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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Mobilizations in Palestine and across Europe as activists call for boycott of Israeli agribusinesses

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Campaigners in Sheffield, UK, picket a supermarket as part of a new campaign to pressure it to drop ties with Israeli suppliers complicit with the occupation

(Sheffield PSC)

A wave of demonstrations in Palestine and across 40 European cities this past weekend protested the thriving international trade with Israeli agribusinesses and the deliberate destruction of Palestinian agriculture it contributes towards.

The actions were part of a new focus on building international solidarity with Palestinian farmers and saw the launching of new campaigns by Palestinian agricultural organizations, European solidarity networks, nongovernmental organizations and trade unions against Israeli agricultural export firms. 

In Gaza, hundreds of farmers and activists took part in march on Saturday towards the buffer zone near the border with Israel, where regular attacks and incursions by the Israeli military force farmers to abandon their land or take huge risks to tend to their crops. An Israeli surveillance vehicle hovered overhead as activists planted olive trees and rallied carrying banners calling for a boycott of Israeli agricultural produce.

Dozens of fishermen held a rally at Gaza port earlier in the week. Fishermen continue to come under regular attack from the Israeli military despite the terms of the November 2012 ceasefire supposedly stating that fishermen could now fish up to six miles off Gaza’s coast.

There were also actions and events in the West Bank, where olive trees were planted on the land of Madama village to replace those cut down by illegal settlers. A conference on boycotting Israeli agricultural firms in Salfit was attended by hundreds of farmers and activists on Monday.

Farmers struggle for their rights

Israeli policies in the West Bank aim to force farmers from their lands and appropriate Palestinian aquifers to make use way for water-intensive illegal settlements. The situation is particularly urgent in the Jordan Valley, where most of Israel’s settlement farming is located, where demolitions and evictions are commonplace and settlers control over 13 times more irrigated land than Palestinians.

As the size and scale of these recent mobilizations remind us, Palestinian farmers are engaged in a struggle for their rights to their land and resources. When farming has to take place under threat from attacks from fanatical settlers, or in Israel’s Gaza “buffer zone,” it becomes much more than an income — it becomes a form of resistance.

Israeli agricultural companies, meanwhile, reap the benefits of Israel’s attacks on Palestinian farming. Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin and Hadaklaim participate in the colonization of the West Bank, establishing plantations and packing houses in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

As many as 60 percent of illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley are heavily dependent on exporting agricultural produce, and this ability to export produce to European supermarkets is one of the main reasons Israel is discussing plans to increase the amount of land available to agricultural settlements in the valley by 130 percent.

Israeli agricultural companies also benefit from the siege on Gaza, participating in the dumping of Israeli goods in Gaza and the undermining of local production.

Call for solidarity

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As part of this weekend’s international mobilization, all the major Palestinian agricultural organizations and several other civil society groups issued an appeal for solidarity with Palestinian farmers and for action against Israeli agriculture companies.

“We, Palestinian organizations and unions representing farmers struggling for their right to their land and to food sovereignty, urge international civil society organizations to build effective campaigns and work towards ending agricultural trade with Israel that finances and rewards the destruction of Palestinian farming,” the call begins. 

The call also explains that “For Palestinians, farming is tied to Palestinian identity, history and resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation” and offers “full solidarity with all those who are also fighting for the right to their land and the freedom to make their own choices about food production, trade and social and environmental sustainability.”

The signatories to the call for action also launched a briefing document entitled Farming Injustice (pictured) that details how Israeli agriculture firms contribute to and benefit from the dispossession of Palestinian farmers. The briefing sets out the arguments for supermarkets to end all trade with Israeli suppliers known to operate in settlements and explains that European and other governments are violating their obligations under international law by allowing trade with settlements to continue.

Solidarity with farmers a key part of European BDS campaigns

Around two-thirds of Israel’s $2 billion annual agricultural exports are to European markets and campaigning against the trade in agricultural goods has always been a key part of the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel in Europe.

In 2011, Israel’s largest export company Agrexco was forced into liquidation following a financial crisis severely exacerbated by the campaign against it that took place in 13 European countries. Supermarkets across Europe now claim to not stock, or put special labels on produce from illegal settlements. 

Many of the demonstrations that took place in Europe this weekend targeted Mehadrin, the Israeli company that has taken Agrexco’s place as Israel’s leading produce export company.

Much like its predecessor, Mehadrin operates in illegal Israeli settlements, is involved in the theft of Palestinian land and water and employs Palestinian workers, left with little option but to work in illegal settlements in unsafe conditions for as little as €11 (approximately $15 US) per day. A press release issued by the Palestinian BDS National Committee gives an overview of the weekend’s actions:

A large demonstration was held outside Mehadrin’s Swiss distribution center this afternoon and the company was protested as it participated in a major fresh produce show in Berlin.

In France, activists occupied the customs office in southern French city Montpellier to protest the nearby port of Sète being used to import produce from Israeli companies such as Mehadrin that operate in illegal Israeli settlements. More than 50 campaigners occupied the offices for more than an hour.

Protests were also held at supermarkets and other locations in more than 14 other French cities and in Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In the UK, campaigners picketed more than 35 stores of major supermarket Sainsbury’s as part of a new campaign aimed at pressuring it to cut its ties with Mehadrin and EDOM, another Israeli company operating in settlements. The UK’s fifth biggest supermarket The Co-operative Group last year announced it would no longer source products from any supplier that operates in illegal settlements and cut ties to four Israeli companies following pressure from its members…

We’ll be posting more updates as they come in over at the Farming Injustice page at BDSmovement.net.

Organizing for further success

Last month, South African agriculture firm Karsten Farms announced it would cut ties to settlement produce exporter Hadaklaim and undertook “not to enter into any future relations with any Israeli entity complicit in the illegal Israeli Occupation of Palestine.”

A British businessman pledged to resign from the board and sell his shares in EDOM, after concerns about its Jordan Valley operations were raised by Corporate Watch, a UK research outfit that has been producing excellent information about the settlement activities of Israeli agriculture companies. 

The European Union is currently discussing introducing special labeling for settlement products. This would be a politically symbolic move and a welcome step towards a ban on settlement trade that the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq argues states are legally obliged to implement.

However, new research from Corporate Watch shows that such a move would be almost impossible to reliably implement given the wholesale deception by Israeli companies about the origin of their produce. Campaigns must continue to make the argument for tougher steps. 

Campaigners in Europe have already helped push a major Israeli exporter out of business and forced the issue onto the agenda of governments and supermarkets.

Inspired by the steadfast resistance of Palestinian farmers, campaigners in Europe are now determined to end more of the trade in Israeli agricultural fresh produce that facilitates the destruction of Palestinian farming.