Boycott Israel, buy Palestinian

Refusing to purchase Israeli products is perhaps the only way for ordinary people to make a difference

* By Stuart Reigeluth, Special to Gulf News

The Palestinian campaign to boycott goods sourced from Jewish colonies needs to spread to as many countries as possible. Like efforts to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, this movement needs to go global, or it will go nowhere. This is not about suicide missions and armed resistance — this is about non-violence and investment. The main message is: invest in Palestine, buy Palestinian.

In the absence of any other real options, the boycott is a gamble the duo of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have to take. And by all international norms, they are right to call for an embargo of over 500 products from the illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response was typical and laughable. As he heads to Washington to face Barack Obama once more, the Israeli prime minister is claiming that the Palestinians have declared “economic war”.

According to Palestinian spokesman Gassan Al Khatib, the aim of the boycott is to substitute some $200 million (Dh735.6 million) worth of goods sourced from the Jewish colonies with goods produced by Palestinians or imported from elsewhere, including Israel. This last source of goods should not come as a surprise, since the Palestinian population is entirely economically dependent on Israel.

There is a massive trade imbalance, with some $3 billion worth of Israeli goods sold in the Palestinian market each year, whereas only $400 million worth of Palestinian goods are sold in Israel. This imbalance used to be redressed by the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who found work in Israel, but those days are over. Now, cheap Palestinian labour is used in the Jewish colonies.

It’s also not surprising that Palestinians will be barred from working in the colonies under the boycott. This is just yet another irony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like the fact that Palestinian labour was used to build Israel’s separation barrier. In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an opinion that the barrier should be demolished, but construction continued unabated.

Segments of this barrier were constructed under the supervision of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest private military technology companies, which has signed lucrative contracts as part of the multi-billion-euro European Security Research Programme. This barrier, which is expected to exceed 700 kilometres in length, is just the most visible example of Israeli firms benefiting from European development and security funding.

European funding

According to Ben Hayes from Statewatch, a non-profit organisation, other Israeli companies that have relied on EU security research funding include Motorola Israel, which has installed ‘virtual fences’ around Jewish colonies, and Israel Aerospace Industries, which manufactures drones. These fences and drones facilitate Jewish occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land.

It doesn’t stop there. The Belgian/French bank Dexia operates in more than 10 Jewish colonies, a fact that was brought to light by the Belgian NGO Intal in 2009. In addition, French transport and power giants Veolia and Alstom are involved in the construction of the new train system connecting Occupied Jerusalem with Jewish colonies in the West Bank. Trains are due to begin running this year.

And then there is the massive military aid from the United States to Israel that easily amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars and helps to maintain Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East.

Israel has become a leading technology hub and its manufacturers astutely stay a step ahead of their global rivals. Its technology can be found in aircraft in Venezuela, and its training and techniques are used by the US Army in Iraq.

Furthermore, the country’s hummus, dates and oranges can be found in European supermarkets and Starbucks is known to support Israel with annual contributions.

This is all part and parcel of globalisation — but should it be, given that the Israeli occupation continues? No other country in the world disregards the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Security Council resolutions with such consistency.

That Israel is not held accountable for its illegal military occupation is a source of deep frustration for many. Refusing to buy Starbucks coffee and taking Israeli products off your grocery list is not going to achieve much, but it’s the only way for ordinary people to make a small dent in the Israeli security machine.

The real problem, however, is that mainstream Israeli society does not seem to see the difference between products produced in Israel and those from the colonies. In other words, Israelis do not differentiate between the territory of Israel and its illegal colonies, which begs the question: Does Israel really want a two-state solution? Apparently not.

Stuart Reigeluth is editor of Revolve.

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