Hundreds of people joined demonstrations at Sainsbury’s stores across more than 30 UK towns and cities on Saturday. They were protesting the supermarket’s sale of goods exported by Israeli firms that participate in the colonization of Palestinian land.
Around 50 people took part in a dabke flash mob inside two central London stores organised by London Palestine Action, while a convoy of bikes and vans travelled between different Sainsbury’s stores in Sheffield.
Similar pickets and demonstrations were planned across London and in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, among many other cities, as part of a national day of action supported by organizations including the Boycott Israel Network, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Signatures were also gathered for a petition that will be presented to Sainsbury’s management calling on the UK’s second-biggest retailer to stop trading with companies that operate in settlements and participate in Israeli violations of international law.
Sainsbury’s sources citrus fruits, mangoes, medjoul dates and other fresh produce from companies such as Mehadrin and Edom that operate in illegal Israeli settlements and contribute to Israel’s destruction of Palestinian agriculture and violations of international law.
“While Sainsbury’s boasts of their commitment to ‘sourcing with integrity’, they refuse to respond to customer demands to end trade with companies that export agricultural produce from Israel’s illegal settlement farms, as The Co-operative Group has done,” explained campaign spokesperson Annie O’Gara in a press release.
The Co-operative retail chain announced in April 2012 that it would stop trading with any Israeli company that operates in illegal Israeli settlements. Sainsbury’s claims that none of the products it sources from Israeli suppliers are grown in illegal Israeli settlements, although this seems improbable given the routine deception employed by Israeli exporters, who regularly sell settlement products as ‘Made in Israel’.
Regardless of where the actual products on Sainsbury’s shelves are grown, any trade with companies that are so deeply involved in the ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land is fundamentally unethical and helps to fund the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the Israel’s destruction of Palesitnian agriculture.
The campaign against Sainsbury’s was launched in response to a February 2013 appeal for action by Palestinian farming unions and civil society groups for campaigns against Israeli agricultural export companies. The introduction to the Farming Injustice briefing published alongside the appeal for action explained how Israeli export companies play a key role in the destruction of Palestinian agriculture:
Palestinian farmers face the brunt of Israel’s land confiscations, demolitions and water theft. Farmers that still have access to land and water face systematically implemented restrictions and violence. Israeli agricultural export companies such as Mehadrin and Hadiklaim [and Edom] are among the primary beneficiaries of the destruction of Palestinian agriculture, operating inside and exporting produce from illegal settlements using stolen Palestinian land and water and profiting from the siege on Gaza.
Mehadrin, one of Israel’s largest fresh produce export companies and a major Sainsbury’s supplier, was formed when it planted citrus groves over the remains of the village of Miska, a Palestinian village that was completely destroyed during the 1948 Nakba.
Today a major private firm with distribution centres across Europe, Mehadrin operates orchards inside Israel and in illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, the most fertile area of the West Bank.
There are now more than 9,000 settlers living in 36 settlements that cover more than half of the Jordan Valley and Israel has announced plans to expand settlements in the Jordan Valley by 130 percent. Palestinians continue to be forcibly displaced from the Jordan Valley to make way for settlement farms that are only economically viable because they are able to export their produce to European markets.
Mehadrin also collaborates closely with Israeli state water company Mekorot to illegally appropriate Palestinian water and divert it to farms inside Israel and illegal Israeli settlements.
Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, has condemned Mehadrin for its role in Israeli violations of international law and highlighted it as one of several companies that “should be boycotted, until such time as they bring their operations fully into line with international human rights standards and practice.”
“We are not selling to the European market anymore”
The UK government recently published advice urging firms to consider “possible abuses of the rights of individuals” when conducting business that benefits illegal Israeli settlements and made clear that it does not “encourage or offer support” settlement trade.
By trading with Israeli exporters that participate in Israeli violations of human rights and international law, Sainsbury’s is running roughshod over UN and UK government advice and the guidance set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative, a business and civil society forum it champions.
Israeli settler leaders in the Jordan Valley recently told the Associated Press that the boycott campaign had cost settlers $29 million in lost sales, especially in Europe.
“In effect, today, we are almost not selling to the [Western] European market anymore,” complained David Elhayani of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, which represents 7,000 settlers.
Campaigns against Israeli fresh produce exporters have intensified following the decision by the Co-operative retail chain to boycott companies that operate in settlements and the February 2013 appeal for action by Palestinian agricultural organisations with campaigns also underway in France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Campaigns against Israeli agricultural exports have always been a key part of the BDS movement in Europe, the main destination for Israeli fresh produce exports.
In 2011, Israeli export company Agrexco entered into liquidation after boycotts and campaigns against the company in 13 European countries that saw retailers cut links with the company, blockades of its UK and Belgium warehouses and a huge mobilisation against plans for an Agrexco distribution centre in Sete in the south of France. Israeli analyst Shir Hever suggested at the time that farmers leaving Agrexco to export their products through other channels because of the boycott campaign was a major factor behind the company’s collapse.