ZEITOUN, Gaza (IPS) - Tawfiq Mandil, 45, stood among hundreds of Palestinian farmers, activists and international supporters in the Gaza Strip’s eastern Zeitoun district, about half a kilometer from the boundary with Israel. They were renewing a call for the boycott of Israeli goods.
“The Israeli army destroyed my house and my five dunums of land [one dunum is equal to 1,000 square meters] on the last day of the attacks in 2009, as well as 20 other homes,” he said.
With signs reading “Boycott Israeli agricultural products” and “support Palestinian farmers,” Mandil and others protesting Israeli oppression of Palestinian farmers joined together Saturday to plant olive trees on Israeli-razed farmland and to implore international supporters to join the boycott of Israeli agricultural produce.
Mandil believes that the boycott is his only hope for justice for Palestinian farmers being targeted by the Israeli army and oppressed by Israel. “We hope that it will put pressure on Israel to stop targeting us and allow us to farm our land as we used to.”
With an Israeli surveillance blimp hovering above and within sight of a remotely-controlled machine gun tower, the significance of the rally’s location near the “buffer zone” was not lost. Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinians from accessing the 300 meters flanking the Gaza-Israel boundary. In reality, the Israeli army regularly attacks Palestinians up to two kilometers from the boundary in some areas, rendering more than 35 percent of Gaza’s farmland off-limits.
“By engaging in the trade of settlement produce, states are failing to comply with their obligation to actively cooperate in order to bring the Israeli settlement enterprise to an end,” said Mandil. “Therefore, a ban on settlement produce must be considered among those actions that third party states should undertake in order to comply with their international law obligations.”
The Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq released a position paper last month condemning the Israeli settlement produce trade. The paper highlights the means by which Israeli settlements benefit from the oppression of Palestinian farmers (“Feasting on the occupation: Illegality of settlement produce and the responsibility of EU member states under international law,” January 2013 [PDF]).
“While the EU has been quite outspoken in condemning settlements and their expansion, they continue to import produce from these same settlements and in doing so, help to sustain their very existence,” Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq’s director general, said.
“More than 80 Palestinians have been injured and at least four Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks in the border regions since the November 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian resistance,” said Adie Mormech, 35, a British activist living in Gaza. This is in addition to the many Palestinians killed and hundreds injured in previous years of Israeli army attacks near the boundary.
“There is simultaneous action happening in the occupied West Bank,” said Mormech. “They’re planting near Yitzhar colony, which is notorious for its violence against Palestinians. Around the world, an estimated 30 countries are holding actions in solidarity with Palestinian farmers and fishers.”
“They bulldoze, we replant”
Um Abed, 65, from Zeitoun, is defiant. “Today we’re planting olive trees. God willing next year we’ll plant lemon, date and palm trees. We grow, they bulldoze, we replant.”
The boycott action follows a growing number of initiatives emerging in recent years from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian students in Gaza universities stepped up the “boycott Israel” call in 2012, releasing YouTube videos calling for political action, not aid, from international supporters.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has attracted international support, including in the US and UK.
Increasing numbers of cultural and religious associations, such as the Quakers’ Friends Fiduciary Corporation, are divesting from corporations that profit from or support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The United Church of Canada endorsed the boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements in August 2012.
“We want equality”
Haidar Eid, a professor at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a PACBI member, outlined the BDS movement’s objectives.
“We are calling for implementation of UN Security Council resolution 242, which calls for withdrawal of occupation forces from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The second demand is the implementation of the United Nations resolution 194, the return of all Palestinian refugees to the towns and villages from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948. The third demand is the end to Israel’s apartheid policies in Palestine 1948 [present-day Israel]. We want equality.”
While human rights campaigners and students have been in the forefront of BDS actions in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas government has also taken steps calling for boycott. Joe Catron, an American activist based in the Gaza Strip, explains one recent government-led campaign.
“The Adidas campaign began in March 2012, when Adidas was sponsoring a marathon through parts of Jerusalem, including parts that are internationally recognized as occupied. The ministry of youth and sports here called upon the Arab League to boycott Adidas in response to this, which a number of countries did.”
In September 2012, Gaza’s ministry of agriculture decided to ban most Israeli fruits entering Gaza.
“Palestinian farmers can grow the fruits we consume,” said Tahsen al-Saqa, marketing director in the ministry. “We need to support and protect our own farmers. They’ve been economically devastated by the Israeli ban on exporting since 2006.”
“Boycott is the key, and it is growing,” said Adie Mormech. “The momentum is so much now that it is not going to stop. It’s going to be like South Africa.”
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