Boycott of Samaria products called devastating for Palestinians
August 7, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
Jewish Tribune Chief Correspondent Joanne Hill put together this four-part package on the United Church of Canada’s conference, which begins this weekend in Ottawa.
TORONTO-SAMARIA – A successful boycott of Jewish businesses in Samaria (the West Bank) will harm the very people the United Church of Canada (UCC) claims it wants to help: Palestinians.
“Do you realize what you’re doing?”
That’s what David Ha’ivri, executive director of the Shomron Liaison Office, would like to ask activists within the UCC who are pushing for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
Ha’ivri represents the Jewish communities in Samaria and regularly takes visitors on fact-finding tours in the region. He said people are often surprised by what they see and learn.
For example, he said, Barkan Industrial Park is an ecologically friendly area, featuring well-tended parks and gardens tucked in amongst 140 factories. The factories employ 6,000 people – roughly half are Israeli citizens (including Jews and Muslims) and the other half are Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.
“All of the Palestinians who work in all of the factories are protected by Israeli law,” said Ha’ivri. “They receive the same salaries and the same benefits. Whatever an Israeli employee receives, the Palestinian employee receives.”
People employed in the Jewish communities of Samaria earn a base salary about three times higher than they would earn in communities controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), said Ha’ivri. This is crucial because many Palestinians have large families: he knows of some who support 15 relatives on what they earn in Jewish-owned businesses. A worker who loses his ‘settlement’ job will have a hard time finding employment in the PA-controlled areas and any job he does find will pay much less.
“When you say ‘boycott the products that are manufactured in the settlements,’ 50 per cent of factory workers are Palestinian, so who are you going to put out of a job? If a factory is being boycotted and they’re losing business, what are they going to do? The boycott movement is not considering that and, in my opinion, they don’t care.”
Beyond the devastating impact that BDS would have on Palestinian individuals and families, as well as the local businesses they support back in their own PA-controlled neighbourhoods, it would also be disastrous for the peace process.
The United Nations Security Council recently drew attention to the severe financial difficulties within the Palestinian Authority. If large numbers of Palestinians become destitute as a result of BDS, the PA will not be able to help them financially and this will drive them into the arms of Hamas, warned Ha’ivri.
“Hamas’s branch of goodwill provides funds for poor people in the PA who have no source for their own income. If they put people out of jobs they’re going to force those same people to turn to Hamas to feed them.”
According to the report by the UCC’s working group, its members were “supported by lead staff Bruce Gregersen, general council officer, programs for mission and ministry.”
The Jewish Tribune asked Gregersen if he and the members of the working group were aware of the facts and potential consequences as presented by Ha’avri; if so, why did they ask for a boycott and, if not, whether they would reconsider it pending further investigation.
“Your questions presume that the Working Group reached a decision to call for economic actions against settlement products on its own,” Gregersen said in an email. “In fact, it is responding to a request from Palestinian Christians for this action. Palestinians are well aware of the implications of the call and indeed are the only ones who can determine that it is worth doing.
“As you are aware, Palestinian civil society has called for full Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. The Working Group chose not to go there for the reasons outlined in the report. Palestinian Christians instead have called for a boycott of the ‘products of the occupation.’ The Working Group understands this as meaning the products of settlements. Again the Working Group is confident that Palestinian Christians themselves have weighed the implications of this call and have chosen to support it.”