The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has steadily gained international momentum since its inception in 2005. Veolia, a French multinational transport and municipalities company that conducts business within illegal Israeli settlements has been one of most successful targets of the international BDS community, with the company now excluded from bidding on public contracts in the UK, France, Sweden and Australia.
However, despite the popularity and successes of the movement abroad, it is nearly impossible to boycott Israeli products in the West Bank, including those produced in illegal settlements.
Co-founder of the BDS movement Adnan Ramadan told Middle East Monitor that he believes boycotting Israeli goods within the occupied territories is impractical due to Palestine’s forced dependence on Israel, a systematic consequence of occupation.
“If we are talking about boycotting Israeli products, what can we do? We can’t live without water. Who controls the water? Israel,” Ramadan said.
In reality 70 percent of all West Bank imports are Israeli products according to a recent report from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
As Israel has complete control of West Bank borders, Israeli products can enter the occupied West Bank easily and quickly, whereas international imports from elsewhere require lengthy and expensive procedures. According to Palestine Deputy Minister of National Economy Dr Taisir Amre, international imports intending to enter the West Bank are held in Israeli ports for days before being released. When they do reach an Israeli checkpoint into the occupied West Bank the goods are often held for an additional amount of time by Israeli authorities, and are then required to be unpacked and transferred from their original transport into a Palestinian vehicle. The process, when compared to importing from Israel directly, is expensive and time consuming.
“It’s a methodological obstacle which stands in front of Palestinians importing from international markets. It’s an open game of trying to create obstacles in front of Palestinian trade to keep Palestinians importing from Israel. It’s an export for Israel but with no shipping,” Dr Amre told Middle East Monitor.
While the Palestinian Authority (PA) permits the importing of Israeli products, it still recognises the duplicity in allowing settlement products to be sold in the territories, passing a law in 2010 banning all settlement goods from Palestinian stores. To regulate the law, the PA created a team responsible for inspecting Palestinian shops. According to the PA’s Ministry of Economy the team is still active and engaged in finding settlement products. However such items are easily accessible, and at times hard for shopkeepers to recognise; a crackdown would be unlikely to wipe all settlement products from Palestinian stores.
“They’ve [the PA] come to my shop before,” a Ramallah shopkeeper said. “But they never take anything. I do my best not to sell things from the settlements, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between settlement goods and regular Israeli goods.”
According to Dr Amre, settlement products are sometimes labelled in ways that mislead sellers and consumers.
“We can’t ignore that sometimes Israel forges Israeli product labels, to make it look like they have not been made in settlements, we have come across this,” Dr. Amre said.
The manifestations of political control in the West Bank, created during the Oslo Accords agreement two decades ago, has ensured that the issue is complicated further. The Accords divided the occupied West Bank into three separate areas, all under varying degrees of control between the PA and Israel, which weave around each other in an erratic manner. Because of the convoluted distribution of these areas across the West Bank, monitoring the movement of settlement products is difficult.
“Settlements are scattered in Area C, and we don’t have the capacity to monitor and control their products when they come into our market because we have no well-defined check post or entrance [into Area A] where we can supervise that entry,” Dr. Amre said.
The Palestinian town of Izariya is a case in point. Situated beside one of the largest illegal settlements, Ma’ale Adumim, settlement products are widely available alongside scores of Israeli goods in Palestinian shops. In the occupied West Bank, Izariya is not an isolated example.
The reality on the ground is that a boycott of settlement goods from within the occupied West Bank would not dent the monopoly Israel has over the Palestinian economy.
While the PA differentiates between settlement products and Israeli imports, Ramadan believes the difference between the two shouldn’t matter.
“We are very silly if we think that the products from the settlements themselves are something separated from Israeli products,” Ramadan said.
The BDS movement and supporters abroad have also removed the distinction between products produced in illegal Israeli settlements and products produced in the State of Israel. But with 70 percent of all imports entering the West Bank coming from Israel, and the systematic obstacles that prevent international imports from replacing Israeli goods, it is virtually impossible that a full boycott of Israeli products could currently be achieved within the occupied West Bank.
With Palestinians having such complete dependence on Israeli products, Ramadan instead feels the BDS movement in Palestine, in contrast to the international movement, should now focus on the goal of a political boycott.
“This is above the boycott of Israeli products, we must stop all political communication between the PA and Israel, which has been used until now to legitimise all of Israel’s colonial activities in the West Bank,” Ramadan said.
The authors are freelance journalists based in the West Bank. This article was written especially for the Middle East Monitor (MEMO).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.