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The price of principles and Palestine

May 26, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Ramadan is approaching and the annual argument over the selling and buying of dates grown on lands stolen from Palestinians is well under way. Boycotting Israeli dates is probably more of a symbolic than a commercially successful tactic but it does highlight and underline the injustices meted out to the Palestinian people by the Zionist state.

In Britain, like anywhere else, the campaign relies heavily on the cooperation of Muslims, individually and collectively. To be brutally frank, though, there are those who’d rather have cheap produce than stand by their supposed principles. Friends of Al-Aqsa is trying to change all that.

The British NGO seeks to defend the human rights of Palestinians and protect the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem from illegal Jewish settlers. It is running a particularly robust and imaginative campaign called #CheckTheLabel which I have endorsed wholeheartedly.

I would urge all Muslims to follow suit and embrace this campaign instead of simply paying lip service to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In the process, they can challenge the wholesalers from Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Luton and London, in particular, who sell Israeli dates to their customers. Some of traders try to disguise their duplicity by changing the packaging themselves in order to dupe their own customers. By law in Britain, consumers have a right to see the label of origin of any produce.

Boycotting Israeli dates is important, but perhaps more important is to know why such actions are necessary in the first place. Every year, Israel exports millions of pounds worth of dates around the world that are often grown in illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley.

Be in no doubt that all of this land has been stolen from Palestinians and buying these dates helps Israel to continue it’s illegal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Anyone who is contemplating buying such dates either wholesale or in the local shop should stop and ask themselves whether or not they would be happy to buy goods that they know to be stolen; buying or receiving stolen goods is, after all, a criminal offence. That is the implication of buying Israeli dates.

Friends of Al Aqsa has run the #CheckTheLabel campaign for eight years. “Despite our efforts,” a spokesperson explained to me, “not everyone is aware, which is why we need your help this Ramadan. With only three weeks to go before the Blessed Month we want you to help us launch the #CheckTheLabel – Boycott Israeli Dates campaign”.

The NGO is being too generous, because the truth is that many Muslims are aware of the situation in occupied Palestine, but would rather sell their principles in favour of saving a few pennies or, in the case of the wholesalers, making a few pounds off the backs of the Palestinians. It is shameful that some Muslims can be bought and sold so cheaply when others outside the faith show much more integrity and are prepared to make real sacrifices to bring justice to those suffering under Israeli occupation.

A British historian and feminist, for example, has turned down a million dollar prize for her work simply because of the award’s links with Israel. Citing the “politics of Israel-Palestine”, Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at University College London, rejected the Dan David Prize which came along with £690,000 for her work’s “impact on social history, as a pioneer in gender history, race, and slavery.” Prof. Hall also refused to attend the award ceremony in Tel Aviv a few days ago. In a statement, she said that she had declined the prize after having “many discussions with those who are deeply involved with the politics of Israel-Palestine, but with differing views as to how best to act.” She called the move an “independent political choice.”

According to the Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Exeter, the “illegal colonisation and the repressive measures of the Israeli government have now irredeemably tarnished Israel’s ‘glittering prizes’.” Richard Seaford, who is also a member of the pro-Palestine British Committee for Universities of Palestine (BCUP), insisted that, “For academics outside Israel, boycott of all activities relating to the Israeli state and universities is rapidly becoming the default position.” The BCUP described Hall’s decision as “a significant endorsement of the campaign to end ties with Israeli institutions.”

The Dan David Prize was founded in 2000 and its past winners have included former US presidential hopeful Al Gore and the less distinguished former Middle East Peace Envoy and ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Palestinians in the diaspora and the refugee camps are full of admiration for the sacrifice made by Professor Catherine Hall. Her decisive action should give all of us something to think about when putting the shopkeeper on the spot and asking to check the label on the dates we want to buy.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.