The Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign has made huge strides in the occupied West Bank over the past two years, but campaign organizers are no where near done. At the start of Ramadan, the campaign, partnered with several other local community and BDS initiatives across the occupied West Bank, set out with a mission: To get Israeli products off Ramadan dinner tables.
One market owner who asked to remain anonymous told Mondoweiss that he has notice a small drop in the sales of Israeli products in cases where Palestinian alternatives are available.
“It is hard to say really, if the campaign has made a change in the way people are buying, but I am seeing these posters up everyday and it makes me as a market owner think to try harder not to carry Israeli products. For some products it is hard as there aren’t Palestinian alternatives, but for others it can for sure be done,” he said from behind the counter at his small market in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.
The posters he referred to have been put up across the occupied West Bank, on nearly ever street corner in Bethlehem city specifically. While organizers have come up with a variety of designs, the most prevalent is a poster of an Israeli soldier holding a tray of Israeli products with the message “Ramadan Tov,” meaning Happy Ramadan in Hebrew. Under the image in Arabic, the posters read “Do not let Ramadan make your Iftar,” the Arabic word for the meal in which Muslims break their fast.
“If anything, the campaign has been successful if it can convince others like me to stop carrying so many Israeli products, I think that is a better start than just trying to get consumers to stop buying the products, taking them from the shelve completely is a better goal,” he said.
Mazin al-Azzeh, one of the directors of the campaign, told Mondoweiss that the campaign was launched to help people be more mindful of their consumerism.
“We got the idea for Ramadan Tov because we see every year the Israeli companies make money off the increase in spending during Ramadan, so the Israelis are telling us Happy Ramadan, but we say no, it is Ramadan Kareem, not Ramadan Tov, and we need to be sure not to make Ramadan into something that helps Israeli corporations,” al-Azzeh said.
“This campaign is necessary because we have a lot of Israeli products on the shelves of West Bank stores, and the [Palestinian] government has not stopped it, so it is our responsibility to encourage the people to stop buying them and the business owners to stop selling them,” he said.
At the community center al-Azzeh heads, youth are busy taking action. While in one room young people sit at desks, studying in the center’s library, others sit in for a class on emergency medical trauma which teaches young people how to help injured protesters during clashes. In another room, the energy is more active, as a dozen youth gather together, still pasting and stapling new BDS posters, even as Ramadan enters its third week.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” one young volunteer told Mondoweiss. “Yes the theme is Ramadan, but that is just part of it, we hope to have an impact well beyond Ramadan.”
The BDS campaign has already made huge strides from within the occupied West Bank. In August 2015, the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics documented that Israeli products represented 53 percent of all imports into the West Bank, while in January of 2014, the bureau found that Israeli products represented 70 percent of all imports.
Meanwhile, imports from other countries increased by 10 percent.
“Importing from countries other than Israel is great, we encourage that, but it is difficult,” al-Azzeh pointed out.
Israel has complete control of all West Bank borders, that includes complete control of Palestinians freedom of movement as well as Palestinian’s ability to import products from other sources.
“If the Palestinian market decides it does not want to buy a certain sector of products from Israel, and moves to import, say from Europe, we face many obstacles,” al-Azzeh said. “Israeli border control often times holds products for long periods, and for food products, that can mean the food goes bad before it is even allowed inside the West Bank. For other products, it is still a burden on businesses that need those products on their shelves, not in shipping carts for months at the border.”
As the West Bank imports around $428 million a year, the potential gains and losses from the Palestinian market are significant.
“In the end, Palestinian products should be preferred, but that is also difficult,” al-Azzeh said.
According to al-Azzeh, while choosing a Palestinian good does benefit the Palestinian market, it could still be benefiting Israeli wholesalers and factories.
“Just because you are buying a Palestinian product doesn’t mean the Israelis aren’t benefiting, each product has its needs for packaging, for ingredients and other things to make that product, and it’s hard to tell whether the plastic packaging or other aspects are not being bought first from Israel to be used in Palestinian factories. There are many sides to this, in the end Palestinians are under occupation and in many way there is not much we can do to get around the Israeli economy, but we must try.”
Meanwhile, the market owner that spoke to Mondoweiss hopes for future, more in-depth campaigns.
“I would love for there to be a program specifically for market owners, to help us figure out how to get around buying Israeli products, to help us figure out how to order goods from abroad, or make us more aware of different ways to avoid Israeli products in our stores, but still be able to offer customers what they want. I can’t stop selling Israeli goods if that means people will just go to other markets for the products they want,” he said. “But if there could be an initiative to help us with this BDS movement I think many people could get behind that. We don’t want to support Israel, but many of us don’t really understand how to go around it.”