Following the taking of attendance and the reading of the opening chapter of the Koran, some homeroom classes across the West Bank are devoting time to educate students on the importance of supporting local products. A second lesson comes after lunch and recess, when the students line up to return to classrooms.
The goal is to get kids to support products made in the West Bank, which include Palestinian-made stationary and school supplies, medicines, and even school uniforms. The Ministry of Education sent out letters to teachers detailing the new emphasis along with posters encouraging students to “eat what we plant and wear what we make.”
The school campaign comes amid a growing trend in the West Bank to boycott Israeli products in the wake of the fighting between Israel and Hamas that left at least 2200 Palestinians dead and widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip.
“The letter that we sent to the principals and teachers was not political,” an official in the Palestinian Ministry of Education told The Media Line. “He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk on the subject. “No Israeli factory manufactures like a Palestinian factory and we want our kids to know that,” he claims.
A source in the Palestinian government told The Media Line that an official decision to boycott Israeli products has never been declared.
The idea to step up the utilization was presented by the Palestinian Federation of Paper Industries, on behalf of the industrial zone. Attached to it was a poster which read, “Yes to Palestinian products.” The letter was sent during Israel’s 53 day war on the Gaza Strip.
The official says his ministry was asked to help create more awareness of the importance of national products. “They’re also cheaper (than Israeli products),” he said. The official directly responsible for this portfolio says they are not targeting only Israeli products.
“If a student has a choice between a Palestinian product and a Turkish product, we want him to pick the Palestinian one,” he said.
The New Generation School for boys and girls in the West Bank village of Abu Dis is one school that is following the instructions from the Palestinian Ministry of Education at the start of the new school year.
“You need to teach things beyond Arabic, Math and English. You need to plant in their brains how they need to contribute to the national goals of their communities,” said Terry Boullata, the principal of the private school.
She also told The Media Line that the ideology is about the “popular acceptance of a decision that is coming, logically, reasonably, and at the right moment and time.”
Boullata says the images on television of the death and devastation in the Gaza Strip, was upsetting for all Palestinians, and rejecting Israeli goods is one way to express their anger. She says parents tell her that children are asking their parents not to buy Israeli dairy products such as those made by the large cooperative Tnuva, but to buy similar Palestinian products by smaller dairies such as Jebrin and Janedi. Boullata said that all Israeli snacks have been removed from the cafeteria.
“I have 400 kids in my school and they are all watching me to see if I bring Israeli products to the school,” she said insisting that by doing this, they are not brain washing children. If a child were to bring an Israeli product to school, he or she would not be punished or sent home, because creating awareness can never be by force, but by a dialogue with the children.”
“The children can discuss this among themselves,” she said. “One will ask another “why are you drinking the Israeli milk? Did you try the Palestinian milk? It’s good.” The children go back to their parents, and say “Dad, my friends are using the Palestinian milk, why don’t we use it?”
The Ministry insists that it is not working with any boycott organization. But officials from the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement tell a different story.
“We are working with school-age boys and girls, that’s where we are going to consolidate the boycott. In every house, you have a school-age boy or girl who will be a real watcher of that commitment,” activist Mustafa Barghouti told The Media Line. Barghouti is also the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party expected to give Hamas or Fatah a run for its money if new elections are ever held.
The Palestinians say they have been advocating the boycott of Israeli products for years now as a way to express non-violent resistance to Israeli policies. Originally a call to shun products from Jewish communities in areas that Israel acquired in 1967, and which Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state, the campaign has become a rejection of all Israeli-made products.
Israel exports to the West Bank total $4.2 billion. Barghouti says consumption of Israeli products in the West Bank is down by 50 percent, but economists say that may be an exaggeration. Palestinian economist Jafar Sadaqa says production in local Palestinian factories is up 30 to 50 percent, and eight new factories have been given licenses to open.
Sadaqa says it’s not possible to say exactly how much Israel has been affected by the boycott.
“What we know, is yes, this is affecting Israel’s economy. But by how much? That remains to be seen,” he told The Media Line adding that the ‘real test’ is that the boycott continues long after the Gaza war. He says Palestinian factories are hiring more workers and ‘that is sure to bring down the unemployment rate.’
Azmi Abd al-Rahman, the Director-General of Policy and Economic Studies and spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Economy said that observing the boycott of Israeli goods could create 70,000 – 100,000 new jobs.
Palestinian businessman Jeryes Sharbain who sells textbooks to Palestinian schools said that, like many others, he began looking for alternatives to Israeli products during the recent Israeli war on Gaza.
“With our money, we were putting bullets in their guns,” he told The Media Line.
At Abu Rami Stores in Abu Dis, owner Omar Salah was known for carrying Israeli products. But he says, his customers have told him that they do not want to see these products in the store. In all of his years running the supermarket, he says “this is the most real the boycott has ever been.”
He says consumption of Israeli products is down 66% especially when it comes to the dairy products. Many of his Israeli-made dairy products expired because they were not purchased and he called the Israeli distribution companies to come and take them. At the same time, there are still a lot of Israeli products on his shelves. Yet he says, when these run out, he does not plan to order more.
Article written by Abdullah H. Erakat
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line