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Made in Palestine? Farmers in Occupied Territories struggle to sell

Published time: August 16, 2012 14:33
Edited time: August 16, 2012 18:44

Palestinian farmers harvest grapes (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

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Exporting local products to global markets is one of the pillars of any country’s economy, but farmers in the Palestinian territories deal with the unique problem of being part of an economy not formally recognized as a state.

The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 under the Oslo accords, and tasked with governing areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while negotiating with Israel on the status of Palestinian statehood.

A consensus has yet to be reached 17 years later, leaving Palestinian farmers with the challenge of selling their goods in a market largely dominated by Israeli settler products. 

Israeli products compete directly with Palestinian ones – they are produced by Israeli settlers living in territory under Palestinian Authority control. The international community views the Israeli settlements as an occupying force, infringing on both Palestinian business and land.

The UN enacted resolution 446 in 1979, stating that “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Those territories include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which should all be under Palestinian control, UN charters state. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated that stance in April of 2012, stating that all Israeli attempts to legalize preexisting settlements “runs contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations.”

In light of these circumstances, many international distributors may not realize that every purchase of a Palestinian or Israeli settlement product abroad has the potential to define where people stand in on this hot-button issue.

“People are not sufficiently aware that Israeli settlement products are competing with Palestinian products abroad,” Palestinian Minister of Economics Jawad Al-Naji said to RT. “Also, when we tell the customer that there’s a difference between settlement products and Israeli products, they understand that we’re living under occupation and they can choose what products to buy or not.”

Organizations such as Canaan Fair Trade and The Palestinian Fair Trade Association, both located in Jenin in the West Bank, have been increasing the distribution of Palestinian products abroad, allowing more and more buyers a greater range of choices between Palestinian and Israeli settlement goods.

“The boycott movement also has raised a ‘buy-cott’ movement that asks distributors to carry Palestinian products,” said Nasser Abufarha, director of Canaan Fair Trade. “Especially in the US you find that as much as specialty shops and co-ops are excited to find Palestinian specialty goods in the marketplace, the supermarkets executives, they are excited about it, but they are calculating, ‘okay, what backlash am I going to get from Zionist bloggers in the market place?’”

These products, however, sell for almost double their value because of the cost of competing in a market already dominated by Israeli competition.

“Everyone here grows olives and the so the local market is very small and the competition big. The money we get for our olives is also little” says Mohammed Al Fatah, a Palestinian farmer.

Problems almost also arise when Palestinians try to name their product, since it’s difficult to distinguish their products from those made in the Israeli settlements.

Our products can’t say ‘made in Palestine’ because we’re under occupation and not yet a state. They can say ‘made in the West Bank’ or ‘made in Gaza’ or ‘Palestinian product,” says Hanan Taha-Rayyan, CEO of Paltrade, based in Ramallah.

Some companies, like the Palestinian pharmaceuticals company Pharmacare in the West Bank, can’t sell in their own backyard.

“Our products are not allowed to be registered and not allowed to be distributed to Israelis,” Pharmacare marketing manager Ziad Abualrob said, adding that “any product with an Arabic label or Palestinian label will be rejected by the securities.”

Restrictions on the Palestinian market are creating economic difficulties for the farmers, who hope that supporters around the world will pay a few extra dollars for a bottle of olive oil from Palestinian farmers.

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