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Are Israelis boycotting Palestinian goods?

Although Israelis spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Palestinians goods each year, these products are usually sold under Israelis labels, since Palestinian-marketed goods are a tough sell.

Correction added on 7 March 2012.

A video item on the Media Line today tells of a Tel Aviv trade fair designated to help open doors for Palestinian agricultural products such as olive oil, to break into the Israeli market – in their own name. It turns out that Israelis are happy to buy Palestinian goods, says reporter Arieh O’Sullivan (sales were reported at $300 million last year) as long as they’re not flaunted as Palestinian. One product that has had some success, the item notes, is the insanely delicious Medjool breed of dates, for which there is more demand than supply. But in general, put a Palestinian cultural or national label on the food and Israeli buyers are much more reluctant. Sounds like a cultural or national boycott to me or more precisely, a modus operandi that desperately tries to keep Palestinians as a political reality out of sight and mind.

Perhaps for Israeli citizens it’s a modus operandi born of despair – but exporters can’t be too despondent: according to the Bank of Israel, the country sold NIS 1.5 billion worth of goods to the Palestinian Authority in 2008 (the latest readily available data), or $400 million.

Still, the Media Line item appeared on a day brimming with good news for the Palestinian economy: the Israeli human rights organization Gisha just reported that Israel has agreed to allow two trucks of date-bars to be sold from Gaza, the first of 13, as part of a World Food Program to feed schoolchildren in the West Bank. That will be the first sale from Gaza to the West Bank that Israel has allowed in five years – a market that, together with Israel, used to make up 85% of Gaza’s exports. It’s only 13 trucks (two so far that have actually left), which is not much compared to the 86 trucks per day that used to leave Gaza, and it’s not clear whether this will just be a one-time allowance.

But then, there are always the Medjool dates.


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    1. AIG

      And now imagine that BDS actually starts bothering Israeli Jews. There will be a backlash of BDS against the Palestinians both in Israel and the occupied territories and of course the Palestinians will suffer.

      BDS is a bad tactic just like violence. In the end it will backfire, just like violence did. What will BDS supporters say to Israeli Jews? That it is not legitimate to use BDS against Palestinians? After years of preaching how much this “non-violent” tactic is legitimate do you think it will fly?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jazzy

      And for some reason goods made in China don’t have the Chinese flag front-and-center when they’re sold in the US. Pretty sinister, right?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joe

      Most Palestinian products sold outside the territories are sold to, or via, Israelis. Take for example the limestone tiles known as ‘Jerusalem gold’. There are a couple of big exporters from Israel, but there are no quarries in Israel, they’re all in the Palestinian Hebron district.

      As I have said here before, I have seen products in Palestinian factories being made for the Israeli military. In that case what was probably happening was that the IDF had a contract with an Israeli company who was subcontracting to a Palestinian factory for some – or all – of the manufacturing.

      There are two ways of looking at this: some see this as another example of Israeli economic influence and oppression of the territories, forcing the Palestinians to trade with them and racking off significant profits. And there certainly is a direct corruption of military actions having an advantageous or disadvantageous effect on particular businesses in the territories. For example, until very recently, the only buyer that could get security clearance to export Palestinian strawberries from Gaza was an Israeli company part owned by the Israeli government. I’ve spoken to other Gazan strawberry farmers who watched their crops rot whilst waiting in line at the security borders.

      On the other hand, Palestinian businesses owners are generally not well suited for exports. For them it is a lot easier to deal with a local buyer, who they know than to work directly with international customers. For many quarries it makes more sense to concentrate on cutting stone than worry about the demands of international customers.

      The general truth is that the Israeli economy is not dependent on the Palestinian economy, but the Palestinian economy is directly linked to the fortunes of the Israeli economy because nobody else will trade with them. Ultimately an effective BDS will disproportionately affect Palestinian products sold by Israeli companies, leaving even more unemployed in the territories.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sinjim

      @Joe: The reason that Palestinian businesses aren’t “suited” to international customers is because of the severe restrictions that Israel places on the Palestinian economy. It is not an organic feature as your comment would have people believe.
      An effective BDS effort will hurt the economic welfare of Palestinians as much as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa hurt the welfare of Blacks and as much as the boycott movements of the Civil Rights Movement era hurt the welfare of African Americans. This is not out of some perverse desire to hurt our own, but rather the result of how Israel has subjugated every aspect of Palestinian society into its governance regime.
      In any case, no Palestinian has a right to make a quick buck producing products for the Israeli occupation army while the rest of his people suffers. The BDS movement isn’t about making certain businessmen richer. It’s about freeing Palestinians, including their economy, from the oppressive Israeli regime.

      Reply to Comment
    5. joe

      Sinjim, when you’ve met Palestinian businessmen and have tried to export, I’d be interested in your views. Until that time, your views are worth exactly nothing.

      South Africa is a poor thing to compare Palestine with. There, an internal market existed which could support the economy even with a international boycott. That is not the case in Palestine.

      Yabber, yabber, yabber. Palestinian businessmen, have supported – albeit highly inperfectly – far more Palestinian lives than the BDS have. None of them want to work for the IDF, but their priority is to keep food on the table. You’d to well to remember that before posting such nonsense in future about what others should or should not do.

      Reply to Comment
    6. sh

      I’ve seen Palestinian products advertised as such abroad in Fairtrade and Oxfam shops.
      “…Palestinian olive growers’ product actually became the first olive oil in the world to gain the Fairtrade Labelling Organization’s (FLO) international certification. The prized oil is now being marketed by Zaytoun, a UK-based ethical trading company that has entered into a long term contract with the farmers to buy whatever olive oil they are willing to sell.”
      Sinjim’s spot on about obstacles and restrictions.
      “Still, olive growers know it’s hard to plan ahead. Obstacles such as the Israeli separation barrier have cut off many farmers from their lands. Others suffer from harassment from Israeli settlers. In July 2009, settlers burned 1,500 olive trees in a single incident in the Palestinian village of Burin, located right outside Nablus, which is the second most important district for olive production. Hundreds of farmers were left without anything to harvest.”
      I’m not that keen on Medjool. My top favorite dates by far are Noor, sold on the branch. Where do they come from?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sinjim

      So your response is one ad hominem after another? OK, then.
      Firstly, I find it to be the height of hubris and privilege for someone to tell a Palestinian that his views on the welfare of his people are irrelevant and “are worth exactly nothing.” You may consider yourself an ally of our people and may or may not have done good things for us, but don’t ever mistake yourself as someone who has any authority to speak like that to a Palestinian. I hope I’ve made myself clear on that point.
      Secondly, I’m related to Palestinian businessmen, Joe. I’ve spoken with them at length about why they sell Israeli products in their shops, and I understand full well the reasoning behind it. It doesn’t make it right or wise.
      But even if I wasn’t related to them, it doesn’t make my view invalid. I don’t need to have personal experience with every facet of Palestinian society under occupation in order to advocate a vision for my people. There have been studies and reports that explain in detail the scope of Israel’s stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. SH kindly provided one such example. Here’s another: http://www.arij.org/programs/116-new/488-economic-cost-of-occupation.html.
      The bottom line: putting food on the table is all Palestinian people as a whole has managed to do in the best of times, and that’s simply not enough. 13 trucks’ worth of exports from Gaza to the West Bank, sent out 2 at a time no less, in 5 years is not enough. Israel is responsible for this economic degradation and de-development, not BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    8. @Jazzy, I”m curious as to what you mean by your comment. There’s not a single good sold anywhere these days, it seems, that doesn’t have “made in China” stamped on it somewhere – the US market is flooded with them. My Saucony running shoes are made in China (it says so right on the inside flap) and your i-pad probably says so too. I’m sure you know all that, so it would be interesting to hear what you meant.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Piotr Berman

      Sinjim: injury without insults is like baklava without honey. Israel excels in the production of this confection. It reminds me a store with 50 different kinds of baklava.

      Very recently we have seem the approach of GoI to such a simple manner as allocation of TV frequencies. Principle: Israel and PA are supposed to coordinate the use of TV frequencies. Imagine how many times the respective Israel authorities asked their PA counterpart to approve a new TV station in Jerusalem. I guess zero. And they refuse to approve frequencies for PA. Now they send troops to confiscate equipment at TV stations in an act of simple piracy.

      Mind you, there were no economic or security motivation, it is simply the case that Palestinians are the enemy and any time you can screw them is good. When all your supplies have to be approved on case by case basis by such people, it is a wonder that ANYTHING can be produced by Palestinians. And of course “Pals” get insulted for they lack of economic success.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Hi ,fantastic Post, that do consist of good information…many thanks for the
      great contribution

      Reply to Comment
    11. Jazzy

      Dahlia: I’m sure its true that the Palestinian brand does not move products in Israel for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t its fair to say that this is evidence of anything like a boycott. That it says “made in China” on your shoes (unfortunately I do not have an ipad) is not a branding choice, it is legal requirement, if I’m not mistaken. If retailers could sell Chinese-made products without identifying them as such, I think they would, not just because Chinese products have an inferior reputation, but because, for POLITICAL reasons, Americans don’t like China. The point is: just because national biases might dictate branding choices somewhere doesn’t mean its fair to call that choice evidence of boycott. Its sensationalist and not accurate. That’s my point.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Sol Salbe

      Dahlia, during my recent 4.5 months sojourn in Israel I spent a lot of time looking at food, its origins and producers.
      It struck me during my first visit to the Tel Aviv Farmers Market (I was there weekly) that there were no Arab traders. Not talking about Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, there are restrictions on their movements. Talking about Palestinian citizens of Israel a disproportionate number of whom are in the kind of small scale less mechanised individually tendered agriculture. They ought to have comparative advantage in producing the kind of produce that people at market sought. Recipes in the newspapers even advised getting hold of that kind of produce using the Arabic word Baladi (literally country-grown, but used in the sense of fruit and vegetables that are not raised industrially in greenhouses, but are grown in the old, traditional way.) But no Arab traders. I’m sure there are no legal restriction. Did they fee uncomfortable? My guess is that Palestinian farmers would have expected the buyers not to buy from Arabs wheat they can buy from Jews. It’s not so much security but bad old prejudice.

      Why do I think it wasn’t a question of security? Because there is an exception to the rule. And that Israelis are happy to buy “Arab products” from Palestinians. In fact they prefer to buy such products from Arabs. They may think of Falafel as Jewish but Hummus is still Arab. There are huge queues outside Abu Hassan in Jaffa every day. A major supplier of supermarket Hummus (was it Achla?) ran a promotion inviting people to Palestinian homes to how it’s made the old fashioned way.

      Back to the farmers market, there was an Arab doing a roaring trade at the Holon farmers market but he was selling Kanafe and other Arab sweets and it is OK, in fact preferable, to buy those from an Arab. Israelis are even happy to buy Arab products from the Occupied Territories. Not only in Shuk HaKarmel but in many supermarket you can find that excellent Tahina from Nablus on display. No boycott or security concerns there.

      It is not a boycott, it is culture –reflecting the less savoury, racist aspect of Israeli society.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Sol – a few qualifications to what you say: Re: Palestinian citizens of Israel, i venture that the primary reason for what you say is simply geographic/demographic separation. There are plenty of Arab merchants selling any old item and non-culture-specific agricultural goods – in Jaffa, not 1 km away from shuk hacarmel, and in all other traditionally Arab areas of Israel. the jews who live there (like in jaffa, haifa, or my friends who live in the galil, near saknin) buy there. Sakhnin in fact was hit very hard by the second intifada b/c they lost a huge portion of their clientele when jews from surrounding communities were afraid to go shop there, following riots. In addition, there’s the occasional arab (Palestinian israeli) merchant right in the heart of primarily jewish-populated areas – personally 80% of my general groceries come from the (overpriced!) corner market/green-grocer run by a family from baka al-garbiya just across from where you and i had coffee. it’s a neighborhood hub. like any good capitalist, i’m willing to pay more for the convenience, their wide array of products and good produce, and over the years, i’ve become chummy with their mom+pop characters (altho it’s mainly pop+son – no women).
      So I think when dealing with palestinian products from the territories, that i disagree with your theme: it’s davka less about racism, in this case, and far more about politics. Not a public, politicized boycott per se, but a private choice, based on personal distaste, to avoid supporting a political palestinian cause. it’s the negative image, if you will, of the traditional “buy blue-and-white” theme. It’s even understandable, since most israelis view palestinians as the enemy. But given the fact of sheer dependence of the pal economy on israel, i believe it is simply wrong and that as the occupying power, which summarily quashes their economic efforts at independence, israel has the obligation to purchase pal goods whether or not it likes the political symbolism. If they don’t want to, fine – in that case, logically israel must give completely free rein to the Pal economy, unilaterally withdraw from any policy area that affects their economic growth. can’t have it both ways.

      Reply to Comment
    14. arieh o'sullivan

      actually tehina is the only item i was able to find that was clearly a palestinian brand (from nablus) and israelis said they seek it out because it’s so good.
      but you won’t find any dairy products for example from the west bank.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Margo Viscusi

      Question from a puzzled New Yorker: Are the medjool dates we see here labeled “from Israel” actually from the West Bank? How about the nectarines?

      Reply to Comment