Last Wednesday, March 30, was The Palestinian Land Day, which marked the murder of six unarmed Palestinian protesters in 1976, and the Palestinian Boycott National Committee called for boycott actions around the world to commemorate this day. West Coast activist groups working for justice in Palestine coordinated to make this a regional day of action. From Seattle to Los Angeles, over a dozen actions happened on March 30. Actions included art installations, divestment teach-ins, a billboard unveiling, and creative demonstrations. West Coast activists participated in the international launch of a new campaign aimed at stopping the infamous land theft organization, the Jewish National Fund, by revoking it’s charity tax status (see www.stopthejnf.org). And around the world, from Montreal to Berlin, activists coordinated BDS actions, see http://bdsdayofaction.net/. What follows is a report from one coordinated campaign aimed at big box store Bed Bath & Beyond.
On Wednesday, March 30, activists with CODEPINK and Global Exchange delivered a letter with over 2,500 signatures to the management at 15 Bed Bath & Beyond stores asking the retail chain to discontinue sales of products manufactured in illegal Israeli settlements, namely Ahava cosmetics and SodaStream home carbonation systems. These products are fraudulently labeled as “Made in Israel”, but are in fact produced in illegal settlements under the conditions of the military occupation in the West Bank, outside the internationally-recognized borders of Israel. The petition addressed Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steven Temares, and activists hope he hears their plea and stops selling products that are in clear violation of international law.
Ahava cosmetics are manufactured in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Ahava’s fraudulent labeling is under investigation in the UK and in The Netherlands. The Stolen Beauty Boycott and international boycott pressure have been successfully pressuring stores to drop Ahava. Stores that have pulled Ahava from their shelves include Canada’s major department store The Bay, UK retailer John Lewis, the National Cathedral in DC, the U.N. commissary in Vienna, and many more.
A recent report by the Israeli research project Who Profits from the Occupation describes SodaStream’s illegal settlement activities, exposes its fraudulent labeling practices and investigates its exploitative labor practices. SodaStream is another occupation profiteer located the illegal industrial zone called Mishor Edomim, one of the largest land expropriations of Palestinian land in the West Bank, which prevents a future contiguous Palestinian state. The SodaStream factory employs Palestinian workers under the discriminatory and exploitative conditions of the occupation. SodaStream’s own reports to the U.S. Security Exchange Commission discuss the relative weight of international consumer boycotts and negative publicity against the economic benefits of manufacturing in a settlement industrial zone. On February 25th, 2010, In a ruling against SodaStream’s distributor in Germany, Brita, the European Court of Justice stated that settlement products are not “Made in Israel”, and therefore they cannot benefit from the trade agreements with the State of Israel.
SodaStream is marketed as an environmentally responsible product, but the destruction of life, land and peace brought about by this settlement industrial zone is anything but environmentally responsible. Save a few plastic bottles at the expense of trashing Palestinian land and people? We don’t think so.
The Bed Bath & Beyond website provides an impressive “Code of Conduct” for all its vendors and suppliers, demanding nondiscrimination in hiring practices, fair workers’ wages and benefits, environmental protections and many more legal requirements, which are clearly violated by settlement producers. To be in compliance with its own policies, Bed Bath & Beyond must stop selling Ahava and SodaStream.
Activists in cities through the US delivered the petition. In San Francisco a group of CODEPINK and Global Exchange activists, including Israeli founder of “Who Profits?” Dalit Baum, delivered the petition and spoke at length with the manager at Bed Bath & Beyond.
In Gainesville, FL, three generations of women delivered the petition. Activist Abigail explained: “My mother, my niece and I delivered the petition… the manager listened politely to our explanation of why carrying such a product in their store is unethical and said he would be sure his ‘higher-ups’ were informed.”
At Bed Bath & Beyond in Canoga Park, CA, Sanaa asked the manager to: “consider how Bed Bath & Beyond is making a statement of their support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine by carrying these products and how doing that inevitably alienates a substantial consumer base that has joined the boycott movement to fight for human rights.”
Kristen wrote from West Los Angeles: “I was jazzed by my visit… the clerk highlighted pertinent bits of our letter, engaged with the information, and thumbed through the pages of signatures… The manager was kind and interested, and called in another who expressed impress by our approach and overall campaign strategy… it seemed that had they been in a position to decide, we would have another store on our list of those that support Palestinian human rights.”
Jeff in Portland described his local manager as “very cordial and curious…” and Sandy in Largo said the manager had read an article about SodaStream and boycotts and was “very friendly & receptive.” That seems to be the overall sentiment of the day. As CODEPINK LA noted in a report-back from an action at an Ahava retailer in Santa Monica: “People are becoming interested; they want to know. The Israeli occupation will not survive the truth.”
CODEPINK’s Stolen Beauty campaign will continue to collect and deliver signatures to get illegal Israeli settlement products Ahava and Soda Stream out of Bed, Bath & Beyond.
On Land Day other Ahava boycott actions included the delivery of a petition to ULTA headquarters in Chicago asking them to drop Ahava, actions at a DC pharmacy and at Ricky’s in Brooklyn, both of which stock Ahava products, and in Prague, activists coordinated a picket of the Czech Ahava store.
The international boycott of Ahava celebrated a success this week when a news article revealed that the AHAVA shop in London’s Covent Garden, which has been the subject of ongoing and escalating boycott actions for years, will close its doors. And a Los Angeles retailer has vowed to stop stocking AHAVA, after CODEPINK explained it was violating Palestinian human rights by stocking it.
As Jewish Voice for Peace wrote in a statement last month, The escalation of killing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel reminds us that to end the Israeli occupation, our best hope is supporting the inspiring nonviolent Palestinian movement for change, the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”
Rae Abileah is a 28-year-old Jewish-American of Israeli descent and is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and its Stolen Beauty boycott of Ahava cosmetics. She lives in San Francisco, CA and can be reached at [email protected].