On Friday 20th March a group of PSC members and supporters from York, Halifax and Leeds lobbied Environment Minister Hilary Benn on UK trade with illegal Israeli settlements. This took place outside his Leeds Central constituency surgery
Lawyers from the Department of the Environment, Foods and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are now drafting new guidelines on how goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories are imported, labelled and sold in the UK. We decided to speak to him urgently to press for effective action. Having lobbied Mr Benn on Palestine before at one of his constituency surgeries, we knew that he would at least take a genuine interest in what we were saying – and he did.
We began by asking him what advice the Government had taken about the legality of trade with the settlements, but he would not be drawn on this issue, insisting that it was the business for lawyers. We then argued that the goods should be banned outright on the grounds that, since the lands and the water have been stolen from their rightful owners, then the goods produced on these settlements must also be regarded as stolen property.
Failing a ban we argued that the labelling of settlement goods must include the phrase “illegal Israeli settlements” because the term “settlement” alone was not sufficient to inform the average consumer fully about their illegal status under international law. We quoted the legally binding EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices (No 79/112/ EEC) to prove our case. This requires full disclosure of ALL relevant information necessary for the “average customer” to be able to make choices which, we argued, must include ethical ones.
The exchange was positive and, although Mr Benn refused to accept the principle of the illegality of the trade, we believe that he went away better informed about the strength of public opinion on this issue and perhaps with a new perspective on compliance with EU Directives. During April there will be a month-long consultation process with the public over Government proposals for the new labelling guidelines. It will therefore be vital that we keep up the pressure during this period and make sure that the Government pays due attention to the reality of public opinion on what really is a trade in stolen goods and one that enables the UK retail business to benefit from the proceeds of crime.
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Dear Hilary Benn
Re UK Trade with the Israeli Settlements in Palestine: New DEFRA/FSA Guidelines
The Geneva Convention states that the transfer of a civilian population into an occupied territory, as seen in the extensive building of Israeli colonial townships on Palestinian land, is unlawful. These townships (settlements) are invariably founded on extensive theft or destruction of Palestinian property and water, which is a war crime. Since the lands and the water have been stolen from their rightful owners, then the goods produced on these settlements must also be regarded as stolen property.
We are therefore writing to enquire what advice the Government has sought on the legality of the import and sale of these goods in the UK, and to urge you as the Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to uphold International Law, including the 4th Geneva Convention, in your current discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on new guidelines for the import and sale of these goods.
Current mislabelling of produce from the illegal settlements in the West Bank as produce of Israel has led to Israeli settlers benefitting illegally from the EU Israel preferential trade agreement, and the loss to the British taxpayer of trade tariff revenue. Moreover, the “West Bank” labelling in some supermarkets has misled consumers into believing that they are supporting Palestinian farmers. This contravenes official UK guidance and EU Directives on Unfair Commercial Practices (Article 2 Directive 79/112/ EEC).
We argue strongly that the UK government should ban the import of these goods and that the supermarkets should be prevented from profiting from the proceeds of crime. If the government does not decide to ban these goods, then it must provide retailers with clear unequivocal guidance on correct labelling practices, ones that will give the consumer accurate and complete information on the origin of the goods. This can be achieved only if they all carry a label that describes the goods/produce as coming from “illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank”. This wording is absolutely necessary to enable consumers to make the fully informed choice that they are entitled to under EC guidelines.
You will have noted the recent news of plans for a massive expansion of settlements in the West bank and East Jerusalem, which will double the number of settlers in the Occupied Territories. We therefore urge you to use your influence to bring and end to our shameful trading relationship with these illegal colonies, a relationship which supports Israel”s blatant disregard for the most basic principles of Universal Human Rights and International Law.
We look forward to hearing from you
Members and supporters of the northern branches of the Palestine Solidarity campaign