Guest blogging for our society, Israeli journalist Haggai Matar discusses his experience and views on boycotting Israeli settlements
By spending more than a decade in demonstrating against and writing about the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories one gets to learn a thing or two about how the brutal reality of this 45 year old military regime works. However, the crazed reality of our region always has more in store to surprise even your average veteran activist. Preparing for a visit to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which discussed the question of trading with Israel’s occupation, I tried to catch up on my reading on settlement products, and ran into an amazing story, which I would like to share.
Our story takes place in the Jordan Valley, not far from where St. John was baptizing his followers. Although an inseparable part of the West Bank it is considered by many in the Israeli society as a “natural” part of Israel, control of which is necessary for the state’s security and future survival. In most peace negotiation talks Israeli delegations announced that the Valley would remain under Israeli control no matter what – a demand which was unacceptable for Palestinian representatives and was partly responsible for their collapse.
Like many activists I had often heard of the “Stolen Beauty” campaign of Palestinians and their supporters, focusing on the AHAVA cosmetics company, which sells Dead Sea minerals around the world. Based in the south of the Jordan Valley AHAVA, like so many other settlement companies, uses Palestinian lands and natural resources, taken from Palestinians by force and given to this Israeli company, and uses them for its own good without offering Palestinians any reparations. This is your classic pattern of colonialism, wherein natives are barred from entering their own lands which the occupier then openly uses to make a nice profit.
So just your classic military occupation with colonists taking advantage of the indigenous population’s natural resources and land – only here we see those indigenous people (the Palestinians) calling on the international community (That’s you guys) to boycott such activities and companies complicit in the occupation enterprise.
But the Jordan Valley, apparently, has much more to offer for anyone taking an interest in the economic angle of the decades’ long military rule. Along the valley one can find tens of thousands of dunams of lands, privately owned by Palestinian villagers’, yet farmed by Israelis. While AHAVA and most other settlement companies usually use state owned lands (which should according to international law be used to serve the occupied civilian population and not the occupying state), here Israeli farmers make their living by growing and exporting dates world wide, out of lands that even Israel recognizes are owned by Palestinians.
How can this possibly be justified? Following the 1967 Six Day War massive parts of the newly conquered Valley have been put under special military orders, barring Palestinians from entering them. Several years later these lands were “temporarily” transferred to safe keeping by the state’s legal guardian, with authorities making it clear that the lands were not confiscated in any way but rather protected by the guardian until such time that their owners may return. That time has yet to come. Instead, the guardian decided to rent the lands off to Jewish farmers from nearby illegal settlements. The result: Palestinians who had lived in the valley for generations are forced off their own land, kept away by the army, which is slowly banishing more and more Palestinians from the valley in quiet ethnic cleansing – and can only watch from a distance how others are selling the fruit of their trees. Ironically, the only chance they have of entering those very lands, are if military authorities give them special permits to work for the Israeli settlers. Working conditions in settlements, not surprisingly, are often reported to be harsh, and attempts at complaining or unionizing might lead to permits being revoked.
So what do Palestinians want when they call upon the international community to intervene on their behalf? They want to end the absurdities of situations such as the one in the Jordan Valley. Calls to boycott settlement produce are based upon a rejection of the crude Apartheid qualities of the Israeli military regime, which runs the occupied territories using two separate legal systems: one for Palestinians, another for Israelis. Any person aspiring to support and promote true democracy, real equality and a just peace in our parts must see the necessity in abiding such a call.
Haggai Matar is an award-winning Israeli journalist, blogger and activist who has been active in various groups working against the occupation, as well as in several class-based struggles within Israeli society. He writes frequently for +972 magazine.