Amnesty International’s Kate Allen on why shops should be stopped from selling products grown on stolen land
HOW do you do your weekly shop? Well, presuming you do purchase groceries once a week — maybe going to a big supermarket, quite possibly pressed for time but determined to get what you need — you’ll doubtless have a routine. You’ll get stuff you always get. It’s a kind of near-automatic shopping.
But wait a minute. What if the shelves contain illegal products, like goods made via child labour or other exploitation? That might change everything — making you hesitate about buying that temptingly cheap but tainted item.
Which is why, of course, consumers expect the authorities to properly regulate what ends up on the shelves.
Very informed shoppers might be capable of scouring the small print for clues about supply chains, but most of us aren’t.
We need regulation and legislation to ensure that — to take one important example — oranges, dates and spring water produced by Israeli and international firms on stolen Palestinian land don’t end up in our supermarkets.
The Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, export millions of pounds’ worth of goods around the world every year.
Six hundred thousand Israeli “settlers” are living on a quarter of a million acres of land that doesn’t, under international law, belong to them.
The settlement enterprise is sustained, in part, through exports of goods produced on this stolen land.
And these “settlements” — in actuality permanent-looking towns and small cities with an elaborate support infrastructure of roads and guarded and fortified security checkpoints — continue to expand five decades after the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied by Israeli soldiers during the 1967 war.
Let’s be clear. With its huge and ever-expanding settlements on the Palestinian territories, the state of Israel has been flagrantly defying international law for 50 years, flouting the will of the United Nations and indeed anyone who wishes to see an end to the cycle of injustice in this troubled land.
In just the latest of a succession of condemnations, in December the UN security council denounced the “construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”
It clearly called on Israel to cease all settlement activity.
Yet still the settlements expand. Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a string of announcements over Israel’s intention to build thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank — a “construction binge,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, in March, Netanyahu announced Israeli government plans to build a wholly new settlement in the West Bank as “compensation” to settlers removed from another settlement in February.
Where does this leave countries like Britain? Britain is officially opposed to Israel’s settlements programme, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently “strongly condemning” them as “contrary to international law.”
Under the Geneva Conventions, following a military conflict an occupying force is prohibited from transferring the local population within or out of an occupied territory and is categorically prohibited from moving its own civilians in (as stated in the fourth Geneva convention, article 49).
An occupation, by definition, is meant to be temporary. Not only has Israel serially ignored this, it’s moved people wholesale, with some 50,000 Palestinian homes and other buildings destroyed to make way for tens of thousands of settler apartments, businesses, fields and settler-only roads.
Meanwhile, nearly five million Palestinians now face daily restrictions on their movements, forced to navigate a bewildering network of militarised security checkpoints, watchtowers and “closed military areas.”
My own visits to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have brought home to me the searing injustice of all this.
Palestinian families are forced to queue for hours to pass through checkpoints. There are chronic water shortages for Palestinian farmers, yet abundant water for settler crops whose growers even build and fill numerous residential swimming pools as they become prosperous from this fertile land.
This month marks 50 years since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories began. It’s turned into a prolonged occupation characterised by a determined land-grab dressed up as a supposed “security” response.
Fifty years of international condemnation hasn’t deterred Israel in the slightest. It’s time for Britain and other countries around the world to implement new measures. These should include an international ban on importing goods and services from Israel’s illegal settlements. No foreign business should be allowed to operate there or trade with Israeli businesses operating there.
Back in the supermarket, it shouldn’t be down to individual shoppers to check whether the oranges they buy in their local shops are tainted goods grown on stolen Palestinian land with stolen water. They shouldn’t be on our shelves in the first place.
A British ban on settlement goods would be an important first step in dealing with the historic injustice of the Israeli settlement project.
Kate Allen is director of Amnesty International UK.