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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Palestinians pack a punch through boycott of products made in Israeli settlements

THE IRISH TIMES
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A joint initiative of the Palestinian Authority and private business is co-ordinating consumer power, writes Matthew Kalman in Ramallah, West Bank

UNDER THE logo “Your conscience, your choice”, a large yellow tag hanging in the window of Sana Obeidi’s pharmacy in Ramallah declares the shop to be free of any products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The tag is in every shop window in Ramallah Hospital Street, and in more than 70 per cent of the 66,000 Palestinian shops throughout the West Bank.

The declaration, along with a pledge signed by shopkeepers not to buy settlement products and an official government certificate, is the result of a nationwide “Store to Store” campaign launched by Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad. “Our goal is to ensure the Palestinian market is free of Israeli settlement produce by the end of this year,” said Mr Fayyad.

“This will help ensure that the Palestinian economy can be self-sufficient,” he said. “Our goal is that every store in Palestine will carry our stickers. Then our homes will be cleared of the symbols of the occupation.”

Ms Obeidi said she supported Fayyad’s campaign, even though she personally had no need for it. “I’ve had this pharmacy for 20 years and I’ve never bought settler products,” said Ms Obeidi, whose sister lives in Dublin.

“If we buy from them, they use our own money to buy weapons to use against us.”

A booklet distributed to every Palestinian home in May listed some 500 items produced in the settlements, from food and wine to electronic goods and cosmetics. The boycott, which has aroused resentment in Israel, is being co-ordinated by the Al-Karameh (“Dignity”) National Empowerment Fund, a joint initiative of the Palestinian Authority government and private businesses.

“This is a Palestinian national programme to clear the West Bank of settlement products,” says Hitham Kayali, general co-ordinator of Al-Karameh.

“It comes as part of the government’s two-year plan to establish a Palestinian state. Our political stand against settlements is quite clear for obvious reasons but we have clear economic issues with settlements as well. In building our Palestinian state, and the institutions of that state, the main obstacles we face in building a prosperous economy are settlements.”

According to the Israeli pressure group Peace Now, more than 280,000 people live in 121 settlements throughout the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. The settlements have long been cited by the Palestinians as a key obstacle to a peace deal with Israel through the creation of an independent state.

Mr Kayali says that while the built-up area of Israeli settlements covers only about 2.8 per cent of the land in the West Bank, some 40 per cent of the territory that Palestinians want to see inside their future state is controlled by Israel. “We Palestinians have the right not to be part of the settlement lifeline,” he says.

The campaign is aimed at settlement products, not the $3 billion worth of Israeli goods imported by Palestinians yearly. “We welcome Israeli goods. This is a glimpse at the future. Through this campaign, every Palestinian can show support for a two-state solution,” he says.

Mr Fayyad wants to back up the campaign with tough legislation. A new law has been approved under which shopkeepers found violating the ban will face fines of up to 10,000 Jordanian dinars (€11,170) and five years in prison.

In addition, some 22,000 Palestinians have been ordered to stop working in the settlements and cease patronising settlement stores. Palestinian officials driving government-issued cars have been warned that their vehicles will be confiscated if they are seen in the car parks of settlement shops.

Naftali Bennett, director general of the Yesha settlers’ council, says the campaign will have a negligible impact on the settler economy. He accused the Palestinian prime minister of sacrificing the welfare of his own people in pursuit of a political agenda and estimates the salaries of those working in the settlements support about 15 per cent of the Palestinian population.

“These are supermarkets where Israelis and Arabs shop together. There are lots of joint industries where roughly half are Palestinian employees and the other half are Israeli employees,” he says.

Mr Bennett says an independent Palestinian state is doomed to be overrun by Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007.

He offers instead a vision of settlers and Palestinians living together without an independent state. “Salam Fayyad wants to eliminate what I think is the favourable option of peaceful co-existence. That’s why he wants to sever all economic connections between Jews and Arabs. I think the very opposite. I think we ought to do everything in our power together to build more joint industries, to do more trading among each other.”

But back on Ramallah Hospital Street, ordinary Palestinian shopkeepers are relishing the idea of playing their part in detaching themselves from the hated settlements. “People here are poor, they don’t have enough money. We should be buying products made by Palestinians, not settlers. That would help our own people,” says Abu Majd Tarifi, a grocery store owner who says he stopped buying settler produce five years ago.

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