Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Angry over the bombardment of Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank are starting to shun Israeli goods.
In the past, concerted efforts have been made to rid the Palestinian market of products originating in Jewish settlements built illegally in the occupied West Bank – but never goods made in Israel. Last week, large supermarket chains began to clear their shelves of Israeli products, promising customers they would replenish them with Palestinian or imported ones.
Salem Hmeidat said the supermarket he works for in Ramallah was slowly replacing Israeli goods. “We are starting off with fresh produce and foodstuffs,” Hmeidat said. “Our progress depends on how receptive our customers are to these changes.”
Palestinians, a captive consumer market, are deeply economically reliant on Israel. Up until May 2014, 86.5 percent of Palestinian exports went to Israel, while approximately 65 percent of all Palestinian imports came from Israel, totalling approximately $300m worth of goods.
Dr Nafeth Abu Baker, an economist at An-Najah University in Nablus, said that for now, the economic boycott is a useful “non-violent tool of the struggle” that can eventually help create jobs and boost sales of local goods. But he acknowledged that its real effects would only be seen in the long run.
“Having a complete boycott is unattainable when there are goods or services we cannot import from elsewhere or provide locally, such as electricity, fuel, gas, and water,” Abu Baker said. “Also, if we want to see substantial changes, every effort should be made on the part of government, civil society, and consumer protection bodies to change attitudes about Palestinian goods.”
In 2005, several hundred Palestinian civil society groups launched a call for the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) of Israel. The BDS movement’s goals are to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, recognise full equality of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
While not directly affiliated with the formal BDS movement, young Palestinians have kick-started a campaign called Support Your Occupation to raise awareness among customers that buying Israeli goods contributes to the army’s hold on the West Bank and Gaza.
As part of this effort, volunteers are travelling to West Bank cities and towns and identifying Israeli goods in an effort to dissuade shoppers from buying them. “Six years ago when I would talk about boycotting Israeli goods, people would roll their eyes at me,” said Aisha Mansour, a volunteer with the campaign. “Today the boycott movement is expanding in many ways.”