Milk firm may be flouting EU rules on trade with Israel’s settlements

An Israeli milk company may be sidestepping EU restrictions on dairy imports from Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.

New research demonstrates that Tnuva, a leading Israeli food firm, is processing milk from settlements that violate international law.

Who Profits?, a group monitoring the occupation, has filmed trucks collecting milk from the West Bank and bringing it to a Tnuva factory in Rehovot, a city inside present-day Israel.

As Tnuva exports to the EU, the evidence raises questions about whether it is breaching the Union’s rules.

Since the beginning of this year, the EU has refused to recognize the authority of the Israeli authorities to inspect dairy and other animal products from settlements in the West Bank. In effect, this means that the EU does not approve milk from the settlements for sale in its 28 member countries.

The material gathered by Who Profits? indicates, however, that Tnuva is disregarding those rules by processing milk from the occupied West Bank and milk from inside Israel in the same factory.

Who Profits? filmed Tnuva’s trucks bringing milks from three settlements in the West Bank to Rehovot earlier this month. Similar videos were filmed in September and October last year — a few months before the EU’s rules came into effect.


The evidence indicates that Tnuva is continuing to behave in an illegal manner, despite the EU’s rules.

Under the 1907 Hague regulations — a cornerstone of international humanitarian law — it is forbidden for an occupying power to exploit the land and resources of the territory it occupies for commercial purposes.

Who Profits? has listed four Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are known to provide raw materials to Tnuva. The settlements are named Carmel Maon, Beit Yatir, Migdal Oz and Rosh Tzurim.

Tnuva may not be the only Israeli milk company that is flouting EU rules. A map on the Israeli Dairy Board website treats the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights as if they are within Israel.

Israel’s dairy exports have increased in recent years. In 2014, Israeli dairy sales to Europe and the US amounted to $10.5 million each.

Israel is also exporting dairy products to the Asian market. Earlier this year, the Chinese company Bright Foods acquired a controlling share of Tnuva.

Captive market

As Israel’s largest dairy firm, Tnuva also makes up to $65 million per year from sales to what Who Profits? describes as the “captive Palestinian market.”

In February 2015, a number of Palestinian organizations urged a boycott of Tnuva. The boycott was prompted by how Israel had refused to transfer tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority.

While Israel’s dairy industry has found many opportunities to market its goods, Palestinian farmers have often been victims of military violence.

In December last, the Israeli authorities used Volvo equipment to destroy a Palestinian dairy factory in al-Burj, a village near Hebron.

Meanwhile, the Dalloul dairy plant in Gaza City used to provide many Palestinians with milk and cheese at cheaper prices than those of Israeli imports. Israel attacked that factory both in 2009 and the following year.

And during the summer 2014 offensive against Gaza, a farm belonging to the Nadi family in the Beit Hanoun area was destroyed by Israeli shelling. The family had 370 cows. The farm’s output dropped sharply following the attack.

Tnuva, by contrast, does not have to worry too much about its business in Gaza, even though it is under an Israeli siege. It delivers 200 tons of goods to Gaza every day.




And why would the US be buying milk from Israel when we produce in this country more milk that we can use or export and our farmers end up being subsided by taxpayers to pour out the unwanted and unsold milk?


The US overproduces milk at a tremendous rate. It's hard to see how importation from Israel can be justified by market conditions. Of course, the milk can be introduced in the form of yoghurt and other products, but even so, domestic production is more than sufficient for any need. It looks like the real need is Israel's, and that their friends in high places are cutting them some slack.


The trade agreements make some deals look completely ridiculous or without sense sometimes.
I live in Denmark, work as a sales assistant in a discount store, and we have had butter from New Zealand to half the price of our own butter! New Zealand is almost excactly as opposite as you can get on earth to Denmark, we are an agricultural country with some of the best products in the world. - But because we make deals with many other countries we sign an 'order' - we take so many tons of that, and in return they get something else they need, and it can't be an advantage for both sides on all occasions, but that's roughly how it works, I think.


exposing facts is a crucial first step. I think the article would have gained strength if also reactions from EU bodies and officials had been included. People in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem andd Brussels. MEPs can now put the questions officially that could have been posed by journalists before.

Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh