Help end trade with Israeli settlements
Help end trade with Israeli settlements
What you can do
- Write to your MP stating that you do not want to see Israeli settlement goods on sale in the UK. If imports continue, then settlement goods should be labelled in such a way so that consumers know that settlements are illegal. Need help? Go to the end of this document.
- Avoid ‘West Bank’ products when shopping, because most probably they come from the settlements.
- Write to your supermarket saying that you do not want to buy produce from Israeli settlements and ask them how they can be sure that goods come from Israel and not from a settlement. Explain that by selling such products, they undermine the chances for peace in Israel-Palestine and they support the economies of illegal entities.
- Support the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
Israeli settlements in the West Bank: illegal and an obstacle to peace
There are over 200 Israeli settlements and settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where at least 450,000 Jewish settlers live. The Fourth Geneva Convention, a part of international humanitarian law, forbids an occupying power to transfer its population onto occupied land (article 49). This is why the international community has always regarded these settlements as illegal.
From the 1970s onwards, a number of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions have been adopted condemning the settlements. In 2004, the International Court of Justice, in its advisory opinion on the barrier built by Israel in the West Bank, concluded that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law.
UNSC resolution # 465 (of 1980) “Determines … that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories … constitute[s] a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The longer the settlements remain in place and the bigger they get, the harder it will be for them to be removed as part of a negotiated settlement and therefore the harder it will be to reach a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Without peace there can be no security for either Israelis or Palestinians. The cost of the conflict is a heavy burden on both peoples.
Impact of the settlements on Palestinians in the West Bank
These settlements cause suffering, poverty and discrimination to the 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank who have to compete unfavourably with the settlers for limited natural resources like land and water. The settlements and their infrastructure take over 38% of the West Bank according to the UN – land which Palestinians either cannot use at all or to which their access is restricted.
The settlements also deprive Palestinians of their ability to move freely. In order to enable settlers to travel safely and quickly from the settlements into Israel and to other settlements, over 600 physical obstacles (checkpoints, earth mounds, barrier gates, etc.) are scattered within the West Bank. These control the movement of the Palestinians – not that of the settlers. The settlements with their roads and the movement restrictions placed by Israel on the Palestinians have fragmented the Palestinian community with a devastating effect on Palestinian social and economic life.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development calculated in 2007 that Palestinian losses from movement restrictions between 2000 and 2005 equated to US$8.4 billion. This includes Gross Domestic Product losses of 2-3% each year due to the barrier in the West Bank.
Volunteers of the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniers) monitor regularly 14 checkpoints and 5 barrier gates during their busiest hours. In this way, they witness themselves the time wasted in overcrowded checkpoints and the uncertainty and humiliation endured by Palestinians in order to get to their lands or to get to work, school or university, hospital, church or mosque.
In recent years, violence by hard line Israeli settlers against Palestinians has increased. Crops and trees have been burnt and Palestinians have been prevented by settlers from reaching their lands to cultivate them or to graze their animals. There have also been hundreds of injuries and some deaths. Settlers can carry out such attacks with almost complete impunity.
Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) protect with their presence Palestinian rural communities, which have suffered in the recent past from attacks by hard line settlers. In the last few months, they have seen Palestinian crops and olive trees burn, houses damaged and sprayed with settler graffiti, a dead pig thrown inside a mosque and they have also heard accounts of terrifying night raids on Palestinian homes by armed settlers. You can read about daily life under occupation as seen through the EAs’ eyes in: http://www.quaker.org.uk/eappi-writing-field
The presence of the settlements on occupied territory has caused further discrimination against Palestinians as they are treated by Israel under military rule while the settlers live in the West Bank under Israeli civilian law.
Trade with the settlements and British retailers
Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and other supermarkets have conceded that they sell products from Israeli settlements and they have refused so far to stop doing so. Marks and Spencer’s, the Co-operative Group, Unilever and Heineken have stopped trading with settlements.
Products known to be produced in settlements and sold in the UK include:
- Herbs, fruit and vegetables (many sold under supermarket own labels) – Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
- Ahava cosmetics – John Lewis.
- Some Soda Stream products. (The manufacturer Soda Club has Israeli as well as settlement factories.) – Robert Dyas and Sainsbury’s.
- Some Keter plastics products, such as garden storage systems, tool boxes and bathroom accessories. (Keter has Israeli as well as settlement factories.) – B&Q and Homebase.
- Beigel & Beigel baked goods. – Tesco and Waitrose.
Settlement products are sold in EU countries including the UK for a number of reasons:
- Although settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law and this position is constantly reiterated by the EU, there is no law banning settlement products from entering EU countries.
- Settlement products are labelled in ways that may mislead consumers.
- Settlement goods can still take advantage of EU preferential trade agreements illegally and customs authorities find it difficult to police this.
- British retailers importing goods from Israel cannot always differentiate between settlement goods and goods from Israel proper.
Supermarkets have ethical standards, so they must recognise that by selling settlement products they undermine the chances for peace in the Middle East.
Trade with settlements is permitted despite their illegality
Currently there is no law banning settlement products being imported into the EU. For such a ban to come about government action is necessary both at the EU and national level. Although the UK government does not currently support a ban, it is clearly concerned about trade with Israeli settlements and it has taken several positive steps:
- The British government is preparing voluntary guidance to British retailers about how to label settlement products so that consumers can differentiate between Palestinian produce and settlement produce. They have already held a roundtable discussion with retailers on this issue.
- HM Revenues and Customs are investigating whether Israeli importers may be presenting settlement products as products from Israel proper, so that the settlement products can benefit from the no-tariff or low-tariff rules of the EU – Israel preferential trade agreement, from which they are not entitled to benefit. Last year the UK government encouraged other EU member states to undertake similar investigations.
- The British government has tried to discourage Britons from buying properties in Israeli settlements by publicising the potential pitfalls of investing in properties in illegal entities.
- The government has also publicised the fact that they decided not to move their embassy in Tel Aviv to a building owned by someone involved in the construction of Israeli settlements.
By continuing to allow trade with settlements, entities which the UK and the rest of the EU have always viewed as illegal and have condemned, the position of the government and the EU is contradictory. Strong public pressure on this issue will be needed for the government to change its position.
The labelling of products from settlements should state that settlements are illegal
Currently there is no requirement for settlement products being sold in the UK/EU to be labelled as such. Where they knowingly sell settlement products, many UK retailers now label them as being from the ‘West Bank’. However, this is not enough to enable consumers to tell whether they are buying from settlements or from Palestinian enterprises. As long as settlement goods are being sold, they should be labelled clearly as originating from illegal entities. Unless labels on settlement produce include the word ‘illegal’, consumers may be misled and may buy goods that they would not otherwise choose.
The Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs will be issuing the voluntary guidance to retailers, which could make it easier for consumers to know whether they are buying settlement goods or Palestinian products. The same department may also carry out a public consultation on this issue. This is a good time for civil society to lobby the government on this issue.
Imports from the settlements breaking EU trade rules?
The European Union has a preferential trade agreement with Israel, which means that some Israeli products can be imported into the EU at no or a reduced level of import duties. The EU does not allow settlement products to benefit from these concessionary duties, because settlements are not recognised to be part of Israel, but are part of the occupied Palestinian territory.
However, in practice it is likely that some settlement products are breaking these rules by being declared as of Israeli rather than settlement origin. This amounts to tax evasion and it also means that settlement goods can be sold at a lower price than they would be sold if the correct level of taxation was paid.
In 2005 the EU instigated a “technical arrangement” whereby Israeli exporters have to provide proof of the precise place of production of their goods together with its postcode in order to claim trade benefits under the preferential trade agreement. It is the responsibility of EU member states to police this system in order to ensure that the products coming into their jurisdiction which claim to be of Israeli origin are not in fact settlement products.
Since this process was established, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has undertaken post clearance documentary checks on Israeli products and has also undertaken audits at some traders’ premises. Between January and April 2009, HMRC states that it has rejected 529 proofs of origin resulting in it demanding £338,000 in customs duty.
This is a step forward, but there is still concern that settlement products are coming into the EU benefiting from the preferential trade agreement. According to some organisations and the Palestinian Delegation in the UK, official trade figures showing EU/settlement trade appear to be artificially low. It has been reported for example that some Israeli businesses falsify the production address on documentation or that they use the postcode of one of their sites located inside Israel as opposed to the actual production location code. A major Israeli business magazine has published features advising companies how to do this in order to circumvent customs regulations.
Consumer pressure on retailers can reduce imports from settlements
Some retailers may be unable to tell whether or not the products they sell are from Israel or the occupied West Bank. Marks & Spencer’s appears to have sophisticated systems in place to track where its products come from and it has direct relationships with its producers. However many retailers, particularly those who buy through intermediaries, appear not to have rigorous systems for identifying the exact origin of goods. This means that retailers may inadvertently be mislabelling goods as ‘Israeli’ and furthermore may, inadvertently be selling goods, which have unlawfully taken advantage of the EU-Israel preferential trade agreement.
Action by retailers could do much to reduce trade with settlements, whether or not there is an official ban in place. Ideally, more retailers should stop sourcing and selling settlement products. At the very least, they should have a clear labelling policy and systems which enable them to identify confidently the source of their products. Retailers may already be starting to notice consumer pressure on this issue. If this were stepped up, they may be more likely to stop sourcing from Israeli settlements.
Help with writing to your Member of Parliament
- Be polite and positive. Acknowledge that the government has already taken some positive measures on this issue (see above).
- Be brief and to the point.
- Speak from experience, if you can – if you have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territories yourself or you have heard others speak. Mention the harm caused by Israeli settlements on the chances for peace in the region and on the daily lives of Palestinians (see above).
- Ask for all trade with settlements to be stopped.
- Until this is done, the government should ensure that retailers label settlement goods in such a way so that consumers know that these products come from illegal entities.
- Ask them to raise the issue with the Foreign Secretary and also with the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, who is responsible for food labelling guidance to retailers and for them to reply to you via your MP.
Please let us have a copy of any replies you receive to your letters to MPs or retailers.
If you would like to receive e-mail alerts from QPSW about future actions on Israeli settlement products, please e-mail Suzanne Ismail, economic issues programme manager.
World Council of Churches policy summary on Israel/Palestine (including a call to boycott settlement products)
Statement made in the House of Lords on 21 Jan 209 by The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Malloch-Brown on the situation in Gaza (includes a reference to settlement products).
‘Concern over Israel settlement exports’ BBC News 5th November 2008. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7708244.stm
‘The economic cost of the occupation’ Better World Economics issue 9 (summer 2007)