On Local Boycott and Deception

By Khalil Nakhleh

Like many thousands of Palestinians in Ramallah, I feel utterly confused by the dishonesty of being railroaded concerning local boycott of ‘settlements’ products. Because we—my wife and I—are committed to the principle and act of boycott, as a means of resistance, I decided to clarify the primary issues involved, in order to minimize, as much as possible, daily contradictions. I embarked on sorting out, systematically, methodically and with clarity, related major issues.

Enemies and Friends

The distinction is not as clear as it sounds. The Ramallah “Government”, its ministries, agencies, and commissions, repeat one line, and want to ram it down our throats. This line can be simplified as follows:

“Our primary enemy, at this historical juncture, is the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Therefore, and in order to punish these settlements, and force them out, we, and our international ‘friends’, must boycott their products.”

The words used do not reflect conviction, on the part of the “Government”, that: these are Zionist settler colonies; and having been established on stolen Palestinian lands in the West Bank, since 1967, is only another phase of the Zionist settler-colonial project that started in the rest of Palestine, since much earlier than 1948; and this is not, necessarily, the final phase of this onslaught. But we are “dooped” into thinking that this is so.

We are not being prepared to confront other imminent phases in the not-so-distant future in the proliferation of Zionist settler colonies, in the body of the Arab Homeland. Just as they are in the Syrian Golan, it is certain they will spread into Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf region, at least for now. The message imposed on us, through this publicly very visible hoop la of boycotting “settlement” products, says that the “settlements” are our enemy and the rest of Zionist Israel, so-called “Israel proper”, is not.

Zionist Israel is actually our “partner”, (and a preferred one at that) who has the potential of becoming our friend; but if challenged, it may become upset, mean and vengeful. Thus, it’s not expedient for us to boycott its products, which flood our markets.

On the contrary, we should facilitate disseminating and selling Israeli goods in our mini- markets and super markets, and in the process, help escalate the profits of those mercantile intermediaries who became their exclusive brokers, and the monopolies they created. After all, these exclusive special brokers are Palestinians, aren’t they? And they provide employment opportunities through these monopolies to our youth, don’t they? Such exclusive commercial brokering, according to this logic, therefore, helps “develop” our society, because they garner extra capital, and they circulate it! To whom, where, and with what effect, it’s not clear, and, worse yet, no one is posing these questions.

If Zionist Israel is inching towards the “friends” category, then all the dealers who work hard to market its products within our midst, and effectively undermine and impede our ability at producing alternatives for these products, should also be considered our “friends”. It also stands to reason that all those Palestinians and non-Palestinians who work very actively to normalize relations with Zionist Israel, from the President down, should be placed squarely in our “friends” category column.

Furthermore, shouldn’t this apply to all those, Palestinians and non-Palestinians, who work very diligently at providing detailed and intimate information to Zionist Israel about our society, our local family structure and gatherings, about who does what, where and when, about our community-based resistance, about every little thing we do and say, i.e., the informers and collaborators(al-‘umala’)? If so, where are our enemies then? Isn’t it odd that their category is shrinking rapidly, to an infinitesimal degree, while we’re still under occupation and oppression?

Armed with a slightly clearer deciphering of who our local “enemies” and “friends” are, but in the absence of clear “official” guidelines of who our international “enemies” and “friends” are, I felt I was all set to wade through the available products at our favorite mini-market. I embarked with the hope (proved unjustified later on) that our favorite mini-market would stock fewer products coming from Zionist Israel, than would supermarkets.

As I perused through the shelves, my confusion persisted. In the first place, almost all products were marked in Hebrew. By reading that, I felt somewhat proud that finally I could get a clearer idea about which to boycott, and which to buy. But then I realized that products coming from China, Turkey, Portugal, the USA, Morocco, Egypt, Zionist Israel … all had Hebrew on them. This did not help me in identifying those products coming from the “settlements”! (Products coming from Pesgat Zeev, or Ariel, or Modi’in, or Petah Tikva, or Nahariya, etc, are not marked “product of settlements”, but “product of Israel.)

Since we don’t produce fresh milk yet, I veered to major Israeli companies, mainly, Tenuva, for that. But, I couldn’t tell, however, if “Tenuva” fresh milk is settlement-contaminated, or not. Moreover, what about the “al-Bustan” humos that is supposedly coming from the Palestinian city of Imm al-Fahm from inside Zionist Israel? Should I boycott that, even though its owners are indigenous Palestinians (perhaps with Zionist partners), who, most probably, succeeded in building their humos factory as a reward for their cooperation?

The deeper I delved, the more confused I became. Since we are committed to practice our boycott approach with zest, we stopped buying Nestlee products, specifically, the “Nescafe”, after it was reported about their plant in the settlement of Sderot in Al-Naqab, contiguous to besieged Gaza. And since we boycott visible Israeli products, we could not look for an alternative there. We searched for the few non-Israeli alternatives available at our favorite mini-market. We started buying “Maxwell House” instant coffee, as a more politically correct, alternative. It is manufactured, however, by an American company, Kraft Foods, coming to us directly from Germany.

Likewise, looking for “Omega-3” sardines, we found ourselves buying the available “small mackerels”, product of Portugal (EU), but coming to us via an Israeli importing company. The only “contaminants-free” sardines we could find were a product of Morocco, but coming to us through a British export-import company. But Morocco presents another worrying and confusing case for us. On the one hand, it is an Arab country, but on the “political correctness” scale, it is hardly distinguishable from the US or France. We also found and bought canned mushrooms, product of China, but coming to us through a Palestinian importer in Tulkarm, and so on, and so on. The success of this process demanded an on-going research, considering our limited choices.

But the nagging problem of who our real enemies are, persisted, and begged for deeper explanation. Isn’t America our real enemy? Aren’t EU countries, who support America readily in every major decision it takes against us, our real enemies? Isn’t current Egypt, whose American-propped up geriatric Pharaoh (AKA President) is instrumental in blocking basic foods from reaching our besieged people in Gaza, our enemy? Is Turkey, who insists on maintaining and developing serious and far-reaching strategic relations and cooperation with Israel, in restructuring and controlling our region, through an actual division of labor between it and Zionist Israel, our enemy or our friend? How can we know without clear guidance?

To relieve my confusion, I escaped into, what I thought, would be a straight forward situation, the vegetables and fruits. I went to Abu Issa, our preferred vegetable and fruit little haven. I said: Abu Issa, do you have “baladi” (domestic) pears, or apples? Yes, he answered: “those ‘green-skinned’ pears. I next asked, where are they coming from? The Golan, he answered. Feeling elated that he considered the Golan as “baladi”, I bought some, because I assumed readily that they are coming from the proud and un-acquiescing Syrian-Arab-Druze villages in the Golan, defying various checkpoints to bring them to Ramallah. I had no doubt that this would be indeed “baladi”. But then I started doubting my own certainty. How can we be sure that they have not originated in the Golan Zionist settlements, which have riddled their entire space? What evidence do I have that these ‘green-skinned’ pears and apples that I am buying, unquestionably, are not coming from a collaborative project between Arab-Syrian Golanis and Zionist settlers?

Then I moved to the vegetable corner clearly marked “intajuna” (our production). There I found, after a brief enquiry, what is in season now: eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, koussa (squash), bamyeh (okra), cauliflower, grapes and figs. I was relieved, because I thought sticking to what’s in season, under the label of “intajuna”, lessens to a large degree the state of confusion with which I started. Consequently, we concluded in our household, that we need to stick to what we can buy directly from the farmers—our local producers—and what’s in season, even if we have to eat “bamyeh” 3 times a week in certain instances!

Our Oslo-induced “National” Production and Development

Why is it then that our economy had not focused on production of alternatives to basic food stuffs that we need, and which will minimize, and gradually cut, our dependence on products coming to us from our enemies? It is simple. The “Oslo-induced” ‘national economy’ is, by and large, nothing more than a national “warsheh” (workshop) of consumption. Here we are being trained and drilled on the most effective methods of how to consume goods and products produced by others, but imported to us through an entire network of dealerships, fancy marketing schemes, and generous availability of credit. This is what makes quick money, unprecedented windfall profits, and opens wide our entire area for quick return on investments, through lucrative services of banks, insurance companies, 5-star hotels, micro-credit, construction, mortgage systems, restaurants and eating places, etc. This is what Zionist Israel encourages; this is what “donor funding agencies” push for and reward; and this is what our capitalists (small and big, new and old) welcome with open arms.

I keep wondering about all the new and fancy cars on the roads in Ramallah: who owns them, and where did they get the money to purchase them? The few Oslo-induced monopolies, in which Palestinian and other Arab capitalists invested some of their funds, are basically service monopolies. They are the ones who are involved heavily in car dealerships, dealerships of other fancy foreign products that cater to the new Oslo-created elite, real estate “development”, telecommunications, etc. The few “production” monopolies focus on construction-related materials; not on agricultural production.

It is not by accident that the investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, over the last seventeen years, were not directed to agricultural production, using land as the main resource in the production process. Why were there no serious investments in making sure that we control the comprehensive cycle of chicken production, from the eggs to the little chicks, to the feed, etc, for example? What about the productive development of goats and sheep milk and other environmentally and culturally adaptive cheeses and dairy products? Etc, etc. To do that in a feasible way, we ought to have insisted from the onset, at least twenty years ago, that all our land and water resources remain under our—the people’s—exclusive control. It is clear to me that our investors, our capitalists, were never interested in having an independent economy in the first place? A very dependent economy under continued occupation is where the profits are! It’s less of a hassle, and less confrontational. Furthermore, a very dependent and empty miniature fiefdom of self-rule under continued occupation is where the profits are!

Let’s look at a glaring example of an Oslo-induced production project, which, at first glance may appear to contradict my above generalization. The glaring example is the so-called “National Beverage Company”. This is a Coca-Cola franchise that boasts annual sales of 10 million cases. It is neither “national” nor a wise health choice beverage. The name of the company is a classic case of deception. The essence of it is that we—our capitalists—rush to use our precious and scarce water to produce an unhealthy drink for our young generations, and to sell, in the process, addiction and positive identity with our primary enemy—the USA, for profit. Clearly, this type of “production” undermines and negates the entire notion of boycott and of independence.

– Dr. Khalil Nakhleh, a Palestinian anthropologist, independent researcher and writer, who for the last three decades has sought to generate People-Centered Liberationist Development in Palestine. He is working on a book, Development Ltd: The Role of Capital in Impeding People-Centered Liberationist Development, expected to be ready for publication in 2011. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: abusama[at]palnet.com.

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