LONDON – The London branch of Israeli cosmetics company AHAVA,
which has attracted many loyal buyers over the years, has also become the center of mass pro-Palestinian protests, prompting the company's management to give in and shut it down.
The Dead Sea is considered one of the State of Israel's
most remarkable symbols worldwide. The AHAVA company has been taking advantage of this unique branding for years, with skincare products made of mud and mineral-based compounds from the Dead Sea.
The company's link to Israel, however, became the greatest difficulty AHAVA has been forced to deal with in the past two years. Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists have been gathering outside the London flagship store every Saturday in the past few months, calling on British residents to boycott the company's products.
The shop's location – at Covent Garden, one of the British capital's most popular shopping districts – has exposed the organized protest against AHAVA to masses of British residents and tourists.
The reason for the uproar is that the company's headquarters are in Mitzpe Shalem, which is defined by the pro-Palestinian organizations as "an illegal and criminal settlement in the occupied territories."
The fact that AHAVA's product originate in the Dead Sea, which is also considered a disputed area among the activists, has caused even greater anger among the boycotters.
The protestors have reportedly been stopping shoppers outside the store and handing out leaflets explaining that the occupation is a "human crime". Some have even clashed with the shop's employees.
The store's window was also shattered into pieces during one of the protests, and the London Police decided to station forces outside the shop.
At first, the company's management chose to ignore the angry voices. A senior AHAVA official even told Yedioth Ahronoth about six months ago, "We'll remain proud of being a successful Israeli brand."
But the massive pressure from pro-Palestinian organizations in London was too much, and the company decided to close its flagship store this coming weekend. AHAVA has additional stores in the city.
"The shop wasn't profitable," AHAVA spokesman told Yedioth Ahronoth. "The protests damaged our image and created negative media coverage. We are a commercial company and we must conduct cost-benefit calculations."
According to sources in London, the decision to close the flagship store was made after the owner of the building housing the store announced that he would not be renewing his contract with the company.
According to the landlord, the noisy protests outside the shop have led to many complaints from nearby store owners, who say their sales have been badly affected by the riots.
"On some Saturdays it was a real nightmare being here," says a salesman in a nearby store. "We couldn't walk on the street because of the protests and the area looked like a scene of a terrorist attack."
Moreover, it turns out that residents living on the street complained to the authorities about the commotion created by AHAVA's presence in the area.
The timing of the closing, ahead of the Palestinian UN statehood bid,
has evoked a great amount of satisfaction among the protestors fighting AHAVA.
"We'll continue protesting against any institution originating in the occupied territories until we remove all of them from Britain," a source in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said Tuesday. "Getting rid of AHAVA is just the first step."