JERUSALEM – The European Union’s top court ruled on Tuesday that countries from the block must force retailers to label products made in Israeli settlements adequately, a move that will no doubt spark a backlash.
“Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the State of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin, accompanied, where those foodstuffs come from an Israeli settlement within that territory, by the indication of that provenance,” The European Court of Justice said in a statement.
But for many Palestinians living in Israeli settlements this move is not enough and many demand the prohibition of “Made in Israel” products which they compare to trading on the black market.
“Any product coming from a settlement is an illegal product. It’s a stolen product. It’s like something sold in the black market. So when someone steals something to go sell it in the black market, they sell it for half price,” Moemen Sinokrot, manager of the Palestine Gardens company, told EFE.
Palestinians argue that Israelis cultivate their crops on occupied lands which they rent at very cheap rates.
What’s more, Israeli farmers enjoy a steady flow of water and energy from aquifers on the West Bank controlled by the Israeli government and military.
PALESTINIAN DATES UNDER SCRUTINY
“Any product we want to export from here we have to go load it into a Palestinian truck, go to the Israeli border, you have it security checked, they bring down the palettes, they check one by one, they scan it, they search it, and then they load it into an Israeli truck in order to go to the ports for export.
“Meanwhile, they (Israelis) can load the container from their backing house straight to the port without any extra cost or extra time.
“So this really gives them the advantage to compete over us,” Sinokrot said.
The Jordan Valley, which stretches across the border with Jordan and is dotted with palm groves, greenhouses and farmland leave 90 percent of the area falls under full Israeli control and as such excludes Palestinians from its use.
According to data from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), 60 percent of Israeli colonies in this area thrives on agricultural production, which is exported to the international market, mainly to the European Union.
MADE IN ISRAEL OR A SETTLEMENT?
All products made by Israeli companies reach the international market with a “Made in Israel” label.
But according to the new EU ruling, it wants any products made in the settlements, opposed by the international community, to be clearly identified as such and that they cannot be lumped under the “Made in Israel” tag.
But for Mark Samander, trade and human rights researcher at the NGO Al Haq, a mere label will not guarantee ethical exports.
“As for packaging, the products are usually exported in bulk to specific customers like chain supermarkets in Europe, labeled as ‘packaged in X country’ then ‘originated from Israel’,” Samander told EFE.
“The second way is by exporting it to a third country, then repackaging it as if it were an X product rather than Israeli.
“The third way of avoiding labeling is by mixing dates produced in Israel proper with dates produced in occupied territories, which leads to confusion and hinders any attempts to trace the product,” the researcher added.
Practices that generate further confusion by stating a product had its origins in Israel but was packaged elsewhere further blurs consumer’s access to the exact identity of the product and whether it comes from Israeli settlements.
“Consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect, that a foodstuff comes from a locality or a set of localities constituting a settlement established in one of those territories in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law,” the ECJ ruled.
ISRAELI COLONIES PRODUCE FOR LARGE DISTRIBUTORS
In total only six Palestinian companies, like Palestine Gardens, have managed to penetrate the date trade and production sector in the Jordan Valley.
Israeli companies based in the settlements produce for large distributors, one of which exports 65 percent of the area’s production, according to Al Haq.
This organization is one of many that have demanded that the UN High Commissioner publish the United Nations database of companies working in Israeli settlements.
The reality is that Palestinian companies, large or small, have to pass through Israel in one way or another, in terms of taxes, logistics, importation or packaging, the researcher added.
“Israeli settlement products should not only be flagged but rather should be banned from being imported into the EU or any other state,” Samander urged.