Israeli group launches database on businesses located in the Jewish settlements

Mejdool Dates
By Nureddin Sabir, Editor, Redress Information & Analysis

An Israeli peace group has launched a comprehensive database of information on the location, activities and the evasive tactics used by businesses located in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

Settlement Products Wiki is a project by the Israeli Peace Bloc Gush Shalom aimed at organising and making available to the public, “in the most systematic and up-to-date manner possible, information about the factories and businesses that operate in settlements beyond the Green Line (pre-1967 border) and the products that they produce”.

It includes information about businesses that have left the settlements and relocated to within the Green Line, and the misleading tactics used by businesses to cover up and conceal their location in the settlements.

Jewish workers only

In a press release, Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesperson, said:

In recent years the settlers have been portraying themselves as the patrons of the Palestinian workers. Spokespersons for the settlers in the political arena routinely bemoan the fate of the Palestinian workers in the settlements who might lose their jobs as the result of steps such as marking settlement products in Europe.

However, perusing the Orange Pages directory, which is published by the settlers for the purpose of their own internal communications, reveals a picture that is quite the opposite.

The Gush Shalom team of volunteers, which has been working for months on the Settlement Products Wiki, discovered many businesses that openly proclaim their policy of not employing Arab workers, according to the Gush Shalom press release.

Such proclamations include statements like: ”The work is performed by Jewish workers only”, “Hebrew labour!!!” “Hebrew labor from A to Z”, “Produced by high quality Hebrew labour”, “Do you require Hebrew labour? You’ve come to the right place!”, “Reliability, dedication, good service and Hebrew labour”, “Gracious service, Hebrew labour from the heart”.

They also include paradoxical statements such as “Hebrew labour, French speaking”.

Wilful deception

Among the significant findings made by the Gush Shalom team was that many factories and businesses that are located in settlements try to conceal or obscure their location – especially companies that export to other countries or maintain other international relations.

The information on the companies’ websites, their advertisements in the media and on the packaging of their products is often incomplete or misleading. Many companies provide two addresses, one in a settlement and one within the Green Line, in a manner that makes it very difficult to ascertain their actual location.

For example, the Frid blanket manufacturing company is located in the Barkan industrial zone. The company publicises a list of shops all over the country where its products are sold, yet without mentioning the location of the factory where the blankets are made.

The same tactic is used by the furniture chain store Beitili, Keter Plastic and other companies.

The Meshek Zuriel dairy markets products that come partly from the settlement Shadmot Mehola in the Jordan Valley, and partly from plants in the Galilee and the Negev. In most cases there is no transparency and no mention of the source of the product on the package.

Another method intended to mislead is concealing the source of the product under a “manufacturer’s code”. For example, General Mills Ltd, the Israeli branch of a large US manufacturer of baked goods, manufactures the brand Pillsbury in the Atarot industrial zone in East Jerusalem. However, the packages on some of its products read: “Produced for General Mills Ltd Ramle by manufacturer’s code SLGL”.

A website that is operated by the Ministry of the Economy enables the deciphering of manufacturers’ codes of this type, yet even if the code can be deciphered it is obvious that there is a huge discrepancy between information that is provided in this manner on a product label and the fundamental commitment of a commercial company to provide the consumer with reliable and transparent information on the products that it markets.

In the case of foods, the Gush Shalom team often relies on the location of the rabbinate that issued the kosher certificate for products – reasonably surmising, that the rabbinate which issues the certificate for a product is in the location or the area where the product is manufactured. Thus, for example, a container of hummus produced by Achva may provide an address in Nes Tsiona, but the kashrut certificate from the Ariel Rabbinate testifies to the location of the factory where the hummus was manufactured, i.e. in the occupied West Bank.

Disguised as Arab-made

The most blatant deception that the Gush Shalom team found has to do with dates, especially Medjool dates, which are a major economic branch in the Jordan Valley settlements and a large portion of them are designated for export.

For example, the Jordan River company markets dates from the Jordan Valley in carton boxes on which there is no printing in Hebrew nor any mention of the origin of the dates. The writing on the boxes of dates is in English, sometimes in other European languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian) and sometimes also in Arabic. Some of the Jordan River boxes bear “Orientalist” illustrations of camel-riders against the background of an exotic city with mosque minarets, which might create the impression for a superficial observer that they are an Arab product. However, when marketed in Israel a Hebrew-language sticker is added to the packages that notes the origin of the dates as the Jordan Valley, the name of the packaging plant (Gilgal, Tomer, etc.) and the rabbinate that certified kashrut – the Jordan Valley Rabbinate.

All settlements are illegal

It should be stressed that while compiling the information, the Gush Shalom team made no distinction between “ideological settlements” and “quality-of-life settlements”, nor between “settlement blocs” and “isolated settlements”, etc.

The definition, on the basis of which it was decided which factories and businesses would be included in this project, was clear and unequivocal: a settlement is any civilian community that is designated for the residence of Israeli citizens in the territories that were occupied by the Israeli army in June 1967 and which the state of Israel continues to hold to at the present day. A settler is any person residing in such a settlement. And especially relevant for the information that appears here – an industrial zone that is designated for Israeli entrepreneurs and business people and which was established in the occupied territories is a settlement industrial zone.

“Sometimes we are asked: ‘Why do you hate the settlers?’ The answer is unequivocal: we do not hate the settlers,” said Keller, adding:

The settlers are human beings just like us and Israeli citizens just like us. They love their families no less that we do ours. Like most human beings, the settlers are fully and honestly convinced that their actions and lifestyle are right and just.

We do not hate the settlers. We do consider them to be people who are performing an extremely significant political act by residing in occupied territory. In our view, that action is extremely damaging and dangerous to the future of all of us (and especially to the future of the settlers themselves).

If the settlers cease and desist from this political act, then from that moment on we will have no reason to argue with them or to confront them.

Unequal before the law

Keller continued:

We consider the “Boycott Law”, which was legislated in 2011 and which regrettably was ratified by the judges of the High Court of Justice, to be an unfair law and a grave violation of the freedom of speech of Israeli citizens. That law has created a situation in the state of Israel whereby any boycott by anyone against anyone else is permitted, yet only calling for a boycott of settlement products is prohibited.

Israeli citizens who are religious Jews are permitted to call for a boycott of non-kosher restaurants. Social justice movements can call for boycotting products that are exorbitantly priced. Vegetarians can call for boycotting animal products. Even the extreme right wing is allowed to call for a boycott against the Arab citizens. A settler organisation called the Samaria Settlers’ Committee recently did just that, including publicising a detailed list of the names and addresses of Arab-owned shops which the organisation called to boycott.

We consider this legal and public situation to be blatantly unfair and discriminatory. However, considering this situation, Gush Shalom clarifies, for the avoidance of all doubt, that the action of gathering information about factories and businesses in settlements and publicising the same through the Settlement Products Wiki is by no means an intention to call for the boycotting of settlement products.

The purpose of gathering and publicising the information is to provide the most reliable and accurate consumer information that we were able to gather, in order to enable consumers – each and every one individually – to make wise and informed decisions according to their personal considerations.

Sources and resources

Concerning the sources of the information that was gathered Keller stated:

In the course of our work we greatly relied on material that has been previously compiled and publicised by other peace groups, especially the project Who Profits from the Occupation? as well as publications of Peace Now.

In addition, we located much information that is publicised by the settlers themselves – websites and advertisements of various companies, lists of businesses that are publicised by the managements of the settlement industrial zones, and two online directories that are specifically for the settlements – Dapei Katom (The Orange Pages) and the Business Community of Samaria, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Binyamin.

We relied additionally on Dunsguide Dun and Bradstreet’s online directory of companies, and the portal Takdin, which comprises an extensive collection of court rulings in civil proceedings, including those in which settlement companies are involved.

More than once, details were found in these two resources that the companies themselves chose not to reveal in their websites and in the information that they provide to the media.

For the purpose of publishing the information in a systematic and easy-to-use format, we used Wikipedia software which is freely available online.

For the information of Justice Minister [Ayelet] Shaked, I wish to emphasise that this was a wholly voluntary project by activists of an NGO with limited means and resources and which does not receive any government funding – neither from the government of Israel nor from any foreign government.

Keller concluded:

Although we made immense efforts to avoid mistakes, it may be found that the information that we publicised is not devoid of such. In the event that any mistakes are found, they were done inadvertently and without malice. Anyone who wishes to correct mistakes, to add details and/or to share new information is welcome to contact us. In the event that such new information is found to be accurate, we undertake to add any new and relevant information, in order to enable each and every user to make independent and informed decisions.

For further information, call Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesperson, on +972-(0)54-2340749
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