The British Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued new guidance for British supermarkets which says food imported from Israeli occupied territories such as the West Bank should be classified as either "Israeli settlement produce" or "Palestinian produce". Until now, food imports from the West Bank were simply labeled as "Produce of the West Bank", and there was no differentiation between food manufactured by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and food manufactured by Palestinians. The legal basis for this new guidance is that consumers are entitled to be informed of the source or origin of what they buy. Currently there are no Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip – the last of them were dismantled in 2005.
This guidance is not binding, but is likely to be followed by all supermarkets, and it comes after almost an year’s consultation which was started off after Oxfam wrote to Gordon Brown saying that Israeli occupation of the West Bank was resulting in impoverishment of Palestinians and that illegal Israeli settlements sustained themselves through trade. Supermarkets feel that the new guidance will allow consumers make informed choices.
As may be expected, the Israeli government has slammed the new guidance, while Palestinians feel that it doesn’t go far enough - they would like to see produce from Israeli settlements banned.
I feel that the new guidance from DEFRA is a positive development. No, I am not planning to avoid buying food manufactured by Israeli settlements in the West Bank during my next shopping trip. However, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I firmly believe that Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem is illegal and Israel ought to withdraw to the pre-1967 boundaries. If Israeli continues to be unwilling to dismantle its settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights for much longer, people like me (who describe themselves as friends of Israel) may be forced to boycott produce from Israeli settlements within the Occupied Territories.