Why Israeli settlement goods should be labelled

Zenande Booi et al. says the DTI's move is a step forward for piece in the Middle East

Labelling Israeli Settlement Goods: A Step Forward for Peace in the Middle East

On 15 May 2012, the South African government, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issued a General Notice of intention requiring that products made in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are correctly labelled and not mislabelled as "Made in Israel".

The General Notice reiterates South Africa's position as recognising the State of Israel only within the borders agreed to in the 1949 Armistice Agreements (the Green Line), which do not include Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.

The illegal nature of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories is a well-known issue. The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have made numerous resolutions regarding the illegal nature of the Israeli occupation and its settlements on Palestinian land.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed the illegal nature of the Israeli occupation and settlements in terms of international customary law. The ICJ stated that Israel is an Occupying Power in terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 of the Convention provides that an Occupying Power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The occupation goes against the Hague regulations and the Israeli Supreme Court recognizes Israel as a belligerent state.

Furthermore, the ICJ has confirmed and reiterated that international law forbids an Occupying Power from using the natural resources of an occupied territory for its own benefit. Many businesses, for example, operating in the settlements are stealing such resources for profit.

With regards to international trade regulations and provisions relating to the protection of intellectual property rights and the regulation of trade, both South Africa and Israel are members of the TRIPS agreement and are bound to give effect to its provisions, including Article 22 (2), which requires that states party to it create legal mechanisms to prevent the misleading presentation of products to the public, such as packaging or marketing that indicates or suggests that products originate in a geographical area other than their true place of origin.

The notice was issued in terms of South Africa's Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (CPA). The stated object of the CPA is to ensure that consumers are empowered and informed, while promoting fairness and propriety. According to this Act, one of the duties of the producer, vendor or importer is to provide an accurate trade description for any products to be sold in South Africa.

A trade description must include the place or country of origin of the product. The Act requires that trade descriptions not be misleading on any matter, whether expressly or impliedly and empowers the Minister to, through regulations, require particular categories of goods to have a trade description applied to them.

This is the legal context in which the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Rob Davies issued the notice. Minister Davies stated that consumers in South Africa should not be misled into believing that products made in illegal settlements on OPT originate from Israel.

This development is a concrete step by the South African government and complies with national laws and international obligations and principles regarding Israel's occupation of Palestinian Territories. The Minister should be commended for upholding the law and consumers' rights to accurate information and choose which products they wish to purchase.

South Africa is not the first country to insist on a distinction between products originating from the OPT and those originating from Israel. European Union law requires that when products are imported there be a distinction between those originating from Israel and those from the OPT.

In 2009, a British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued a voluntary guidance for produce from the West Bank, which suggested that labels could be made more precise by including information such as "Israeli settlement produce" or "Palestinian Produce".

There is an agreement between Israel and the EU that products made inside Israel's pre-1967 war borders will have a preferential rate of import duty. Furthermore, in terms of EU trade law, products that originate from OPT but are produced by Palestinians themselves are treated as duty-free or imported at a reduced tariff. By contrast, products from Israeli settlements inside the OPT do not fall into either of these specially treated categories of imported goods.

Denmark and Switzerland are considering similar action to South Africa.

Open Shuhada Street South Africa has been campaigning the DTI since 2008 for this resolution and alleges that products and produce from Israeli companies such as Ahava, which originate in the settlements of the OPT, are being distributed in South Africa with misleading labels stating that the respective products are made in Israel.

The notice has been hailed by Palestinian human rights groups such the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee as a recognition of the injustice done to Palestinians in the OPT by Israel and its settlements.

The economic impact, aside from the human rights abuses, that the Israeli occupation has on the Palestinian people and their ability to develop their own economy has been conveniently sidelined by occupation supporters. In addition to this, little consideration is given to the extent to which Israel economically exploits resources from the OPT and in some instances to the exclusion of Palestinians. This exclusion is achieved by preventing Palestinians from accessing the most economically viable land and sites with valuable natural resources. This is in violation of international law.

In 2011, B'Tselem, the respected Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories, published a report (click here) that highlights the detrimental effect of restrictions placed by Israeli laws and policy on Palestinians' economic development.

Palestinians are prevented from accessing much of their land and thus from being able to benefit from their natural resources. For example, Palestinians are not able to profit from the economic potential of the Dead Sea, which is rich in salts and minerals and used to produce skin care and beauty products. The Dead Sea lies between the West Bank, Jordan and Israel. In the West Bank, the Dead Sea falls within Area C, which, economically speaking, is completely sealed off from Palestinians.  

Currently, the largest producer of beauty products from minerals extracted from the Dead Sea in the OPT is an Israeli company called Dead Sea Laboratories. Its biggest export product is Ahava, which was previously stocked in South African outlets such as Wellness Warehouse, Dis-Chem and Truworths. Its main production facility is on the West Bank shore of the Dead Sea in the Israeli settlement Mitzpe Shalem. This state of affairs and the actions by Ahava, and many other Israeli companies based in the OPT inside illegal settlements, is in violation of international law.

The notice issued by the DTI has gained support from various prominent individuals such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Zapiro and Zackie Achmat. Figures such as Avraham Burg (the former speaker in the Knesset and former chairman of the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency) (click here) and Alon Liel (the former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa) (click here) have come out in support of correct product labelling as it will force Israel to acknowledge its legitimate and original borders within the Green Line. The ANC and COSATU have also voiced their support for exploring means for progressively realising Palestinian basic rights. 

Organisations such as the ACDP, IFP and SA Zionist Federation have done themselves a considerable disservice by misleading their members into supporting the protest march ‘Africans for Israel', which took place on 28 and 29 June 2012, and rejects Minister Davies' notice.

Aside from their false claims about the notice having no legal basis, anti-Israel rhetoric and, in particular, Rev. Moshoe's (ACDP President) questionable views on human rights; their support only served to legitimize apartheid in Israel and its human rights abuses. This is all the more appalling considering South Africa's own history of apartheid and is an insult to every human being that has suffered under any oppressive regime.

ACDP President Rev. Moshoe is on record saying to Israeli newspaper Haaretz (click here) that, "I am unaware of Israel's policies. I have not made time to look into that and I don't think it will help me, being busy as I am, to study Israel's policies". It begs the question of why did he then get involved in the first place?

In responding to the notice, many right-wing protesters have stated that organizations such as Open Shuhada Street South Africa are anti-Israel and are not concerned with the economic impacts of the notice on Palestinian workers. That Open Shuhada Street South Africa is "anti-Israel" is utter nonsense. Indeed, as re-affirmed by Alon Liel and Avraham Burg, correct product labeling will force Israel to begin complying with the law and bring about a speedier peace settlement. Also, Palestinian workers themselves in the OPT have called for greater efforts, which include targeted boycotts, to resolve the impasse. 

If anything, the DTI's notice is in compliance with the law and is a significant step in bringing about a peaceful and equitable solution between Israel and Palestine.

Zenande Booi is an Open Shuhada Street Management Committee member, Jonathan Dockney is the General Secretary for Open Shuhada Street and Bruce Bairgrie is the Acting Chairperson for Open Shuhada Street (see website)

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