Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 12:19 UK

Jerusalem Diary: 31 March

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Basil plant, generic
Basil is one of the items UK shoppers have seen marked 'West Bank'

Not all consumers are the same. Not all supermarket shoppers care just about price, or freshness, or brand. Some also care about from where a product came.

Since I wrote about labelling of produce from the West Bank, in November, several people got in touch to tell me that they had been mystified by supermarket food, labelled as produce of the "West Bank". Did that mean produce of Israeli settlements or Palestinian farms?

On Tuesday, the British government is chairing a meeting in London on the issue.

A spokesman from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that it follows a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown from the charity Oxfam.

The spokesman was keen to stress that this was not a formal "consultation", but a "roundtable meeting" with retailers, a charity, and some government departments, called as a result of "public concern", to discuss whether it might be feasible to provide consumers with more information.

Ahava factory, West Bank

Mike Bailey, from the Oxfam office in Jerusalem, was more explicit:

"We're concerned about two aspects: that Israeli companies which are farming or extracting minerals from the West Bank are denying Palestinians the chance to use these natural resources, in contravention of the Geneva Convention on occupation; and that if the produce is not clearly labelled, consumers are denied the opportunity to make an informed choice, so they may unwittingly be supporting an illegal occupation."

What is more, Mike Bailey says, a new trading law may make more specific labelling a legal requirement, rather than a voluntary choice.

The European Union's Unfair Commercial Practices Directive was transposed into British law last year. According to Mike Bailey, the directive "makes it illegal to withhold material information from consumers in their decision-making."


Israeli manufacturers say that they are already feeling the effect of an informal boycott.

A private survey carried out by the Manufacturers Association of Israel has identified a huge decline in demand for Israeli exports.

That has been caused, in large part, by the global economic slump. But one in five exporters said that "being Israeli causes some problems".

In this case, the problem stems from the recent conflict in Gaza. An official from the Association, who asked not to be named, because the publicity had not been helpful, said that a boycott "happens every so often" - during wars, or Palestinian uprisings.

He argued, though, that if people wanted to boycott Israeli goods, then they might find it difficult to be consistent:

"You should probably shut down your computer because the processor has come from the Intel plant at Qiryat Gat; you should shut down your cellphone because Nokia and Sony use Israeli-designed software; you will have to end your Powerpoint presentation because your memory stick was developed in Israel."

Video installation documenting evacuation of settlers from Gaza, 2005 (Footage: Yaacov Klein)
Video installations document the evacuation of the settlements

Older memories of Gaza hang low and heavy over a small museum in Jerusalem.

The Gush Katif Museum opened last year. Last week it staged a new exhibition linked to the upcoming Passover festival.

My guide was Karni Eldad, daughter of Arieh Eldad, a member of the Knesset for the hard-right National Union party, and a former brigadier-general.

The exhibition dwells on the reflections of the 8,000 settlers evacuated from Gaza in 2005.

Low, on one wall, a key has been mounted inside a frame. Karni Eldad explains: "It has the connotation of the Palestinians who carry keys around their necks and say it's for their house in Akko, or Haifa, or Jerusalem... and yes, we're also going to come back."

Key of former settlement house
The settlers too, like many Palestinian refugees, keep the keys of their homes

But as we walk through the handsomely refurbished space, Karni's optimism drains.

"No-one is safe," she says, pointing at one exhibit, the skeletal frame of a suitcase. "You think what is yesterday will happen tomorrow. But there is no guarantee."

Her gloom deepens when she contemplates the new government. She predicts that more settlements will be "taken down".

"We, the right-wing, are not good at ruling. It's a psychological thing. No-one knows why, but when they get into government, they go all the way left."

One sign of that, she says, is the fact that her father's party, the National Union, will not be a part of the new coalition government. "I asked my dad yesterday if he was going to be a minister," Karni told me. She paused. "Wrong question."

Here is a selection of your comments on Tim Franks' diary:

I am amazed that European citizens boycott products coming from Israel - the only democracy in the Middle East that does not discriminate against gay people and women and it doesn't arrest journalists, opposition leaders or reformers who speak out against the government. Why don't folks boycott countries that do those things instead? I love buying products made in Israel, made by Israel's people. If you stop buying things from their market you will do without a lot of science and medical products. Buy American and Israeli and you can't go wrong. God bless the Jewish people
Lei1960, Tennessee, Usa

I agree, maybe those people who wish to boycott Israeli goods should do so. But I urge them to be wholehearted and consistent. They should remember their politics when their doctor tells them he will use a pillcam to diagnose bowel cancer; they should tun off their computers (don't want those Intel chips running), avoid high quality fruits and vegetables, no seedless watermelons or anything that benefits from hydroponic technology; don't allow your doctor to use a wide range of medicines or therapies, put away you mobile phone and USB memory stick, do not Google, throw away your HP products, anything containing Freescale semiconductor parts should not be used, do not drive a BMW, Volvo or a GM with advanced drive assistance systems....not much left from our modern wold is there? And of course they should only write to the BBC using, pen, paper and carrier pidgeon.
Jason, Modiin, Israel

Israel is illegally occupying the Palestinian land of the West Bank. Israel has stolen the best farming land and use all the natural resources at the poor palestinians expense. As a consumer I want to know that the produce I am buying has not come from a place where the people are occupied and the land is being exploited by the occupiers. Boycotting goods from South Africa during the apartheid years worked, the same will encourage Israel to leave Palestinian land.
Trevor Harper, Kensington, England

The boycott of South African goods was a tool in the war against apartheid. It is only natural that this tool is used again in the war against the occupation of Palestine and the new apartheid that the indigenous Arabs of Palestine are suffering. The issue is that Israel wants to exist on Arab soil as a Jewish majority by removing the Arab population and replacing them with Jewish immigrants. Israel forbids the displaced Arabs their right to return and is now also advocating the removal of the remaining Arabs in Israel. It is shameful that the West continues to support, finance and arm such a regime in its continuing policy of ethnic cleansing.
Ibrahim, UK

I have always boycotted Israeli goods. I don't care if my pentel comes from israel, I am selective about my boycott. I buy all my vegetables from a British outlet delivered weekly, cheaper, better, organic and British. I do not have to waste time in Waitrose wondering where the produce has come from. I just eat what i know about
Pam, London

I have nothing against the Jews but I think we as ordinary citizens of the world should have a way of expressing our concerns, worries and anger when injustices occur around the world. One of those occasions happened to be the recent attack on Gaza by Israeli army and the excessive lethal force they used mainly against civilians. I, like many others, was shocked. One of the ways of expressing my dismay is using the mighty Euro in a way I want, so I choose not to buy anything that is labelled "product of Israel" until they start treating others with dignity, respect and humanity. I think it is very important that the exact origin of all products are clearly labelled on products.
Mertsi Merimies, Jyvaskyla, Finland

The British are dealing with their own post-colonialism guilt. Barking at Israel gives them relief and momentary compensation.
Karin , Jaffa

I buy Israeli products, especially the delicious Israeli couscous. But I would not buy settler products if I knew where they were coming from. I once saw an Israeli woman on TV saying that the settlements are a cancer on Israeli society and that if they were not removed, Israel would perish. I believe Israel has the right to exist and defend herself, I believe that Israelis want peace with all their neighbours. But the settlements are obstacles to peace. As long as these settlements exist, then the problems will persist.
Marcos, Washington, Us

I personally feel it's an important duty to purchase ethical food. I would not feel right feeding my family knowing another family was probably exploited or wronged in order to put food on my table. Surely by not boycotting food from disputed land we're not only not helping the situation, but in an indirect way, we are fuelling the conflict.
Mabs, Yorkshire, Uk

I am a religious Jew and lived in Israel for seven years. Being religious we have our restrictions about what fruit and veg we eat. We may not eat food that wasn't tithed. There also many restrictions on food grown during the sabbatical year (finished on 30th Sep 2009). This means that the export of fruit grown between October 2008 and September 2009 is forbidden. We may not assist those of our non-religious brethren who export during this time, so we are careful not to buy produce carrying the 'made in Israel' label during this time. We, the Jewish community in the diaspora, know better than anyone else how easy it is for Israeli exporters to market their goods under different names, rather than "made in Israel". It would be very hard for the Palestinians to achieve their goals. Moreover most of those who face job losses are Palestinian and Thai workers.
Aryeh, formerly Jerusalem

I have seen products labelled as "West Bank" and actually bought them, thinking I was supporting Palestinian farmers. I was totally disappointed when I found out that this was not the case. I think that all retailers should be honest and give us the choice as to whether we buy these products or not by being more explicit as to where these products actually come from. If people are happy to support the proceeds from illegal communities, that is up to them. I for one would like retailers to be clear about this.
R Broni, London

I wonder if the same people who are calling for a boycott of Israeli products are also calling for a boycott for Sudanese, Iranian, Zimbabwean and Syrian products? The human rights situation is far from perfect here - for Jews as well as Arabs, yet by focusing their hatred exclusively on this country the boycott organisers leave their motives open to only to the most sinister of interpretations. A sad day for what is left of international moral standards.
Shimon, Jerusalem Israel

As a German this reminds me of the sinister past of my country: Deutsche! Wehrt euch! Kauft nicht beim Juden! It appears the BBC and the British government want to continue this sorry tradition of "Judenboykott". What a pity.
Daniel Schilling, Berlin, Germany

The Basil I use was produced by mother nature and picked by humans. Labelling is not going to resolve a conflict which is fuelled by stigmas. In the 20's, Jews didn't buy from arabs and vice versa. Look where this got them 85 years later. By hurting the Israeli market you will hurt not only the Palestinians but the Israeli Arabs. This will serve no-one but those who want to hurt Israelis more than help Palestinians.
Itsik, London

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