Published at IPS – By Eva Bartlett
Tawfiq Mandil, 45, stands amongst hundreds of Palestinian farmers, activists, and international supporters in the Gaza Strip’s eastern Zeitoun district, about half a kilometre from the border with Israel. They are renewing a call for the boycott of Israeli goods.
“The Israeli army destroyed my house and my five dunums of land (a dunum is 1,000 square metres) on the last day of the attacks in 2009, as well as 20 other homes,” he says.
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.”
**examples of closed and open IOF remote-controlled machine gun towers, found all along Gaza’s border.
With an Israeli surveillance blimp hovering above and a nearby remotely-controlled machine gun tower open and ready to fire, the significance of the rally’s location near the ‘buffer zone’ was not lost. Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinians from accessing the 300 metres flanking the Gaza-Israel border. In reality, the Israeli army regularly attacks Palestinians up to two kilometres from the border 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 put the Israeli settlement enterprise to an end. Therefore, a ban on settlement produce must be considered amongst those actions that Third Party States should undertake in order to comply with their international law obligations.”
The Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq released a position paper last month condemning the Israeli settlement produce trade. The paper, ‘Feasting on the Occupation: Illegality of Settlement Produce and the Responsibility of EU Member States Under International Law’ highlights the means by which Israeli settlements benefit from the oppression of Palestinian farmers.
“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,” Al-Haq director general Shawan Jabarin notes in the Al-Haq press release.
“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,” says 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 on the border regions.
“There is simultaneous action happening in the occupied West Bank,” says 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.”
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 re-plant.”
The boycott action follows a growing number of initiatives emerging in recent years from the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has attracted international support, including the backing of numerous UK and North American universities and scholars.
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.
Dr Haidar Eid, professor at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University and PACBI member, outlines what BDS entails.
“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. We want equality.”
While civil society 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 recognised 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 marketing director in the ministry Tahsen Al-Saqa. “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,” says Adie Mormech. “The momentum is so much now that it is not going to stop. It’s going to be like South Africa.”
“…the export of settlement produce to international markets can be considered an essential step in the process of reinforcing and consolidating the settlement enterprise, while simultaneously ensuring the viability of the entire settlement strategy. Access to external markets provides a vital source of revenue that allows settlements to thrive.”
“More and more British bands are saying, ‘we will not play in Israel,’” said Adie Mormech during a Sep 2012 Gaza-UK video conference.
“Elvis Costello, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Massive Attack. They’re getting letters from people world-wide, letters from Gaza and the West Bank, saying, ‘don’t collaborate with Apartheid.’ Things are changing, this is a growing movement.”
Add to Waters other cultural icons like Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, Ken Loach, the Yes Men, Nigel Kennedy and many others.
“Agriculture is a vital part of our economy and national heritage but it is being systematically destroyed and these companies are the primary beneficiaries. By trading with companies such as Mehadrin, European supermarkets are financing the dispossession of Palestinian farmers,” Rifae added.
For Palestinians, farming is tied to Palestinian identity, history and resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation. Palestinian farmers face the brunt of Israel’s land confiscations, demolitions and theft of water. Farmers who still have access to land and water face systematic restrictions and violence. The siege of Gaza prevents farmers from accessing basic equipment and has made exports of fresh produce almost impossible. Farmers and fishermen regularly come under attack from the Israeli military.
Israeli agricultural export companies such as Mehadrin and Hadiklaim participate in Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land by using stolen Palestinian water and growing cash crops for export markets in illegal settlements established on land in the occupied Palestinian territory from which Palestinian farmers have been driven. Such companies also profit from the siege on Gaza.
We call for an end to all trade with Israeli agricultural companies that are complicit with Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.
Israeli companies routinely mislead governments and retailers about the origin of their produce and because any trade with Israeli companies operating in settlements de facto sustains and supports these settlements, we call on states to consider banning trade with Israeli companies exporting from settlements or issuing guidance recommending that retailers avoid trade with such companies.”
“Much of the agricultural produce exported from Israel is grown in the occupied Palestinian territories: in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea area, as well as in the occupied Syrian territory of the Golan Heights. All the fruit and vegetables grown in Israel and in the occupied territories are labeled as products of Israel.
The west bank agriculture relies heavily on artificial irrigation, especially in the occupied Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area. In the settlements, the irrigation is based on central water plants, which the Palestinians are not connected to. The Palestinians are also prevented from establishing independent water facilities. The Palestinian economy, mainly in the field of agriculture, loses billions of USD due to Israel’s discriminatory water distribution policy.”
“Dozens of farms have reported poultry deaths in the thousands as heating systems and veterinary medicines fail and refrigeration is cut off.
Potato farmers say they have dumped thousands of tonnes of produce since the energy crisis began, leaving residents with electricity for only six to eight hours a day.
Farmer Ahmad Abd Al Hakim said: “The electricity crisis damaged my business very badly and might lead me to bankruptcy.
With the crisis now in its fourth month, even in the water-rich northern town of Beit Lahiya, farmers are watching in despair as their fields dry up.
“We can’t turn our water pumps on to extract water from boreholes, and we are left powerless seeing our crops dying in front of our eyes until we get a steady supply of fuel or electricity,” said Mohammad Abu Hanoud, a farmer who works a dunum (1,000 square metres) of land.”
—Gulf News (June 2012)
“Dozens of Palestinian farmers and fishermen rallied in the Gaza seaport this week, launching several days of actions across the Strip to support boycotts of Israeli agricultural corporations.
The protests, organized locally by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), are part of a day of action coordinated globally by UAWC, other Palestinian agricultural organizations, and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.
The effort follows the 28 January announcement that South African fruit importer Karsten Farms had severed its ties with Israeli agricultural exporter and settlement producer Hadiklaim. The precedent-setting victory came after a year of successful campaigning by South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Alliance and BDS South Africa.
In January 2013 alone, Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) documented twelve attacks on fishermen by Israeli gunships. Two civilians were killed, and ten wounded, by Israeli gunfire near the separation barrier. These included a two-year-old girl wounded on 19 January, when Israeli troops fired on agricultural lands east of Wadi al-Salqa (“Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory,” 23 January 2013).”
–Joe Catron, Gaza farmers launch call to boycott Israeli produce
Between the Fence and a Hard Place [OCHA Aug 2010]
SOME OF MY PREVIOUS ARTICLES ON FARMING IN GAZA:
endless casualties of Israel’s “buffer zone” [Nahal Oz shooting April 14]
IOF assaults on Land Day demos: 4 youths shot at close range [March 30 shootings]