- Mehadrin Group
- Arava Export Growers
- Bickel Group Ltd, Carmel-Agrexco & Hadiklaim
- Shamir Salads
- Jordan Plains Development Corporation
Why agricultural trade is a key target for the BDS movement
‘Take Israeli Apartheid off the Menu’: European wide campaigning against the trade in Israeli agriculture
The UK campaign against agricultural trade with Israel
Agriculture is important for the BDS movement as it is the sector of the Israeli economy which has, perhaps, the biggest overall direct and indirect impact on Palestinian communities. The industry is closely controlled by the Israeli state, which allocates land and water resources and gives subsidies for farming activities and visas for foreign workers. For Palestinians living in rural areas the impact of Israeli settlement farms has been catastrophic; not only are their lands confiscated for agricultural settlement expansion at an alarming rate, their natural water resources are also stolen by the Israeli state. It is not just rural Palestinians who are affected by Israeli farming. Palestinians are also used by Israel as a ‘captive workforce’ for the settlements. Urban workers commute through checkpoints at dawn in order to get to their jobs in the fields and packinghouses. Once there, they receive around half the minimum wage and receive no contracts, sick pay or health insurance. For Palestinians at least, Israel’s fruits taste bitter.
Israel’s revenues from the agricultural industry account for 2.6% of the country’s GDP. Israel is also rapidly expanding its agricultural technologies industry.
On the face of it may seem that the BDS movement spends a disproportionate amount of energy on agricultural produce, considering the relatively small contribution it makes to Israeli GDP. However, agriculture has always been closely connected to the Israeli occupation and has one of the biggest and most direct impacts on the lives of the Palestinians. At the creation of the state of Israel, agriculture was seen as a top priority for the new state, which saw quick agricultural expansion as necessary in order to ‘settle the underdeveloped area of the country for geopolitical security’. Agricultural development reinforced some of the key myths of the founding of the state of Israel, of ‘making the desert bloom’ and ‘an empty land’. After the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel immediately started to build settlements, with a special focus on the Jordan valley, where the objective was to reset the borders of Israel to include the Valley. Since then the Jordan Valley has grown to be one of the largest agricultural centres in the country, providing a livelihood for Israeli settlers living in over 30 illegal settlements located there.
EU market for the import of Israeli produce
60 per cent of Israeli agricultural production consists of fruit, vegetables and flowers (the other 40 percent is livestock and animal products, mainly for the domestic market), and the growth in fruit and vegetable sales is mainly driven by the export market. The EU, followed by the USA is the biggest market for the export of Israeli fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers, with vegetables currently being the fastest growing product. Within the EU, the main importer of Israeli products is the Netherlands, although produce that arrives in the Netherlands often gets reshipped to other countries. This is particularly problematic for campaigners in the case of Israeli flowers which tend to go from Israel straight to the big Dutch flower auction houses such as Flora Holland, and then on from there in mixed country assignments that do not require the country of origin to be stated.
The UK is the second largest importer of fresh Israeli produce in the EU (12 percent in 2010).
Organic produce is a big growth area in Israeli agriculture, mainly designed for the European import market. 75 percent of organics are grown for export, with a massive 90 percent destined for the European market.
A captive workforce
There are 18,000 Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits employed in illegal Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank (2010 figures). A further 20,000 permit holders work inside Israel. The Israeli high court ruled in 2007 that Israeli labour laws had to be extended to Palestinians employed by Israelis in the occupied territories and since then Palestinians have been legally entitled to the Israeli minimum wage and other benefits such as holiday pay, payslips and health cover. However, the reality is that Palestinian settlement workers and agricultural settlement workers in particular, have seen few changes in their working conditions as a result, as there is almost no enforcement of the Israeli high court ruling inside the occupied territories.
Palestinians can only get work permits if they are ‘security cleared’ by Israel; a complex process in which Palestinians have to go through security checks administered by the Israeli security authorities every three or six months. Sometimes the security authorities demand collaboration from the Palestinians in exchange for them passing the clearance process, resulting in a certain amount of suspicion of settlement workers within their own communities.
In addition to workers with permits, there are an estimated 10,000 ‘illegal’ Palestinian settlement workers, mainly working in the agricultural sector and a majority of them working in the Jordan valley. There are also Palestinians working within agriculture illegally inside Israel, especially in the Arava region.
The conditions for ‘illegal’ workers are especially dire: they are not even superficially protected by any law and are especially vulnerable to exploitation. They work long hours, have no right to unionise, receive no health insurance, sick pay or holiday pay and get paid on average half the minimum wage they are entitled to. As these workers are not regulated, child labour is common in the settlements, especially in the fruit picking fields, with children as young as 11 working adult shifts. Produce exported from settlements where these kind of working conditions exist can regularly be found on British supermarket shelves.
Further information about the working conditions face by Palestinians working both in the occupied territories for Israeli settlements, and inside Israel, can be found in publications by Kav LaOved, an independent Israeli workers rights organisation.
‘Bleeding Palestine dry’: water and agriculture
Much is made currently of the growing water crisis in Israel, and one of the country’s priorities is to develop its ‘advanced technologies’ sector that could improve irrigation technologies. An astonishing 1,127 million cubic metres of water out of 2,147 per year (or 57% of Israel’s total water consumption) is used for agricultural production. Only around 60 million cubic metres is allocated to the Palestinian Authority, making the water issue, and hence agriculture – one of the best examples of how Israel’s apartheid policies are implemented on the ground.
All water, and 94 per cent of the land in Israel, is ‘public’ with only 6 per cent in private ownership. Israeli farmers, including Israeli settlers, receive generous water subsidies, while Palestinians living under occupation find it extremely hard to get access to water, and pay double the Israeli rates. In areas dominated by Israeli settler farms, such as the Jordan valley, the Israeli national water company Mekorot controls 98 per cent of the water supply, almost all of which is used by Israeli settlers. Many Palestinian communities have to drive for miles, sometimes through Israeli checkpoints, to collect water by tractor. Israel claims state ownership of all water, including natural wells, and generally does not allow Palestinians to use them. Even in the rare cases where Palestinians are allowed to access their local natural water resources it may be of little use, since they are not allowed to drill their wells deep enough to compete with Mekorot, which has led to most natural wells drying up.
Agricultural trade: complicit companies
The Mehadrin Group, which claims to grow 75% of the produce it sells, appears to have replaced Agrexco as the dominant exporter of agricultural produce. A June 2011 Haaretz article reported that Granot, a union of avocado growers that had been one of Agrexco’s biggest suppliers, had signed a distribution agreement with Mehadrin and predicted that other growers would follow suit.1 The company described itself as “Israel’s largest grower and exporter of fresh produce” and “trusted by many of Europe’s best retail chains” in a recent press release.2
Mehadrin Group company Mehadrin Tnuport Export (MTEX) reports to have yearly sales of around €145m, 70% of which is from exports, it says.3 The Mehadrin Group distributes its products through wholly owned companies in France, UK, Sweden and the Netherlands.4 The group recently announced plans to open a Swiss branch called Mehadrin Central Europe AG to market Mehadrin products in Switzerland and surrounding markets.5 The company sells a wide variety of Israeli fruits and vegetables and claims to also occasionally market South African and South American produce.6
Mehadrin sources produce from growers in the illegal settlement of Beqa’ot in the Jordan Valley. When researchers from Corporate Watch visited Beqa’ot, they found the Mehadrin logo on a packing house and workers explained that Mehadrin has a monopoly on exports from the settlement. During interviews with researchers, workers went on to explain that they earned even less than the average Palestinian in the Valley, with workers mentioning wages as low as 56 NIS (€11) a day. Grapes and dates packaged in the settlement were all labelled ‘Produce of Israel’.7
Through a subsidiary, Mehadrin owns 50% of Mirian Shoham, a company that packages and markets agricultural produce. Mirian Shoham has a packing house for mangos in the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights.8 Several business listing websites list the registered offices of the company as being in Ramot in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.9
Mehadrin proudly boasts that it sells 65% of the famous Jaffa citrus fruit brand that is controlled by the Citrus Marketing Board of Israel.10 Norwegian researchers found Jaffa oranges packaged with the Mehadrin logo in the Massua settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley.11
Mehadrin operates water wells and aquifers that help to provide Israeli farmers with 15 million cubic metres of water and “supplies millions of cubic metres of drinking water for domestic consumption through Mekorot”, the Israeli state water company that plays a key role in the theft of water from Palestinian communities in occupied Palestinian territory.12 Mehadrin’s role in providing water to farmers and its relationship with Mekorot make Mehadrin directly complicit with Israel’s discriminatory water policies.13
The Mehadrin Group is partly owned by IDM, a conglomerate whose other companies are involved in the construction of Israel’s Apartheid Wall, among other things.14
AdaFresh is a privately owned exporter of tomatoes, peppers, fresh herbs and edible flowers. A centre in the Netherlands “serves UK and Europe” and the company also sells its produce through a number of European wholesalers, including Dutch company Anaco Greeve.15 Media reports suggest AdaFresh goods have been sold in UK, German and French supermarkets.16
AdaFresh exports products from settlements in the occupied Jordan Valley, including products of Eitan and Inon Herbs from the settlement Na’ama.17 The AdaFresh logo has been photographed on a packing house in an illegal Israeli settlement called Agraman in the Jordan Valley.18
Arava Export Growers is jointly owned by private investors, farmers and settlement enterprise Jordan Valley Herbs. 19 The company exports peppers, tomatoes, melons, grapes, mangos, herbs, cucumbers, audergines, watermelons and cut flowers under the “Arava” brand name. Export sales in 2008 were about €60m.20 Marketing overseas takes place through subsidiaries in the USA and the Netherlands and a UK sales office.21
The company exports produce grown in settlements in the occupied Jordan Valley, including produce grown in the settlement of Mechola by Jordan River Herbs.22 Researchers with Corporate Watch found packing houses bearing the Arava logo in numerous illegal Israeli settlements, including Beqa’ot Mehola, Netiv Hagdud and Gilgal, Tomer, and Ro’I.23 The 2008 version of Arava’s website featured a map of its tomato growing regions that included the occupied Jordan Valley and text explaining that it exports peppers, herbs, grapes and organic products from the Jordan Valley.24 The current version of the website does not contain such references.
Beresheet is an Israeli fruit export and marketing company based in the Galilee and occupied Syrian Golan Heights. It has a depot and packing house in the illegal settlement of Merom Golan. The company has dozens of plantations on illegal settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan and advertises that it exports to Europe. Produce advertised on its website includes apples, peaches, nectarines, pears, cherries, kiwi fruit, lychees, pears and persimmons. An address in Merom Golan is given on the site as the company’s main contact address.25
According to its website, Beresheet markets and produces 50,000 tonnes of produce annually. The company lists the following illegal settlement kibbutzim as partners: El Rom, Avnei Eitan, Merom Golan, Yonatan, Ein Zivan and Ortal. Beresheet also operates a visitors centre in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ein Zivan. Beresheet claims it has a 30 per cent share of the Israeli fruit export market and exports produce to England, Russia, Cyprus, South Africa and more. Its goods are marketed under the Duet and Genesis brand names.26
Hadiklaim is an Israeli date growers’ collective that exports to over 30 countries including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.27 The company markets dates under the brand names of Jordan River, Jordan River Bio-Top and King Solomon, and under private labels of supermarket chains. Hadikalim dates are sold by major retailers in the UK, Switzerland and other European supermarkets.28 Hadiklaim specialises in Medjoul dates, the kind most frequently used by Muslims for breaking their fast in Ramadan. Boycott campaigns against Israeli dates have run for the last few years around the Islamic holy month.29
The company works from illegal settlements, including Beit Ha-Arava and Tomer in the occupied Jordan Valley.30
Shamir Salads is a privately owned company that manufactures and exports pre-packaged chilled salads, dips and spreads. According to the company website, its products are sold in Russia, the UK, Holland, Denmark, France, Ukraine and North America.31 Shamir Salad products are also sold by online retailer Amazon.32
The Shamir Salads factory is located in the Barkan Industrial Zone, an illegal Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory. Corporate Watch interviewed a worker at the factory, who told of long hours, below minimum wage pay and exploitative conditions.33 According to the company website, Shamir Salads services “several food distribution routes for the Israel Defence Forces”.34
The Jordan Plains Development Corporation is owned jointly by the Jordan Valley Region Council and individual Jordan Valley settlements. Dates exported under the brand Jordan Plains Development Corporation have been sold in France and the Netherlands. In the past, Agrexco has taken responsibility for the physical export of the products.35
The company provides packaging and transport services for to agricultural growers in Israeli settlements on occupied land in the Jordan Valley. The company exports dates from Israeli settlements in the occupied Jordan Valley.36
Why agricultural trade is a key target for the BDS movement
As discussed above, agricultural trade is a small part of the Israeli economy, but is hugely significant to Israel – in terms of its self image, the founding myths of Israel, including its claim of ‘making the desert bloom, land for settlements and Israel’s aim of annexing the Jordan valley and driving out the Palestinian rural communities that live there.
- EU is the largest export market for the Israeli agricultural export market.
- A campaign against agricultural trade enables a direct challenge to the Israeli narrative of making the desert bloom, an empty land – and to tell the story of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. There is a clear relationship between Israeli agricultural trade and the colonising, apartheid nature of the Israeli state.
- The Jordan valley, which includes approximately a third of the land of the West Bank, is known as the bread basket of Palestine and the land is crucial to the viability of a future Palestinian state.
- The ethnic cleansing of Bedouin farming communities from the Jordan valley and the systematic destruction of Palestinian farming, particularly in the Jordan valley, is a major element in the dependency of the Palestinian economy on Israel.
For the reasons above the agricultural trade campaign is a priority area for the BNC, and there are existing and developing campaigns in most European countries.
Israeli agricultural trade is also central to the current growing debate about the legitimacy of settlement trade with the EU, and to the increasing number of organisations willing to come out publicly against trade in settlement produce or with companies operating in settlements. The most significant and recent of these is the October 2012 report ‘Trading Away Peace’, signed by 19 different NGOs.
‘Take Israeli Apartheid off the Menu’: European wide campaigning against the trade in Israeli agriculture
In addition to the UK most West European countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg have developing BDS campaigns targeting the Israeli agricultural export trade. Over the last few years these campaigns frequently targeted Carmel Agrexco, and in May 2011 at a weekend conference in Montpellier, France, the European Coalition against Carmel Agrexco was formally launched. In September 2011 Carmel Agrexco revealed a 33 million euro loss and massive debts, which it attributed partly to losses in Europe. On 11th September 2011 Agrexco was ordered into liquidation by a court in Tel Aviv.
The UK campaign against agricultural trade with Israel
The BDS campaign in the UK has mainly focussed on a consumer led boycott of Israeli products in the supermarkets, plus a consumer boycott of Israeli dates. All the UK based supermarkets stock Israeli fruit, vegatbles, herbs and dates, and are likely to sell Israeli flowers (although, as referred to above, the lack of country of origin labelling on cut flowers makes this difficult to verify). Israeli fresh produce is mainly in UK shops in the winter, particularly from November to March.
For more information on the Mehadrin Group’s corporate structure, see: http://www.whoprofits.org/Company%20Info.php?id=967
7. Corporate Watch’s full article on Mehadrin: http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/ 05/18/mehadrins-business-in-beqaot-settlement-and-tescos-complicity
11. Private correspondence with Norwegian activists from Boykot Israel group. Photographs available on request.
26.This company profile was first published by Corporate Watch here: http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/beresheet-exporting-the-fruits-of-occupation/
29. Targeting Israeli Apartheid: a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Handbook http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4103
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