
Not only does Ahava profit from the occupation by locating its main plant and store in an illegal Israeli settlement, it also uses in its products mud from the Dead Sea, excavated in an occupied area, and thus it exploits occupied natural resources for profit. The mud that is used in the Ahava products is taken from a site that is next to the settlement of Kalia. This “pillage” or “plunder” is illegal under international humanitarian law, specifically under Articles 23, 53 and 55 of the Hague Regulations; Articles 51 and 53 of the 4th Geneva Conventions; and Article 8(2)(b) of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.
Ahava products are labeled as ‘Product of Israel,’ but according to international law, including the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. This misleading labeling makes it difficult for consumers to identify the actual source of the products they are purchasing. There are many consumers who buy Israeli-made products but who would not purchase a product that they knew to be made in Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are an impediment to a just peace in the region, and the Israeli companies that base their operations in the occupied West Bank are considered to be war profiteers.
Before CODEPINK launched its Stolen Beauty AHAVA boycott campaign, we sent a “fact-finding mission” to Mitzpe Shalem. Two CODEPINK activists visited the Ahava factory at Mitzpe Shalem in early June 2009. They observed that many of the employees at the factory were Russian immigrants who were bused in from communities near Jerusalem. They also noticed that a large, new wing of the factory was under construction.
A journalist from the American-Jewish online daily magazine The Tablet who wrote an article in August 2009 about CODEPINK’s Stolen Beauty boycott campaign received no reply from the Ahava about its illegal practices in response to his queries, but an Israeli government spokesman offered this answer: “The Palestinians did nothing with this land when they had it…And the Palestinians still have access to the Dead Sea. If they wanted to, they could set up a factory themselves.” This response was at best disingenuous, as it has been well documented that Palestinian access to the Dead Sea for even a day at the beach is highly restricted by the Israeli Defense Forces and Israel’s extensive system of roadblocks throughout the Occupied West Bank. As just one example, an article from The Independent headlined “Palestinians barred from Dead Sea beaches to appease Israeli settlers”, outlines how difficult it is for Palestinians to reach the shores—the very same shores that are being exploited for profit by Ahava.
In November 2009, the Dutch Foreign Minister agreed to launch an investigation into the conditions under which Ahava products are made to ascertain whether the company’s location and practices contravened international law and European Union labeling regulations. Immediately after this announcement from the Dutch government, the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom sent an open letter to Ahava’s management calling on them to “read the writing on the wall” and move the factory out of the Occupied West Bank
( and see here).
In response to the growing controversy, Ahava went so far as to defend its theft of Palestinian resources by claiming that “The Dead Sea and its treasures are international and do not belong to one nation.” That statement, of course, makes mockery of international law.
With additional specious logic, Ahava’s statement went on, “The company was founded out of love for the magical environs of the Dead Sea and throughout the years has been driven by a deep passion to reveal the secrets of the minerals’ rejuvenating effects on the skin. Therefore, the natural location of the factory is along the western shore of the Dead Sea.”
There is nothing either loving or magical about Ahava’s locating its factory on occupied land, nor does the mud that Ahava excavates to use in it products belong to more than one nation. Until Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories adheres to relevant human rights and international laws, CODEPINK is calling on people of conscience to boycott Ahava products.