Following Palestinian call, protests held in 40 European cities demanding end to international trade with Israeli agribusiness

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Earlier today we published a report on a protest in Gaza that was part of a global day of action calling to boycott Israeli agricultural companies. There were also protests held across Europe which is a primary market for Israeli agricultural companies.

From a Palestinian BDS National Committee press release:

In Europe, many of the 40 protests that took place targeted Mehadrin, a large Israeli export company that supplies citrus fruits, dates and other fresh produce to supermarkets across Europe. The company operates in illegal Israeli settlements, is involved in the theft of Palestinian land and water and employs Palestinian workers forced to work in illegal settlements in unsafe conditions for as little as €11 per day.

“Israeli agriculture companies such as Mehadrin and Hadaklaim profit from the siege on Gaza and grow crops for export to European supermarkets in illegal settlements on land from which Palestinian farmers have been forcibly removed,” said Dr. Taha Rifae, director of the grassroots department at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Actions have also been taking place in the West Bank, culminating on a conference on building the boycott of Israeli agriculture on Monday in Salfit.

“Agriculture is a vital part of our economy and national heritage but it is being systematically destroyed and these companies are the primary beneficiaries. By trading with companies such as Mehadrin, European supermarkets are financing the dispossession of Palestinian farmers,” Rifae added.

A large demonstration is due to be held outside Mehadrin’s Swiss distribution centre this afternoon and the company will be protested as it participates in a major fresh produce show in Berlin.

In France, activists occupied the customs office in southern French city Montpellier to protest the nearby port of Sète being used to import produce from Israeli companies such as Mehadrin that operate in illegal Israeli settlements. More than 50 campaigners occupied the offices for more than an hour.

Protests were also held at supermarkets in more than 14 other French cities and in Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In the UK, campaigners picketed more than 30 stores of major supermarket Sainsbury’s as part of a new campaign aimed at pressuring it to cut its ties with Mehadrin and EDOM, another Israeli company operating in settlements. The UK’s fifth biggest supermarket The Co-Operative Group last year announced it would no longer source products from any supplier that operates in illegal settlements and cut ties to four Israeli companies following pressure from its members.

A British businessman yesterday announced he would resign as chair and sells his shares in Israeli settlement exporter EDOM following concerns raised by campaigners.

All of the main Palestinian farming organisations have this morning issued a statement urging international civil society to take action against Israeli agriculture companies.

“Governments and supermarkets should take action to end trade with companies which is in effect financing Israeli violations of international law. European governments talk tough on settlements but allow supermarkets to support their expansion,” said Rifae.

The organisations also published a briefing entitled Farming Injustice, which details the systematic destruction of Palestinian agriculture by Israel and the role played by international trade with Israeli agribusinesses.

The protests followed a call by Palestinian agricultural organizations and NGO networks to end international trade with Israeli agricultural companies. From the call:

We, Palestinian organisations and unions representing farmers struggling for their right to their land and to food sovereignty, urge international civil society organisations to build effective campaigns and work towards ending agricultural trade with Israel that finances and rewards the destruction of Palestinian farming.

For Palestinians, farming is tied to Palestinian identity, history and resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation. Palestinian farmers face the brunt of Israel’s land confiscations, demolitions and theft of water. Farmers who still have access to land and water face systematic restrictions and violence. The siege of Gaza prevents farmers from accessing basic equipment and has made exports of fresh produce almost impossible. Farmers and fishermen regularly come under attack from the Israeli military.

Israeli agricultural export companies such as Mehadrin and Hadiklaim participate in Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land by using stolen Palestinian water and growing cash crops for export markets in illegal settlements established on land in the occupied Palestinian territory from which Palestinian farmers have been driven. Such companies also profit from the siege on Gaza.

The booming international trade with companies that operate in and export from settlements enhances the viability of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. It also encourages and finances the expansion of settlements and the continued dispossession of Palestinian framers.

We urge organizations and activists upholding human rights principles and the right to food sovereignty to work with us to develop campaigns aimed at ending the trade in settlement produce. The most effective way of doing so is to follow the lead of the Co-Operative supermarket in the UK which decided in 2012 not to trade with any company that sources produce from Israel’s illegal settlements. We call for an end to all trade with Israeli agricultural companies that are complicit with Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.

We echo the call by leading Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq on states “to comply with their customary international obligations, by banning produce originating from Israeli settlements in the OPT.” Because Israeli companies routinely mislead governments and retailers about the origin of their produce and because any trade with Israeli companies operating in settlements de facto sustains and supports these settlements, we call on states to consider banning trade with Israeli companies exporting from settlements or issuing guidance recommending that retailers avoid trade with such companies.

We reject any suggestion that the reality that Palestinians are sometimes left with no choice but to export fresh produce through Israeli companies or work in illegal settlements is a reason not to take action to end international complicity in human rights violations. Helping us to break the chains of dependency by holding Israeli companies to account and working with us to export to world markets via socially responsible and law-abiding companies is the most honest and effective way to contribute to our struggle and our sustainable development.

As the global food system has been shaped in the narrow interests of large multinational corporations, millions of farmers and indigenous people have faced exploitation and the destruction of their communities. We stand in full solidarity with all those who are also fighting for the right to their land and the freedom to make their own choices about food production, trade and social and environmental sustainability. Let us join together in a struggle against occupation and dispossession and for freedom, justice and equality.
 

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