For a third consecutive year the Philadelphia Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (Philly BDS), a member group of US Campaign to End the Occupation, in collaboration with American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and other BDS groups around the country, has held its annual boycott of Israeli dates during the month of Ramadan. And this year Philly BDS has successfully mobilized different businesses across Philadelphia to formally pledge not to serve nor buy Israeli date products that are in direct violation of international law.
The campaign is a response to the 2005 Palestinian civil society call to the international community for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel to force Israel to comply with international law in the absence of international diplomatic, political or financial pressure to do so.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims typically break their daylong fasts by eating dates, as they are one of the largest consumer groups of dates in the United States. The USDA valued Israeli imports of dates at $51 million, according to a 2011 World Bank report. They’re grown on farms located in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea area, regions in the West Bank, which are under Israeli occupation. The posh land that historically belonged to Palestinians now houses illegal Israeli settlements with apartheid-like transit and housing infrastructure, in direct violation of international law and has been condemned by the vast majority of the international community. Not only are these farms illegal, but also they employ Palestinian children who are forced to work under harsh conditions with little to no job security. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has said that nearly 7,000 Palestinian children, ages 5-7 years old, worked in settlements in 2008.
American Muslims for Palestine has called for a boycott of Jordan River, Jordan River Bio-Tops, King Solomon brands and any dates bearing the logos from distributors Hadiklaim or Mehadrin. Instead of buying dates grown in Israeli settlements, AMP encourages people to “buy American,” and offers links to date farms in the Bard Valley in California.
With 11 states, including NJ, PA, and NY passing anti-BDS measures and the anti-BDS rhetoric by Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, the date boycott has become increasingly relevant. Particularly given the complicity of the US government in its support for Israeli injustice against Palestinians, Philly BDS is concerned and considers anti-BDS laws a violation of the right to nonviolent resistance against injustice.
In previous years over 1,000 pamphlets describing the date boycott have been distributed across Philadelphia, including over 6 local mosques that have multi-ethnic congregations, including Arab, South Asian, European and African descent. This year interest has piqued and continues to grow, especially given the vitriol the BDS movement has unfairly received. This Ramadan, not only have mosques been approached, but also grocery stores and businesses. Over 30 local Philadelphia businesses were approached to make sure none of them sold or served these illegal Israeli dates.
One storeowner claimed, “We did not know about these dates. I will make sure none of my employees orders these dates again. We’ll only get California dates.”
Businesses were also asked to sign a pledge form, stating these dates will not be bought or sold at their respective stores or businesses in the future. Businesses spanning different sections in Philadelphia complied and signed on. Moreover, businesses operating in South Street, one of Philadelphia’s most well known streets and a hub for fine dining, have also signed the pledge.
According to AMP, more than 20,000 date boycott postcards have been distributed in mosques across the country and a social media campaign that reached over 1.6 million individuals. Furthermore, some mosques and community centers even held informational sessions for their congregations educating them about these dates and BDS in general.
“Israel thinks it can get away with the atrocities and injustices it commits on the people of Palestine, especially children and farmers, but we want to show Israel and the international community that the Ramadan date boycott is growing at a very rapid pace. We also want to encourage others to join. Stores that were reluctant to engage in this boycott in the past, this year have shown to be supportive, indicating a shift in consciousness and/or confidence. We plan on continuing the date boycott until every store and mosque in Philadelphia signs a pledge form. This is not about us, it’s about bringing justice to Palestinians,” explains Kareema Saab of Philly BDS.
Philly BDS will continue to work closely with the US Campaign to End the Occupation and AMP to construct an activist toolkit for American Muslims to launch campaigns in their respective cities in the near future.