Israel’s legal and illegal products flourish in EU’s hot air
In this post, 1) Dalia Hatuqa on the EU’s continued import of produce from illegal Israeli settlements; 2) Ameena Salem, Sodastream; 3) Ramzy Baroud on the hypocrisy of the EU; 4) photos and useful links on the campaign for EU action.
By Dalia Hatuqa, Al-Monitor, Palestine Pulse
January 17, 2013
The Jordan Valley has the potential to be the Palestinian breadbasket, yet restrictions on Palestinians’ use of land, water, and on building in the valley are keeping them poor while helping nearby Israeli settlements thrive. This stark report by Oxfam says Palestinians could generate an extra $1.5 billion annually if these Israeli restrictions were removed. However, the reality remains that this arable area is benefiting few Palestinians and a majority Israeli settlers, who are given unhindered access to land and water resources.
Delving into the issue further one can find that the European Union (EU), a vocal critic of Israel’s blatant disregard of international law, is actually supporting the very same settlements it criticizes. According to Palestinian legal rights group, Al Haq, by trading in produce grown in settlements, the EU is “directly contributing to the growth and viability of settlements by providing an essential source of revenue that allows them to thrive. This is especially true of settlements in the Jordan Valley, at least 60 percent of which are dependent on agriculture.”
Cherriessa produce, grown on occupied land in the Jordan valley, labelled Made in Israel for the EU market.
For years, the EU has been trying to address how to best approach the issue of settlement produce. Labeling has been a sticking point especially because many goods originating from settlements are often marked as “Made in Israel” or “Produce of the West Bank,” suggesting they are imported from either the Palestinian territories or from Israel proper. In some cases, as in the UK, supermarkets have been identifying goods as “Israeli settlement produce” to give buyers a clearer idea of their place of origin. However, the EU as a whole has repeatedly rejected a call to boycott settlement goods.
According to Al-Haq, labeling is not enough either way. “In itself, such a measure does not satisfy the level of action required. … States will only fully comply with their obligations under customary international law by enforcing a ban on the trade of produce coming from Israeli settlements.” But calls for sanctions have received little more than a lukewarm reception from EU states.
In its position paper, “Feasting on the Occupation: Illegality of Settlement Produce and the Responsibility of EU Member States under International Law,” Al Haq charges that the EU is ignoring the illegality of settlements by trading with their produce, thereby contributing to the consolidation of Israel’s colonial enterprise.
The report calls on the EU to ban these products from its markets to sever a “vital source of revenue which allows settlements to thrive.” The value of goods made in settlements and exported to EU countries annually is approximately $300 million. While this may be a small amount relative to Israel’s total exports, it is still a large number that adversely affects the Palestinian agricultural sector, a main sector of the economy. The EU has some room for leverage given it is Israel’s largest trade partner, and it receives some 20% of total Israeli exports. In 2011 alone, total trade between the two reached some $39 billion.
The Jordan Valley — the stretch of arable land 120 km long and 15 km wide [about 75 miles by 9 miles] — is dotted with illegal settlements thriving on agribusiness and using most of the available water sources to flourish. Palestinians in the area only have access to 6% of the arable land in comparison with the 86% available to Israeli settlers. The land remaining is designated for Israeli military use or infrastructure and therefore is off limits.
According to Al Haq, half of the grapes and 40 percent of dates exported by Israel are planted and harvested inside illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley. Exports of dates from Israel to European and North American markets grew by 16 percent in 2011, which lends proof to the assessment that trade involving goods from settlements further entrenches these colonies and sustains them.
Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, said, “As the single largest trading partner of Israel, the EU is in a very strong position to effect positive change on the current situation of Occupation. And yet, while the EU has been quite outspoken in condemning settlements and their expansion, they continue to import produce from these same settlements and in doing so, help to sustain their very existence.”
Today there are approximately half a million Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land. Settlement produce cannot thrive without Israel’s extensive expropriation of Palestinian land and water resources. Israel has near absolute control of water resources, namely aquifers, springs and wells.
To cope with such hardships, Palestinians are often forced to resort to tankered water bought at a high price, or to digging wells without permits, which are often demolished by Israeli authorities. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2011 Israel destroyed 89 latrines, water cisterns, and wells belonging to Palestinians. More than 25 percent of the structures demolished were internationally funded, with European countries prominent among donors.
As a rejoinder, these European states may do their taxpaying citizens a favor by reaching an agreement to ban or at least limit the amount of settlement-made produce that makes its way into their markets. By doing so, they are not only setting an important precedent, but they are also effectively supporting the very same Palestinian farmers, whose cisterns or greenhouses they have funded, while upholding the lofty standards of the international law they are repeatedly claiming to adhere to.
Dalia Hatuqa is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Palestine Pulse. A print and broadcast journalist specializing in the Middle East, she is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and writes for several publications about politics, the economy, culture, art and design. On Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa
By Amena Saleem, Electronic Intifada
March 06, 2013
The Israeli manufacturer SodaStream has resorted to manipulation and misinformation in an attempt to ensure its drinks-making products remain on sale in British stores.
In a letter sent to the head office of Leekes, a homeware store with outlets in England and Wales, SodaStream wrote: “One of our many manufacturing and assembly sites is located in a city called Mishor Adumim, which is in ‘Area C’ of the currently disputed territory in Israel.”
Mishor Adumim, however, is not in Israel. It is a huge settlement built on the confiscated land of seven Palestinian towns in the West Bank; a land theft which, according to Who Profits — the organization monitoring occupation-complicit firms — is “considered the largest single expropriation in the history of the Israeli occupation.”
The letter was sent to Leekes in response to a complaint by a member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) which had been dismayed to see SodaStream’s products on sale in a branch in the West of England. The PSC member wrote to Leekes to point out that the products had been manufactured in a settlement built on illegally occupied Palestinian land and to ask that they be withdrawn from sale.
His letter was forwarded to SodaStream by Leekes. SodaStream responded at the end of January with its false claim that Mishor Adumim and Area C are in Israel.
In fact, Area C is part of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and all Israeli settlements built on the land are constructed in defiance of international law. UN Resolution 446 clearly states: “The policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity, and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
This position is uncompromisingly backed by the European Union, which has stated that settlements are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”
Moreover, the arrival of citizens from outside the West Bank to live in the settlements — including Mishor Adumim — is a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory, breaching the Convention, constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
SodaStream’s letter to Leekes’ head office mentions none of this. Instead, it adds: “Our facility here and the land on which it is built is not illegal and importing from Mishor is not contrary to any EU, UN or other laws and all our customs and duties are rightfully paid.”
Leaving aside its complicity in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and potential war crimes, SodaStream, contrary to its denial to Leekes, is also in contempt of EU trade agreements. Its fizzy drink-making machines, which are manufactured on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, are falsely exported under the label “Made in Israel.”
This unfairly exempts them from customs fees when exporting into the EU — the 2000 EU-Israel Trade Agreement exempts goods imported from Israel from customs fees but does not exempt West Bank settlement goods. This deliberate mislabelling by SodaStream has been highlighted by Who Profits as a possible case of consumer fraud.
SodaStream goes on to inform Leekes that its employees in Mishor Adumim are “over 80 percent Palestinian, including the factory manager himself.” The letter ends by saying: “We are proud of all our employees, our site in Mishor and the opportunities it provides for our employees and their families.”
The text of SodaStream’s letter was incorporated into a letter sent to the PSC member by Leekes’ Buying Controller, who wrote: “I hope that this response allays any concerns you may have had about the production of this range. Thank you for this letter and for enabling us to clarify the position with the supplier.”
Unfortunately, far from clarifying anything, SodaStream has deliberately misled Leekes in a successful ploy to keep its product on its shelves.
This supply of misinformation to the public is not unique in SodaStream’s ongoing campaign to relaunch itself, following a steep decline in sales over the last two decades.
At the end of December, the company released a video titled “SodaStream – Building Bridges, Not Walls.” The eight-minute film starts with shots of Palestinian workers being picked up from their towns and villages in the West Bank by a SodaStream bus and driven to the factory in Mishor Adumim — where, as in all settlements, no Palestinians are allowed to live.
This simple fact, which starkly highlights the apartheid of the Israeli occupation, is not mentioned in the film. Instead, SodaStream’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, describes how the company has made it “seamless for the Palestinians to leave their homes in the West Bank, their village and come here across the wall where they are well received and well respected and well paid.”
A different reality
In the mind of the uninitiated viewer, the fortunate Palestinians are being taken away from the troubles of the West Bank and to a haven on the other side of the wall. They are not told by Birnbaum that most of the land “across the wall” is also the Palestinian West Bank, which has been stolen by the route of the wall. Nor are they told that the whole of the West Bank is illegally occupied by Israel, which has destroyed the Palestinian economy so that any jobs, let alone “well-paid” jobs, are scarce — and there is no respect by Israeli settlers and soldiers for the Palestinians who live there.
Instead, Birnbaum tells his viewers that the SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumim is a “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence and an example of peace in a region that is so troubled and so needs hope.” His words are staggeringly disingenuous. Numerous reports by organizations such as Kav LaOved, the Israeli workers’ rights organization, and Who Profits, detail how Palestinian workers in Israeli settlement farms and factories are underpaid, denied basic rights such as holiday or sick pay, denied the right to organize into unions, are left to fend for themselves if injured at work, and have to obtain permits from the Israeli security services to work in the settlements — permits which are under constant threat of withdrawal if they complain about their conditions or fail to turn up for work for any reason.
But the restrictions on human movement and trade placed on the West Bank by its Israeli occupiers has resulted in the destruction of the Palestinian economy and Palestinians are forced to look for work in the settlements which are eating away their land, providing cheap labor to companies which enjoy tax breaks from the Israeli government for locating in those very settlements and which help to cement its occupation.
A 2011 survey, cited by Who Profits, revealed that 82 percent of Palestinians would leave their job in the settlements if a suitable alternative were available.
And despite Birnbaum’s fine words about respect and good pay, Kav LaOved has had to assist workers at the SodaStream factory in their struggle to obtain improved working conditions, better salaries and, at times, unpaid wages. They remain, however, Kav LaOved notes, “at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory and constantly fear their dismissal.”
The reality for Palestinians working in SodaStream’s settlement factory is, it turns out, a world away from the “sanctuary” described by Birnbaum. Given this, and the misinformation provided by SodaStream to Leekes, Birnbaum’s final words in the video are not only ironic, but almost laughable.
Turning his attention to the growing international boycott campaign against SodaStream, Birnbaum complains: “There are so many untrue, misinformed, manipulative claims against SodaStream, as if we’re benefitting from being in this location, and they’re so untrue.”
And, no doubt fully aware how much his company benefits from its settlement location — exploiting Palestinian labor and enjoying the perks of low taxation — while showing complete disregard for human rights and international law, Birnbaum keeps a straight face to the misleading end
Hypocritical EU Must Make a Stand
By Ramzy Baroud, Dissident Voice
March 12, 2013
More bad news emerged from Israel in recent weeks. Indeed, good news is seldom associated with Israel and its military occupation and institutionalized discrimination and mistreatment of Palestinians.
But now even those international organizations that are often supportive of Israel’s militancy seem to be joining the consensus that Tel Aviv is on an irrevocably perilous course.
Few international law experts would defend Israel’s fervent settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land.
Yet the Western powers, led by the United States, have brought little pressure to bear on Israel to cease its illegal activities.
In fact, without US and European funding it would have been nearly impossible for Israel to build settlements and transfer over half a million Israelis over the years to live on stolen Palestinian land, in violation of numerous international laws including the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Worse still, trade with European and other countries sustained these illegal settlements, allowing them to flourish at the expense of Palestinians who have suffered massive ethnic cleansing campaigns since 1967.
But at last EU diplomats in east Jerusalem and the West Bank are speaking out in unequivocal terms.
In a report released at the end of last month, the diplomats declared that “settlement construction remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution. It is systematic, deliberate and provocative.”
The report called on EU states “not to support … research, education and technological co-operation” with settlements and to “discourage” investing in Israeli companies that operate in the occupied territories.
Expectedly, the report is non-binding. And even if such recommendations are considered, Israel and its EU friends and lobbyists are likely to find loopholes that would deprive any EU action of substance and vigor.
Without civil society action focused on turning up the heat on European governments, especially die-hard supporters of Israel such as the British government, business with Israel is most likely to carry on as usual.
Not only is Israel flouting international law but the supposed guardians of international law are the very ones that are empowering Israel in carrying out its illegal acts, disempowering and bankrupting Palestinians.
Last January an Oxfam report said that the Palestinian economy, which is currently in utter disarray, could generate urgently needed income – $1.5 billion to be exact – if Israel eased its restrictions in the Jordan Valley alone.
But without suitable access to their own land and to water sources, Palestinians in the valley continue to struggle while the settlers are thriving.
Although the US government is well known to have done everything in its power to defend Israel at any cost and ensure Israel’s superiority and military edge over all of its neighbors, the EU has falsely acquired a more balanced reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In a recent report the Palestinian rights group al-Haq emphasized that trading in produce grown in settlements had “directly contributed to the growth and viability of settlements by providing an essential source of revenue that allows them to thrive.”
The reported value of total EU trade with illegal Israeli settlements amounts to approximately $300 million a year. This may appear small compared with the $39bn of total trade between the EU and Israel reported in 2011, for example, but it does mean that “the EU has some room for leverage given it is Israel’s largest trade partner, and it receives some 20 per cent of total Israeli exports,” as pointed out by Dalia Hatuqa writing for al-Monitor.
The fact is that Europe is ultimately taking part in the subjugation of the Palestinians by funding Israel’s illegal occupation and its massively growing settler population. And no amount of diplomatic “recommendations” or newspeak can alter that fact.
But settlement growth cannot be considered in a vacuum. It makes no sense to talk about boycotting settlements while supporting the main organs that ordered or sanctioned the illegal settlements in the first place.
So differentiating between products made in Israel or those made in the settlements is absurd at best.
The settlers are not self-sustaining autonomous outposts. They are considered part and parcel of the so-called Israel proper.
In the eyes of the Israeli government there is little distinction between settlers from Ma’ale Adumim or residents of Tel Aviv.
Yigal Palmore of the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to the EU report in withering terms.
“A diplomat’s mission is to build bridges and bring people together, not to foster confrontation. The EU consuls have clearly failed in their mission,” he said.
Nothing is random in Israeli planning. As is already the case in various parts of the occupied territories, Palestinians are becoming an unwanted presence on their own land.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s has decided to develop more settlements in an area known as E1, which is set to cut off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
There is unlikely to be a turning back from the construction plans, which include the building of 3,000 settler homes in the land corridor near Jerusalem.
Israel is unrelenting and seems to have no regard for international law. It is emboldened in its actions by the weakness of its neighbors, the unhindered backing of its friends, and the gutlessness of its critics, who all too often are consumed in intellectual tussles over the boundaries of language and proper ways to frame the discourse.
None of this wrangling is of any concern to Israel, which is merely winning time to achieve its own harrowingly ugly version of apartheid.
For those who still feel uneasy with this provocative term, consider the latest Israeli transport ministry’s initiative. It has designated bus line No 210, which shuttles cheap Palestinian laborers to and from the West Bank, to be “Palestinian only.”
Of course this is not an isolated policy but a continuation of a dreadful track record.
Bad news from Israel is likely to continue.
Almost every day there is a new disturbing development in Israeli practices against Palestinians.
All too often this is merely met with feeble international criticism without any substantial action.
Civil society organizations and groups must tell their governments that enough is enough.
While Israel should be held responsible for its own behavior, the EU and other countries should not finance the occupation while decrying the settlements. This hypocrisy can no longer be tolerated.
Ramzy Baroud is an author and a journalist. His latest volume is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photos and links
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad throws a package into a fire set to burn products from Jewish settlements, in the West Bank town of Salfit, Jan 5, 2010. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/AP.
Codepink protest in Washington at sale of Ahava beauty products. “Code Pink alleges that the Israeli cosmetics company that promises to share the “beauty secrets from the Dead Sea” is also ‘hiding the ugly truth—its products actually come from stolen Palestinian natural resources in the occupied territory of the Palestinian West Bank, and are produced in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.'” Ynet news
Protest against sale of Ahava under misleading label as Made in Israel
Herbs grown by Ada Fresh in the Ro’i settlement, exported to the European market with a “made in Israel” label. Photo by Kav LaOved.
For EU consuls’ report see second story in EU fed up with Israeli intransigence on settlements;
for Feasting on the Occupation, see 4th story in Volvo turns blind eye to use of its machines to demolish Palestinian homes;
for the Oxfam report, see Top UK charity condemns squeeze on West Bank Arabs, demands EU acts ;
see also Mehadrin mislabels products from illegal settlements to avoid boycott;
Co-op Group to buy no goods from firms sourcing from Israeli settlements;EU speaks with forked tongue;
Why the UK and EU can and should ban settlement products;
Boycotting settlement products: British trade unions’ policies;
EU’s role in sustaining illegal settlements, which includes ths quote from the head of CAABU:
“The gap between Europe’s rhetoric on illegal settlement growth and our actions is widening. We have reached a nonsensical situation where we are economically and financially sustaining the very obstacles to peace we so often condemn. This new report brings together powerful and pragmatic suggestions for a change in policy to truly advance peace.”