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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Take Apartheid off the Menu

Date posted: November 30, 2011
By Julie Holm for MIFTAH

For as long as I can remember I have checked every grocery item I ever bought to see where it came from. If the label said “Israel” or if the first three numbers of the barcode were “729” it was almost like I had picked up something I shouldn’t have touched, and I would hurry to put it back on the shelves. Boycotting Israeli products is a given to me. If my local supermarket in Norway or Denmark did not offer alternatives to Israeli products, I would let them know that they should. And if, at Christmas for example, the oranges where not labelled with a country I would ask the store employees, and if the oranges turned out to be Israeli, I would ask them to make sure there was a visible label. People have a right to know and a right to make a choice. Not everyone, however, thinks of this every time they go to the store. It is not everyone who cares either. When confronted with my boycott habits, many people react by saying “but does it actually make a difference?” My answer is always the same: It doesn’t make a difference if only I boycott Israeli products, but if we all did, it could change at least this tiny corner of the world.

Luckily I am far from the only one who boycotts Israel. Last Saturday, November 26, activists in 10 European countries had a day of action under the banner “Take Apartheid off the Menu”. Using flash mobs, demonstrations and lobby actions the human rights campaigners, trade unionists and NGOs created 60 events throughout Europe. In events staged outside supermarkets the activists called on consumers to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, urging the supermarkets to stop carrying such products.

The Israeli products found on the shelves in European supermarkets are often produced on occupied Palestinian soil, in the Jordan Valley for example. That means that buying these products helps finance illegal Israeli settlements and facilitates the violation of Palestinian rights and international law. The agriculture industry is one of the most important sources of income for the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin and Agrexco deprive Palestinians from access to land and water and directly profit from this theft of resources.

Since 1948 the Israeli agriculture industry has been one of the most important tools in the occupation of Palestine. It has led to the loss of land and income for many Palestinians who have been forced to live a life marked by poverty and oppression. The Jordan Valley is the most agriculturally utilized area of the West Bank. Here Israel controls 96% of the area through closed military zones where large farms are owned and controlled by Israeli settlers. Civil business as a method of occupation is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international organisations have documented severe violations of human rights in this area.
If anyone asks why I boycott Israeli products, this is what I tell them. The fact that some people profit from oppressing others, forcing them into poverty is not something that I want to support.

The actions in Europe this Saturday show that there are tools for anyone who wants to pressure Israel into stopping the occupation of Palestine. The boycott actions are growing and more and more consumers are making a conscious choice not to buy products that support the occupation. This could force the supermarket chains and importers to take action as well. The bankruptcy of Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter shows that boycotting does actually make a difference.

There is really no reason why people everywhere shouldn’t take apartheid off the menu. First of all, it is a personal, ethical choice: Who would want to support the oppression of Palestinians, deprive them of land, water and rights every time they buy an orange? Secondly, it is not a matter of accessibility. The European supermarkets are bulging with products and it is always possible to find an alternative to an Israeli product. And third: Yes, it does make a difference. It is all about the numbers. If enough people make a conscious choice not to buy Israeli products, it can be a powerful tool against illegal settlements and Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

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