Boycotting the Occupation

Just say the word Starbucks and I literally cringe. And it’s not because they make such awful coffee. It’s their political stance towards Palestine that makes the idea of putting even one cent into their coffers almost sacrilegious. Starbucks has long been high on the list of products to be boycotted by Palestinians and their supporters. Starbuck’s chairman, Howard Shultz is a very articulate, self-proclaimed "active Zionist" who makes no secret of his position on supporting all that is Israel. While Starbucks refutes the claim that it directly funds the Israeli army and settlements, there is enough evidence that it gives its fair share of moral and financial support to the state, reportedly giving $1.5 billion annually to Israel. In 1998, Shultz was honored by the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah with "The Israel 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Tribute Award" for his services to Israel in "playing a key role in promoting close alliance between the United States and Israel". In short, it is no secret where Starbucks’ loyalties lie when it comes to supporting Israel.

For us Palestinians, Starbucks is only a problem outside of our country. Even Israel doesn’t have a Starbucks, which means boycotting it here is a moot point. We, however, face a much more difficult dilemma represented in the deluge of Israeli products that flood our markets, including –” shamefully so –” those made in Israeli settlements.

At this point, let me just say one thing. I have my fair share of criticisms of how the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is conducting itself. However, one recent move by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is nothing short of commendable. He has launched a campaign to once and for all rid Palestinian markets of settlement products, even going as far as throwing a heap of settlement products in Salfit into a huge bonfire and watching them go up in flames. His position is twofold –” settlements, their inhabitants and their products are all illegal under international law and their halt is one of the Palestinians’ unwavering demands. Secondly, it is inconceivable and really unacceptable for Palestinians to demand that the world boycott settlement products if they themselves do not live up to their own standards.

He’s right, of course. It is completely unacceptable and frankly, downright disgraceful, that Palestinians would market settlement products. Israeli products coming from factories inside the Green Line are bad enough, but that is a tougher hurdle to jump given the Palestinian economy’s heavy dependency on Israel’s market. This is especially true in Jerusalem where there is a ban on Palestinian-made products. Anyone who "illegally" brings in Palestinian products including pharmaceuticals can be fined thousands of shekels.

But there is no excuse for settlement products: period. In the UK, there is a large boycott and divestment movement against Israeli settlement products, which are innocuously labeled as "produced in Israel" in British supermarkets. Pressure has been exerted on the supermarkets to change the label to "Made in the West Bank" so as to differentiate between those illegally produced in settlements and those produced in Israel and so that the consumer could make an informed choice whether to buy those made in settlements. Products such as Avaha Dead Sea Products, Eden Spring Water and Keter Plastics are all found in Palestinian markets as well as abroad. In Berlin, a swanky Ahava shop can be found just across from the Kempinski Hotel on the upscale Kurfürstendamm Avenue. The untrained rookie would think nothing of entering the beautifully lit store with appealing bottles of face cream and Dead Sea mud guaranteed to rejuvenate your skin and restore its youthful glow. Ahava’s US market is even larger, with its own website catering to US customers. What people may not know is that Avaha’s factory is in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the northern Dead Sea area of the occupied West Bank, which is thus, off-limits to Palestinians.

L’Oreal is another example of why we should choose carefully when we go shopping. The French cosmetics manufacturer has come under increasing fire from pro-Palestinian groups for their huge involvement in Israel. L’Oreal Israel’s factory is built in what is now known as Migdal Haemek, a Jewish settlement town that was built on the ethnically cleansed Palestinian town of Al Mujaydil in 1952. The original inhabitants of Al Mujaydil were expelled from their homes and have not been allowed to return since. Palestinians even today are not allowed to buy land, rent or live in what was once a Palestinian village and is now the home to one of the biggest makeup companies in the world.

Palestinians in the occupied territories are under so many pressures, it is almost unfair to ask them to completely boycott Israeli products, especially since their foreign alternative is so much more expensive. The most that can be asked of them is to look for a suitable Palestinian alternative such as Juneidi dairy products, made in Hebron. For those living abroad there is really no excuse for buying any kind of Israeli products, originating from settlements or otherwise. There are enough alternatives for them to choose from. However, even Palestinians here are morally obligated to draw an indelible line where settlements are concerned. For one, we would be literally shooting ourselves in the foot if we help to finance the maintenance of settlements on Palestinian land. Secondly, that same foot will not give us anything to stand on in terms of demanding that others boycott settlements.

Besides, how can one slather on Ahava cream knowing that it is produced on land that is Palestinian, that it goes to support an occupation from which we suffer daily and that the company and people behind it support a system of apartheid where Palestinians are not allowed access to land and natural resources that are rightfully theirs?

In short, all it takes is to think of the horrors of Gaza, of the separation wall that separates Palestinians from each other and from their beloved Jerusalem or of the daily injustices meted out by the Israeli occupation, to turn away from that green Starbucks logo or to put down that tube of lipstick that is tainted with the color of oppression.