Israeli paper towels in Bethlehem market
Photo: Gil Yohanan
The storm surrounding South Africa's decision to boycott Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank is the result of a successful Palestinian campaign. Yet a Ynet probe reveals that the Palestinian Authority continues to market Israeli products, with locals seeing no reason why they should stop purchasing the products.
The boycott, which was recently announced in South Africa, is set to spread to Denmark and Ireland has also announced that it is considering a boycott. As mentioned, the Palestinian Authority has been pushing a campaign through the Palestinian National Initiative led by Mustafa Barghouti which has been gathering momentum.
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For example, in November 2011, Barghouti had reporters take pictures of him spilling an Israeli orange drink into the street together with other Palestinian activists.
Barghouti and other senior Palestinian officials welcomed the South African government's decision yet it would seem that the wind of change has not yet reached the Palestinian Authority.
Brand names like Strauss, Tnuva, Osem, Elite, and other smaller Israeli brands are displayed in Hebrew and Arabic side by side in stores in Bethlehem. The names are even featured on the store signs and in the stores themselves.
"People love and buy Israeli products," says one Bethlehem minimarket owner. And while there are local dairies that sell their products in the Palestinian Authority, he says "lots of people prefer to buy Tnuva products simply because there is tighter supervision and they want to feel safe in what they buy.
"It has nothing to do with politics. When we buy a product from you (Israelis) we know it is under supervision and only made with fresh ingredients."
The Israeli goods are not only found at the local food markets in the PA. Imad Naama, who owns a cleaning and hygiene product warehouse, explains that there is no comparison between the quality of Israeli products and other brands.
"If my clients see that the product has Hebrew letters on it or if it says the product is from Israel, they are sure that it is better," he notes.
Naama said that during the period before the Second Intifada and before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, products produced in Palestinian factories were marked in Hebrew and people were sure that was their place of origin.
After the Intifada broke out, manufacturers changed the inscription and removed the Hebrew so people refused to buy it, even though it was the exact same product. "They said they weren't willing to purchase it because it's what you call 'Arabic work'," he joked.
Faiz Hamadan and Khaled Saleima, stall owners at the market in Bethlehem said they had no political issue with selling Israeli made produce so long as it did not originate in the settlements.
"The Palestinian Authority patrols the stores and examines the country of origin of the inventory, no one here would sell anything that comes from settlement manufactories," they say.
Letter issued by South African Trady and Industry minister
"As long as the products come that come from Israel are inscribed in Arabic – it's fine and people will buy it."
The calls to boycott Israeli products have mainly permeated at the slogan level. On the ground there is no sweeping implementation of the boycott.
"We don't really have much of a choice as the Palestinian industry is not developed enough to compete with Israeli merchandise. There are things you can't buy unless they come from Israel since they aren't produced here, minimarket owners admit."
For his part, Naama said that he has heard of the boycott campaign but says it will never work, as long as there is no alternative. "I have no problem with people trying to encourage the use of Palestinian products. That's fine, but you need to have Palestinian alternatives to the products," he stated.