Sunday, September 06, 2009

'Stolen Beauty' protest at Vienna UN

WOMEN IN BLACK (Vienna), are to hold a protest on Thursday morning outside the Vienna International Centre, which is the United Nations centre in the Austrian capital. Inspired by their sisters, the Women in Black in in Israel whose regular vigils against war and occupation have defied abuse, threats and violence, the Vienna women are focussing not on an international conference or visiting statesman, but a practical issue that hrought oppression in Palestine into the UN building itself.

A friend has sent me their leaflet, which says:


Don’t buy goods from stolen lands!

Boycott Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics
sold in the VIC Commissary!

While acknowledging that there is a world-wide campaign to boycott Israeli goods while the occupation and denial of freedom to the Palestinns continues, the Women in Black cite specific grounds for not buying Ahava products, or having them on sale in the centre.

"Don’t let yourself be ‘soothed and smoothed’ by Ahava’s creams and cosmetics! Why? Because they are produced by a firm complicit in the theft of Palestinian land and livelihoods.

Ahava is an Israeli company with a factory and visitor centre in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement near the Dead Sea. This is one of the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Since 1967 Israel has moved almost half a million settlers into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, flouting international law and dozens of United Nations Resolutions and forcing Palestinians off their land.

Ahava products are sold at its store in London and by a range of companies in shops around Great Britain and in other countries, including Austria.

Companies like Ahava profit from the Israeli occupation and Israel’s settlements, which are a major obstacle to a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.

As United Nations employees can you really go against the Resolutions of your organization? Therefore: boycott Ahava!

Support the call to ban illegal Israeli settlement produce!

Why does this matter to you as an ethical shopper?

Palestinian farmers have lost over 40% of the West Bank to illegal settlements.

Palestinian workers in the settlements are exploited and child labour is used.

Scarce water resources are often confiscated by Israel and used for the houses of settlers and their swimming pools and to irrigate settlement produce for export abroad whilst Palestinian farmers are losing their crops through lack of land and water.

Settlements harshly obstruct the daily lives of the Palestinian people. Movement is restricted through Apartheid system of separate roads, hundreds of checkpoints and the illegal Apartheid Wall. Palestinians face violence daily from armed settlers.

Palestinian producers face huge difficulties to reach export markets - and are even prevented to do so - while Israeli illegal settlement produce easily reaches its destination.

Palestinians in Gaza have suffered death, destruction and war crimes from Israeli attacks. They face humanitarian catastrophe; over 80% are dependent on food aid under the siege imposed by Israel.

Ahava fraudulently benefits from customs duty exemptions under the EU-Israel Trade Agreement – by labelling its settlement produce as coming from Israel.

This call for a ban on illegal settlement produce is part of a vast campaign to boycott all Israeli goods until Israel abides by international law and respects human rights.

That point about UN resolutions reminds me of the UN Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations concerned with Palestine, held in Vienna, which I attended some years ago. Among the people I met there for the first time were Israeli journalist Amira Hass, now well-known for her writing from the West Bank and Gaza, and film-maker Simone Bitton. The Israelis, who also included Knesset member Charlie Bitton, and Mordechai Vanunu's brother Meir whom I knew from London, were buoyed with optimism from a conference they had just attended with Palestinians in Toledo, Spain. This was before the official, and secret, talks in Oslo that have led to so much disappointment, and further bloodshed.

While at the UN centre I was also introduced to a gentleman from the Vienna Jewish press. I shook his hand, thinking it was nice that he was showing an interest in our efforts. I was soon disabused of that notion, as he fired a couple of hostile questions at me, for rhetorical effect rather than waiting for answers, about my willingness to meet with the PLO "terrorists". Then he proceeded to lecture me on Austrian antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and the iniquity of holding this conference in Vienna, so close to Mauthausen. Perhaps he had got the wrong conference, or perhaps he thought the UN should not be in Vienna, though so far as I know he has remained there himself, if only to smear my Austrian Jewish friends by bracketing them with antisemites.

In case this Zionist editor is about to rush into print again with evocations of the past (mention of boycotts often elicits a conditioned reflex), might I suggest a different one? It is of the holiday beaches in Nazi Germany which proudly announced themselves "judenrein" (free of Jews). It has some particular resonance in this case, as this report from the Independent a year ago tells:

Palestinians are being regularly and illegally barred from reaching Dead Sea beaches in the occupied West Bank, according to a Supreme Court petition filed by Israel's leading civil rights organisation.

The Association of Civil Rights (Acri) in Israel is challenging what it says is the frequently imposed ban by the military on Palestinians seeking to swim or relax at beaches in the northern Dead Sea. The salt-saturated sea is the only open water accessible to Palestinians from the otherwise landlocked West Bank.

The petition says that the Israeli military is using the Beit Ha'arava checkpoint on Route 90 – the only open access route in the occupied West Bank for travel to the Dead Sea – to turn back Palestinians, mainly but not exclusively on weekends and Jewish holidays.

Acri says that the ban is to appease Israeli settlers operating concessions along the Dead Sea's northern shore. They fear losing Jewish customers if there are large numbers of Arabs using the beaches in territory seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.

A Palestinian bus driver, Mohammed Ahmed Nuaga'a, described how he was turned back by the military with a party of children, aged between six and 12, on a school trip from the Hebron district to the Dead Sea last month. The outing had been officially co-ordinated with the Palestinian Authority education ministry and included 10 teachers and 15 parents. He returned a few hours later in the hope that the soldiers would relent but they did not do so. "I tried to explain to them that these are young pupils who came from very far to fulfil a big dream – to see the sea," he said.

"But the soldiers were aggressive, and started shouting at us that Palestinian passage is forbidden, whether children or adults. The pupils begged the soldiers to let them go for even 10 minutes just to see the sea and return, but nothing happened."

In the petition a senior Acri lawyer, Limor Yehuda, says: "We are dealing here with travel bans and entry prohibitions to public places in occupied territory which are tainted with discrimination and characteristic of colonial regimes. We have here prohibitions preventing the protected population of the occupied territory from using its own resources, while the very same resources are put at the disposal and enjoyment of the citizens of the occupying power."

Dead Sea bath salts and cosmetics are among products which Palestinians themselves have tried to develop. But with Israeli roadblocks and restrictions on movement it is hard for them to develop anything. They are not even allowed to take their kids to Dead Sea beaches. No wonder Israeli peace groups like Gush Shalom and the women's peace coalition are themselves boycotting Ahava. The least the UN can do is follow them, and clean up its shop if it wants its resolutions to be taken seriously.

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