Tag Archives: Arava

Apartheid in the fields: From occupied Palestine to UK Supermarkets

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Israeli agricultural export companies are profiting from the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land.

In 2005 a broad coalition of Palestinians made a call for ordinary people all over the world to take action to boycott Israeli goods, companies and state institutions: “We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

This call has inspired a global solidarity movement aimed at targeting Israeli capitalism in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against oppression. We have compiled articles and interviews with Palestinian agricultural workers and farmers in the West Bank and Gaza, together with information on many of the Israeli exporters and UK supermarkets, as a resource for campaigners seeking to follow this call.

Trading under siege: the dying export industry in the Gaza Strip

Corporate Watch researchers visited the Gaza Strip during November and December 2013 and carried out interviews with farmers in Beit Hanoun, Al Zaytoun, Khuza’a, Al Maghazi and Rafah, as well as with representatives from Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Palestine Crops and the Gaza Agricultural Co-operative in Beit Lahiya. This is the second of two articles highlighting what their experiences show: that Palestinians in Gaza face significant and diverse difficulties when it comes to farming their land and harvesting and exporting their produce under siege, and that Israel enforces what amounts to a de facto boycott of produce from the Gaza Strip. The first article, about farmers’ experiences of working the land in Gaza, can be found here.

A dependent economy

“The Israeli occupation allows us to export a small quantity of produce, just to show the world that they are nice to the Palestinians, but they are using us. Everything we do is controlled by them”

Saad Ziada, Union of Agricultural Work Committees

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A queue of goods vehicles approaching the Karam Abu Salem goods crossing in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Corporate Watch December 2013

As a result of economic agreements made during the period of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian economy as a whole has become totally dependent on Israel. The Paris Protocol, signed in 1994, is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which outlines the economic relations between the two in the areas of customs, taxes, labour, agriculture, industry and tourism. In theory the protocol was meant to facilitate the free movement of goods, including agricultural produce, and give Palestinians access to international markets, but in practice it has worked as a basis for consolidating Israeli domination of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Whilst Israel benefits from tax free access to markets in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian exports are strictly controlled by Israel and can only be carried out through Israeli companies, hence benefiting the economy of the occupier.

When it comes to the Gaza Strip, the situation for Palestinians is even worse. Since the tightening of the siege in 2007, Israel has implemented a de facto economic boycott of Gaza, with no industrial goods and a minimal amount of agricultural exports being allowed through the Israeli controlled Karam Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) goods crossing only. The Karni (or Al Montar) crossing, which was established as a main terminal in 1994 to facilitate the transfer of goods between the Gaza Strip and Israel, was closed permanently in 2011 as the siege intensified. Before the closure the crossing had been effectively non-operational since Hamas’ takeover of the Strip in 2007, only running a skeleton service through a conveyor belt transporting gravel and animal feed. The Rafah crossing to Egypt is completely closed for exports from Gaza.

Since 2007 farmers in Gaza have been prohibited from selling their produce to Israel and the West Bank, traditionally their biggest markets. Continue reading

An insider’s account of the Sainsbury’s AGM

Sainsbury's - Taste the Indifference

Sainsbury’s – Taste the Indifference

Corporate Watch were inside the Sainsbury’s AGM yesterday. Here’s an account of what happened:

Campaigners protesting outside the Sainsbury’s AGM at the QE2 conference centre in Westminster yesterday called for the company to cease working with companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign has been pressuring the company for almost two years, calling on them to follow the lead of the Cooperative Group and cease trading with companies operating in Israel’s settlements. Taste the Indifference has been holding monthly days of action where groups across the UK picket Sainsbury’s branches or occupy stores.

On the morning of the AGM, Corporate Watch had published an ‘open letter’ to Sainsbury’s shareholders.

The AGM saw Mike Coupe replace Justin King as Sainsbury’s CEO. The ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign has written a letter to Mike Coupe signed by representatives of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG), the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Boycott Israel Network, and the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions calling for the company to cease trading with companies that operate in the settlements. The letter is also signed by several Members of Parliament and the European Parliament, as well as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.

Before the AGM, Sainsbury’s Company Secretary Mike Fallowfield came outside to accept a petition from protesters. 6,500 signatures have been collected in support of the aims of the campaign, as well as 2000 postcards.

The AGM began at 10.30. Outgoing CEO Justin King spoke enthusiastically about the setting up of more Sainsbury’s stores and the expansion of existing ones. He also said “Our values are a unique point of difference”. However, many of the shareholders present questioned these values.

Several people had purchased shares in order to tell the board that they did not want Sainsbury’s to expand in their area. One woman from the village of Southam said that local people did not want a new Sainsbury’s store, as there was already a large supermarket in the village, and pledged to boycott it should it open. Another group from Bristol was campaigning against the building of a Sainsbury’s on the site of a local war memorial.

Three shareholders asked questions to the board about Palestine. The first asked:

“The governments of 17 members of the European Union, including the UK, have published warnings urging their citizens to refrain from engaging in business, economic activity and investment in settlements or bodies connected to the illegal Israeli settlements. These governments state that business relations with entities operating in settlements are inherently risky, from an economic, reputational and human rights perspective.

“In the UK, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs has made it clear that the British Government expects British companies to treat the risk of contributing to gross human rights abuses through their operations as an issue of legal compliance, and to positively adopt policies to identify, monitor and prevent risks to human rights.

“The Base Code of the Ethical Trading Initiative, of which Sainsbury’s is a full member, also states that retailers must respect basic rights in their supply chain. What steps, therefore, does Sainsbury’s intend to take to comply with these government guidelines with respect to its trade with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements?”

David Tyler, non-executive director replied for the Sainsbury’s board:

“We are well aware of this issue, we monitor and audit with regard to the companies in our supply chain. We can’t find any evidence that those companies have done anything wrong. I think you are asking a wider question for us to boycott the products of any company sourcing from the settlements. We do not source from any company sourcing from settlements in the West Bank in our food and non-food products.”

However, Another activist shareholder pointed out that Sainsbury’s stocked Sodastream products and that Sodastream have their main manufacturing facility in the settlement of Mishor Adumim in the West Bank. The board replied that Sainsbury’s did not source own brand products from settlements but that Sodastream products would simply have to be labelled as such if they were manufactured in a settlement. Apparently, Sodastream has promised that their labelling policy has changed and that its products will be labelled as such in the future.

A third shareholder asked: “A recent report by Israeli research group Who Profits? shows that Sainsbury’s suppliers such as Mehadrin and Edom are deeply involved Israel’s policy of forcibly displacing Palestinian farmers from their land and constructing settlements on occupied land in violation of international law.

“The Who Profits? report also documents how these companies routinely lie about the origin of their produce and market products from illegal settlements as ‘Made in Israel’.

“How can you trust Israeli companies such as Mehadrin to act in ways that allows Sainsbury’s to live up to its promises about behaving in an ethical way? Given the growing body of evidence showing that they employ routine deception, what assessment has Sainsbury’s made about whether its Israeli suppliers are honest about the true origin of their produce?”

At the end of the AGM the Sainsbury’s board was inundated with more questions from shareholders about the ethics of their business.

Sainsbury’s – stop sourcing from occupation profiteers

Sainsbury’s claims that they have no evidence that there is wrongdoing within Sainsbury’s supply chains but Corporate Watch and others have presented ample evidence that Arava, Edom and Mehadrin have a track record of sourcing from settlements where child labour is employed and workers are paid less than the Israeli minimum wage.

In our open letter to Sainsbury’s, published yesterday, we argued: “It is not enough for Sainsbury’s to claim that they do not source goods from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they should cease sourcing from companies that are profiting from the seizure of Palestinian land and a captive workforce living under occupation. By sourcing products from Arava, Mehadrin and Edom, Sainsbury’s is supporting the settler economy and acting against the wishes of the Palestinian people. We are calling on Sainsbury’s to follow the lead of the Cooperative Supermarket and refuse to buy products from these companies.

The ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign made a press statement, which you can read here.

To find out how to oppose supermarket developments in your area see Corporate Watch’s ‘What’s Wrong With Supermarkets?’ and our campaign guide to opposing supermarket developments, ‘Checkout Chuckout’. To find out how to research developments in your area see our new do-it-yourself handbook for ‘Investigating Companies’.

Open letter to Sainsbury’s shareholders

Corporate Watch urges you to pressure the Sainsbury’s management to listen to the call from Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, to boycott Israeli goods and not to source goods from companies profiting from human rights abuses against Palestinians by operating in Israeli settlements.

In 2005 hundreds of civil society organisations in Palestine called on international civil society to boycott Israeli goods and Israeli companies until the Israeli state’s crimes against Palestinians end. Since then the boycott movement has grown into a powerful global force, which has the capacity to seriously challenge the Israeli state’s attempts to dispossess the people of Palestine from their land.

In 2012 the Cooperative Supermarket became the first major UK retailer to announce that it would not trade with any company that operates in Israel’s illegal settlements.

In September 2013 Sainsbury’s confirmed to Corporate Watch that it sources its goods from several Israeli companies that operate in the settlements: Arava, Mehadrin and Edom.

We are calling on you to help us to convince Sainsbury’s to follow the Cooperative Group’s lead and to stop sourcing from these companies.

Working for poverty wages on land stolen from their families

Israeli agricultural companies operate on land which has been taken from Palestinians by force. Communities, whose livelihood has been decimated by the occupation, have no option but to work for below the minimum wage on land which, in many cases, previously belonged to their families.

Mehadrin source their produce from the Israeli settlement of Beqa’ot. One worker from Beqa’ot told Corporate Watch: “Before the occupation in 1967 Libqya [The Arabic name for the area where Beqa'ot is now situated] was owned by Palestinians who used it for planting crops and raising animals. All of the families around here owned land in Libqya.

“I remember when my mother passed Libqya when I was young she told us how she used to play there with her brothers and sisters. Our family owned 70 dunums of land there.

“This reality is too painful. When I was older I tried to reach the land my mother told me about. But a settler told me I was forbidden to go there”

Paid under the minimum wage

These Israeli companies consistently underpay their workers. Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements have been entitled to the Israeli minimum wage since an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2007 (see here). The current hourly minimum wage is 23.12 NIS (New Israeli Shekels),the equivalent of 184.96 NIS for an eight hour working day, having risen from 20.70 NIS in 2009. However, for Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley these conditions seem an impossible dream.

In 2010 and 2013 Corporate Watch conducted interviews with settlement workers showing that Palestinians are consistently paid as little as half the minimum wage. Many of our interviewees also reported that children under the age of 16 were employed on the settlements.

The table below outlines our 2013 findings:

Name of settlement Wages reportedly paid Wages paid are below the minimum wage Companies sourcing goods from the settlement Child labour reported Workers complained that they were not allowed to unionise
Beit Ha’arava 65-70 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) Yes Arava, Edom Yes Yes
Beqa’ot 82 NIS (minus 12 NIS deducted for transport) Yes Mehadrin Tnuport (MTEX), Carmel Agrexco, STM Agricultural Exports Yes
Na’ama 65-80NIS Yes Viva, Carmel Agrexco Yes
Kalia Yes Carmel Agrexco
Tomer 70 NIS Yes Edom, Hadiklaim, Agrexco Yes Yes
Massua 80 NIS Yes Mehadrin Tnuport (Mtex) Yes
Vered Yeriho 70 NIS Yes Carmel Agrexco Yes
Argaman 60 NIS Yes Carmel Agrexco, Ada Yes

Arava, Edom and Mehadrin source their products from many of the above settlements. In doing so they are helping to sustain the settlement economy.

Palestinian workers’ views of the companies working in the settlements

Corporate Watch asked the Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements we met about their opinion of the companies working there. The quotes below are illustrative of their views:

It is important for you to tell people that these settlements are illegal and that we don’t have any choice except to work for them… I think it’s important to boycott Israeli products as the settlements are stealing our land and stealing our water. [If the companies in Tomer were to close down it would be] like a dream, inshallah [God willing], it’s freedom for the Palestinian people.”

Mohammed, worker in Tomer

When the settlement economy is destroyed the settlers will leave. They are only here for business.”

Fadi, worker at Beit Ha’arava

They are working on stolen land, using water that they have stolen from us. If the boycott campaign damages these companies then the settlers will leave our land.”

Fares, worker at Beit Ha’arava

We support the boycott even if we lose our work. We might lose our jobs but we will get back our land. We will be able to work without being treated as slaves.”

Zaid, worker at Beqa’ot

The case of Sodastream

Sainsbury’s stocks Sodastream products for making fizzy drinks at home. Sodastream has its main manufacturing facility in the Israeli settlement industrial area of Mishor Adumim. Mishor Adumim was established on land previously occupied by Palestinian Bedouin. The Bedouin occupants were forcibly evicted and forced to settle in an area close to the Jerusalem Municipal rubbish dump. In 2013 Corporate Watch interviewed several people from this community. Here is what one of them said about Sodastream:

“We are not allowed to go near them [the factories]. They took our livelihood to build them and we got evacuated for them to build their factories. After they built them there were no resources to live from for us. The gains are nothing compared to what was lost. They destroyed our lives and then gave a few people a job. It is nothing”.

Sainsbury’s – stop sourcing from occupation profiteers

It is not enough for Sainsbury’s to claim that they do not source goods from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they should cease sourcing from companies that are profiting from the seizure of Palestinian land and a captive workforce living under occupation. By sourcing products from Arava, Mehadrin, Sodastream and Edom, Sainsbury’s is supporting the settler economy and acting against the wishes of the Palestinian people. We are calling on Sainsbury’s to follow the lead of the Cooperative Supermarket and refuse to buy products from these companies.

This letter has been sent to Sainsbury’s head office

Farming under siege: Working the land in Gaza

Corporate Watch researchers visited the Gaza Strip during November and December 2013 and carried out interviews with farmers in Beit Hanoun, Al Zaytoun, Khaza’a, Al Maghazi and Rafah, as well as with representatives from Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Palestine Crops and the Gaza Agricultural Co-operative in Beit Lahiya. This is the first of two articles highlighting what their experiences show: that Palestinians face significant and diverse difficulties when it comes to farming their land and harvesting and exporting their produce under siege, and that Israel enforces what amounts to a de facto boycott of produce from the Gaza Strip.

The land and the buffer zones

“There is a 300 meter ‘buffer zone’ in our area. It is common that people get shot at directly if they enter it. Within 500 meters people often get shot at. It is unsafe within 1500 metres of the fence”

Saber Al Zaneen from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative

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The beginning of the buffer zone in Beit Hanoun in the occupied Gaza Strip. Photo by Corporate Watch, November 2013

Since the withdrawal of settlers and the end of a permanent presence of ground troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel insists that the area is no longer under occupation. However, as well as still controlling Gaza’s air space, coastline and exports, Israel effectively occupies the area commonly referred to as the ‘buffer zone’, located all the way down the strip along the border with Israel. A buffer area has existed in Gaza since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, when 50 meters on the Gaza side of the border was designated a no-go area for Palestinians. Since then, Israel has unilaterally expanded this zone on numerous occasions, including to 150 metres during the Intifada in 2000 and to changeable and unclear parameters since 2009. Continue reading

Poverty wages and child labour in the settlement of Beit Ha’Arava: Conditions for settlement workers in the Jordan Valley – Part two

The gates of Beit Ha'Arava settlement, closed to Palestinians except settlement workers - photo taken by Corporate Watch, January 2013

The gates of Beit Ha’Arava settlement, closed to Palestinians except settlement workers – photo taken by Corporate Watch, January 2013

During January and February 2013 Corporate Watch conducted interviews with Palestinians who work in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. Part one of our findings can be viewed here.

We met Fares*, Younes* and Jammal* near the Northern West Bank town of Tammoun in February 2013. Fares and Jammal were 23 years old at the time and Younes was 20. They had been working as agricultural labourers in the Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley settlements for between nine and seven years. All three workerd in the settlement of Beit Ha’Arava, close to the Dead Sea in the Southern Jordan Valley. According to our interviewees Beit Ha’Arava used to supply fresh produce to Carmel Agrexco before its liquidation in 2010, now the settlement grow the majority of its produce for the Arava and Edom export companies. Continue reading

Mehadrin: New evidence of mislabelled settlement produce

On February 9th a coalition of civil society groups have called for an international day of action against Israeli agricultural companies in line with the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli militarism, apartheid and colonisation. Corporate Watch researchers are in Palestine collecting new information and over the coming weeks Corporate Watch will be writing a series of articles and blogs examining Israeli agricultural exports.
Grape fields in the illegal Israeli settlement Beqa'ot in the occupied Jordan Valley
Grape fields in the illegal Israeli settlement Beqa’ot in the occupied Jordan Valley
Two and a half years ago Corporate Watch visited the illegal Israeli settlement Beqa’ot in the Jordan Valley, where we found packing houses belonging to the agricultural exporter Mehadrin Tnuport Export Company (MTEX). The produce being prepared for export was mislabeled as ‘produce of Israel’ despite being from the occupied West Bank. As we exposed at the time, Mehadrin produce is sold through Tesco stores in the UK. Last week we made another visit to the settlement to find out whether recent developments in UK and Israel has had an effect on the conduct of the company.

Companies trading from Ro’i settlement in the Jordan Valley

Greenhouses in Ro'i illegal settlement

As part of Corporate Watch’s efforts to map settlement exports from the Jordan Valley, we visited the illegal Israeli settlement of Ro’i earlier this year.

Established in 1976, Ro’i is a “typical” Jordan Valley settlement in that it has a low population (of less than 150 settlers), but has stolen large areas of land from the indigenous Palestinian population. With its private security, army protection and rows upon rows of greenhouses, Ro’i poses a challenge to the existence of Bedouin communities such as nearby Al Hadidya and Ras-Al Ahmar, who are under constant threat of house demolitions and army harassment aimed at the  ethnic cleansing of bedouin from the area. The Israeli’s described these communities as a “security threat” to the settlers.

Al Hadidya is located just next to Ro’i, which was partially built on their land, and inhabitants have to more or less drive through the the outskirts of the settlement in order to reach their home. Any company trading from Ro’i, or importing their produce, are directly responsible for the very real possibility of Al Hadidya’s forced extinction.

Al Hadidya's - in the shadow of Ro'i settlement

Continue reading

Reasons to be cheerful(ish): the boycott as seen from the occupied Jordan Valley

Despite the fact that there is -as demonstrated by this web-site- clearly a lot of more work to be done for people campaigning for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel, a recent visit to the Jordan Valley confirmed that there are plenty of reasons for the BDS movement to take stock of its successes. Continue reading

Netiv Hagdud and Gilgal

Date Palms near Gilgal settlement

Netiv Hagdud and Gilgal are two illegal Israeli settlements set back from Route 90 South of Fasayil and Tomer in the occupied Jordan Valley. Between the two settlements is a fenced agricultural area which exports fruit and vegetables internationally. Produce in Waitrose has previously been seen bearing the label ‘Netiv Hagdud’. In March Corporate Watch paid the two settlements a visit. Continue reading