With the start of Ramadan only a few weeks away, Muslims worldwide are preparing for the month with many rituals, including stocking up on dates with which to break their fast. While this one practice is so revered by Muslims, the dates one buys may be contributing to human rights violations.
According to the project Who Profits from the Occupation, Israel manufactures over 50 percent of the worlds’ Medjool dates, 51 percent of which are grown in the occupied Jordan Valley in illegal settlements. These dates are mostly exported to various European countries without any indication of their true origins since they are frequently labeled as grown in Israel or the Jordan Valley without any mention of settlements. Paying attention to where the dates used for breaking one’s fast- dates exports from Israel to Europe and North America grew 16 percent in 2011- can be a very simple way for Muslims to show solidarity with Palestinians who continue to suffer injustice due to Israeli occupation and apartheid.
In 2005 more than 170 Palestinian civil society groups issued a Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law. The declaration recalled how people of conscious in the international community “historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa.” BDS measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law by dismantling the wall and ending the occupation; recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees.
In the past seven years, there have been numerous examples of localized efforts by activists around the world in response to the call, including in the United States, whose “special relationship” with Israel guarantees it at least $30 billion in military aid from 2009-2018 and protection from UN censure. Without this US support, Israel would be unable to continue its occupation and apartheid policies.
“US policies, both governmental and corporate, make us complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians,” said Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “We therefore have an obligation to work to end those US policies that support Israel’s denial of human rights to the Palestinian people.”
This complicity of the US government in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians is one reason why the US Campaign’s work focuses on changing US policy to support human rights, international law and equality. Since 2001 the US Campaign has grown to include nearly 380 local, state, regional and national groups. As a coalition organization, the US Campaign provides its members with resources, trainings and networking to help facilitate collaboration across the country. One example is the website aidtoisrael.org that lets people know how much of their community’s tax dollars will go to Israel and what that money can instead provide back home.
The US Campaign has also endorsed and worked on various boycott and divestment campaigns against Caterpillar, Motorola and other companies profiting from the occupation. In June 2009 CODEPINK, a US Campaign member group, launched its Stolen Beauty campaign against the Israeli cosmetics manufacturer Ahava that labels its products as “Made in Israel” even though its main manufacturing plant is in an illegal settlement in the West Bank and its products are made from stolen Palestinian resources. In response to CODEPINK’s actions, Costco in January 2010 decided to no longer carry Ahava products.
After a two-year campaign by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Hampshire College, the school’s board of trustees was pressured to divest from six companies due to their role in perpetuating the occupation. Back in 1977 Hampshire was also the first American college to divest from South Africa. Other campuses have followed suit. Student governments at both the University of Massachusetts- Boston and Arizona State University unanimously passed bills earlier this year demanding divestment from corporations profiting from human rights abuses.
Churches have also been pushed to divest from the occupation. The Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation divested $900,000 in shares of Caterpillar. The highest voting body of the United Methodist Church recommended boycotts and sanctions, as well as an end to individual and organizational financial support for settlements, as tools for ending Israel’s brutal occupation. The Presbyterian Church-USA will be voting to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard due to their complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses.
“We recognize that the United States will be one of the most difficult places to change government policy vis-a-vis Israel, just as was the case during the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa,” said Riham Barghouti, founding member of Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, another member group of the US Campaign. The group led a successful campaign against Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev whose company, Africa Israel, announced in November 2010 after several years of pressure that it was no longer involved in Israeli settlement projects. “The BDS movement is helping expose the hypocrisy of the US government because its demands for independence, equality and rights for Palestinians are theoretically all basic tenets that any democratic society should uphold.”
While the success of one campaign in removing Israeli products from store shelves or of another in convincing an artist not to perform in Israel may seem to have little direct effect on ending the occupation and realizing Palestinian rights, just as in South Africa, these small campaigns build up and snowball into more significant actions.
“Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic change in discourse around Palestine/Israel in the United States,” Ruebner said. “Our movement’s collective efforts have made significant inroads in educating and organizing people in this country, which is always the first and requisite step toward fundamental changes in policy.”
Ramah Kudaimi is Membership and Outreach Coordinator at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Find more information at www.endtheoccupation.org.