This Ramadan, remember to boycott Israeli settlement dates
The ambiguity around the starting date of Ramadan is a running joke amongst Muslims. We feel a sense of camaraderie when exchanging stories about explaining Ramadan to non-Muslims who would ask ‘when does it start?’ only for us to respond with ‘I don’t know.’ After the expected bamboozled looks, comes the explanation that it depends on the moon, and we don’t know the exact date until the night before.
A couple of years ago, I came across the #CheckTheDate campaign and chuckled to myself at the cleverness of this hashtag. All jokes aside, the date is an important symbol of the holy month of Ramadan, rooted in the belief that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) would break his fast with a date.
My earliest memories of Ramadan are of Baba handing around a plate of dates to the backdrop of the Adhaan. When I first moved to Australia for University, I didn’t know any other Muslims so I would break my fast alone in my University college room, the taste of dates being the only reminder of the Ramadan rituals of my childhood.
''As a Palestinian, and as a Muslim who has fasted every Ramadan since I was 9 years old, I’m infuriated by the Israeli regime’s co-option of such a significant symbol of the holy month to further their settler colonial project.''
As a pre-pandemic working adult, I would often rush from the office to iftar or dinner plans, shovelling dates into my mouth from the tupperware that had been sitting in my bag all day waiting for the sun to set.
As a Palestinian, and as a Muslim who has fasted every Ramadan since I was 9 years old, I’m infuriated by the Israeli regime’s co-option of such a significant symbol of the holy month to further their settler colonial project.
Since 2012, there have been calls from Palestinian civil society to boycott dates that are exported from illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. This is underpinned by the knowledge that, in addition to their very existence being illegal, the date groves in these settlements exploit Palestinian labour, including child labour, while stealing water resources from Palestinian villages.
At the same time, the strain of military occupation has left the native Palestinian date industry struggling to compete with the settlement-produced dates that have been flooding local and international markets.
This form of agricultural, economic, and labour exploitation is not new. Since the Nakba, the Israeli regime has been waging an economic war on the Palestinian people by robbing us of our natural resources and expropriating our land and waters; drowning us in poverty and unemployment; exploiting us as cheap labour; completely destroying our local means of production; and using checkpoints, colonial borders and controlled harbours to block trade.
Today, nearly half of the illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley grow dates, with the largest export being Medjoul dates. The export of dates brings profits of $265 million a year to the state, about 60% of which comes from Jordan Valley settlements. This makes dates the most profitable crop grown in the settlements, and maintains their economic viability.
The date boycott campaign thus aims to place an economic chokehold on illegal settlements by making their creation and maintenance unviable.
However, it is important to recognise and acknowledge that the violence perpetrated by the Israeli regime is not limited to its illegal settlements. Last Ramadan, Israel was making a killing out of the export and sale of dates while simultaneously attacking peaceful prayer-goers at Al Aqsa mosque, raining bombs over Gaza, and depriving thousands of Palestinian prisoners from phonecalls with their families and loved ones during the holy month.
Our BDS demands should thus also not be limited to illegal settlements. In 2021, Ben & Jerry’s announced that their products will ‘no longer be sold in the occupied Palestine territories’ but they will ‘stay in Israel through a different arrangement’.
Similarly, in 2014 SodaStream announced that they will move their factory out of an illegal settlement in the West Bank. Both of these ‘wins’ fail to acknowledge that the whole of historic Palestine is occupied. In both cases, Palestinians and allies have been quick to point out that we will not be fooled by efforts to construct and reinforce notions of ‘legal’ versus ‘illegal’ forms of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and settler colonialism. Our liberation movement calls for Palestinian liberation, from the river to the sea.
Every. Single. Muslim Uncle’s shop-Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian- in working class London stock Palestinian dates. #Ramadan solidarity #Palestine 🇵🇸 Although the Uncles shouldn’t have bumped up the price for the holy month 😆😳…still viva viva Palästina pic.twitter.com/vbDtj9qVme— Sanaa Alimia (@SanaaAlimia) April 5, 2022
While the BDS movement aims, first and foremost, to target the Israeli zionist settler colonial project, BDS campaigns also have additional benefits that are often forgotten.
First, the campaigns raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians by highlighting how entrenched Israel’s settler colonial project is in every aspect of Palestinian life and livelihood. The campaigns also shed light to the interconnectedness of our struggles by situating the Palestinian liberation movement within a broader decolonial movement that resists colonial, capitalist incentives that exploit Indigenous land and labour, and deprive Indigenous people of self-determination and economic independence.
The campaign to boycott dates manufactured in Israeli settlements is part of a bigger, global Palestinian liberation and anti-colonial movement and needs to be understood as such, especially because the campaign is working. Israel’s exports of dates to the US have dropped significantly: in 2015, 10.7 million kg of dates entered the US market from illegal settlements; this number has dropped to 3.1 million kg in 2017. Similarly, the export of dates to the UK plummeted by 32% in 2019 while the global export of Palestinian dates jumped by 37%. These are significant wins that must be celebrated.
While we know that Israeli exporters increasingly complain that it is getting harder to export their products, we also know that ‘harder’ is not enough, we need to make it impossible.
Jeanine Hourani is a Palestinian organiser, writer, and researcher currently based in London.
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