Second Opinion: The crops stolen from Palestine

Joanna Blythman, The Grocer 15/08/2009
Produce grown by Israel on illegally occupied territory should be shunned, says Joanna Blythman

Herbs, citrus, Medjoul dates, cherry tomatoes … lawyers from Defra, the FSA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are currently drafting regulations on the labelling of foods such as these from ‘Israel’.

Most of it comes from the fertile Jordan Valley of the West Bank, a great place to grow food – but the problem for legal minds, and indeed anyone with a sense of justice, is that they are grown in Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. The way the Palestinians, and many international commentators, see it, the Israeli-occupied West Bank is stolen land, so the fruit and veg grown there amount to stolen goods.

Under international law, these settlements are illegal because the West Bank does not belong to Israel. (The Geneva Convention states the transfer of a civilian population into an occupied territory is unlawful.) The West Bank lies on the Palestinian side of the ‘green line’ marking the internationally recognised border but has been under illegal occupation since Israel took it by force in 1967, confiscating land and water rights from Palestinians.

Wide-ranging global campaigns to boycott Israel continue to grow apace and since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead bombardment of the Gaza Strip in January, UK public opinion has hardened. It sticks in the throat to buy settlement produce, whether labelled from ‘Israel’ or ‘West Bank’. The latter wording encourages concerned consumers to believe they are helping Palestinian farmers when the opposite is the case. Both labels allow Israel to take advantage of the EU-Israel preferential trade agreement, so depriving the British taxpayer of trade tariff revenue. The only clear and honest wording appropriate is ‘from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank’.

While legal eagles deliberate, retailers and importers should be actively looking for alternatives to so-called Israeli produce. Retailers tell us that they are apolitical and believe in giving consumers a choice. But for months at a time, their shelves are stocked wall-to-wall with Israeli produce while alternative sources, such as Egypt, Spain and Italy, are largely ignored. What kind of choice is this ?

Unfortunately, our retailers have become lazily dependent on their ‘category captains’ who deal in Jordan Valley produce. They may yet get a bitter taste of the consumer boycott that proved so effective against apartheid in South Africa.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.

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