There are as many as half a million Jewish settlers enjoying constant army protection in the West Bank. The vast majority of these are indoctrinated in an extreme right-wing ideology that views non-Jews living in Israel and the occupied territories as “lesser human beings”.
Some of the religious mentors of these settlers openly teach that non-Jews living under Jewish rule — i.e. Palestinians — should be enslaved, expelled or annihilated. When challenged, these rabbis and mentors readily quote from the Old Testament and Talmud to corroborate their oft-genocidal viewpoints.
The settlers are vehemently against the concept of peace with the Palestinians. They claim that retaining “the land of Israel” is far more important than making peace with the Arabs. Their most common slogan is “Arabs to the desert”. The more fanatical settlers, such as those of Hebron, have been heard to say “Arabs to the gas chambers”. Signs bearing such slogans are prominently featured in the small Jewish enclave in the occupied Palestinian town.
This week, the Palestinian Authority (PA) began implementing a widespread campaign to boycott products manufactured in Jewish settlements and agricultural produce grown in as many as 100 Jewish colonies in the West Bank, many established on land seized by force from Palestinian landowners.
The boycott, backed by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, is viewed as a rare and effective Palestinian asset to show Israel that the occupation doesn’t pay off and that the Palestinian people will not allow themselves to finance Israeli oppression and repression.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, displayed enthusiastic approval of the boycott, with Abbas taking part in a Ramallah ceremony launching the boycott campaign and Fayyad seen taking part in burning settlement products.
Abbas has also been seen pasting a bumper sticker on his villa’s door in Ramallah, declaring, “This house is empty of settlement products.” Tens of thousands of similar stickers have been pasted on Palestinian doors throughout the West Bank.
Defending the unprecedented step, which many Palestinians think is belated and of uncertain effect, given the difficulty of ascertaining the origin of many Israeli commodities reaching the Palestinian market, Abbas said the boycott in no way constituted a boycott of Israeli products. “We are not boycotting Israel, we are only boycotting the settlements, and as far as we are concerned, the settlements are not Israel.”
The Palestinian leader went as far as saying, “I will not incite against Israel and will not urge my people to boycott Israel.”
Israel, including the settlements, exports more than $5 billion worth of goods to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In most cases, the Palestinians have no choice but to “import” these goods since they have no control over their border crossings, nor can they directly import commodities from abroad. In short, everything the Palestinians need must come either from Israel itself or through Israel, which means that Israel has an absolute monopoly over Palestinian imports.
On the other hand, the Palestinians are not free to export to Israel as their freedom of movement — especially their ability to enter Israel — is severely restricted by the Israeli occupation army. Israel employs as many as 25,000 Palestinian workers, most of them suffering extremely humiliating working conditions.
All in all, Palestinians export to Israel no more than $700 million worth of products and agricultural produces per year — a shocking imbalance in trade between the occupied and the occupier.
Nonetheless, the settlers, who have arrogated the lion’s share of Palestinian water resources in the West Bank and who continue to expand their illegal colonies at their neighbours’ expense, have complained about the boycott which they called “economic terrorism”. Some settler leaders have demanded that the Israeli army seal entry points to Palestinian population centres and initiate a counter-boycott of Palestinian products. Others have asked the Israeli government to deduct hundreds of millions of dollars from Palestinian customs revenue collected by Israel on behalf of the PA government.
Settlements in the Bethlehem region have warned that they will fire hundreds of Palestinian labourers working in local factories. Others have resorted to relabelling their products as originating in Israel proper, in order to trick PA inspection teams.
However, Israeli countermeasures and threats have so far failed to stop or discourage the house-to-house Palestinian campaign against settlement products and produce. In fact, the PA has already gone one step further by enacting a law stipulating that anyone who deals in goods produced in Jewish settlements will be imprisoned for two to five years and fined up to $15,000.
The law states, furthermore, that those who import settlement products into the Palestinian-run territories could face a jail sentence of up to six years and fines of up to $3,000 and confiscation of licences and vehicles.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has lambasted the Palestinian campaign against settlement products as “counterproductive to peace” and “a hostile act”. In statements carried by the Israeli media, Netanyahu claimed that the Palestinian campaign would hurt the Palestinians more than Israel.
“When the Palestinians take steps that hurt them, that harm their own populace and drag down their standard of living, or when they refuse to advance — for example, when they refuse to build water purification plants, without which they damage our shared aquifers and contaminate their own water supply — these things are not in the spirit of peace.”
In response, one Palestinian official, Mohamed Shtayyeh, termed Netanyahu’s remarks “hypocritical and mendacious from A to Z”. “This man is a pathological liar. He thinks it is perfectly okay to keep millions of Palestinians in a state of perpetual economic enslavement to the ‘master race.'”
Shtayyeh also castigated Netanyahu’s concept of “economic peace”, calling it a trick or ruse to cover up and divert attention from Jewish settlement expansion. “Netanyahu thinks that boycotting products manufactured by these land thieves is anti-peace while the unrelenting expansion of Jewish colonies at the expense of Palestinian land is conducive to peace. This is more than chutzpah. This is sickness of the mind.”
The Palestinian official took issue with Netanyahu comparing the settlement of Maali Adumim, near East Jerusalem, with Tel Aviv in importance to Israel. “If he thinks that Maali Adumim is as important for Israel as Tel Aviv is, then we have the right to view Haifa and Yaffa as the same important for us as Ramallah and Nablus are.”
Netanyahu has long made statements about forging “economic peace” with the Palestinians, which according to him would prepare the ground for political peace. However, most Palestinians, including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, have vehemently rejected Netanyahu’s proposals, dismissing them as “red herrings” aimed at gaining time in order to take over more Palestinian land and build more Jewish settlements.