West Bank Isn't in Israel, but Its Factories, Somehow, Are

How did I, who carefully checks every item on the supermarket shelves to avoid buying products made in the settlements, miss the fact that the halva I eat is made in northern Samaria?

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Due disclosure: For a long time, my palate, which I'd believed had acquired a sensitivity to food produced in the occupied territories, eagerly consumed large amounts of halva produced at the Achva plant in northern Samaria. How did I, who carefully checks every item on the supermarket shelves to avoid buying products made in the settlements, miss this? Probably because the halva packages state in large letters, "Established in 1929 in Tel Aviv." Eventually, though, I noticed "Barkan industrial zone" on the side of the package.

South Africa's minister of trade and industry, Rob Davies, has recently decided to label all products coming from the settlements as made in the occupied territories. The minister explained that South African consumers should not be misled and made to believe that products from the occupied Palestinian territories are made in Israel. Then again, how many halva aficionados in Cape Town know which side of the Green Line the Barkan industrial zone is on? Achva's English website makes no mention of this. It notes that the company was established in Tel Aviv and there are phone and fax numbers with an 03 area code.

The decision to note the well-known fact that no government of Israel has ever annexed the West Bank to Israel infuriated West Bank resident Avigdor Lieberman. It has been some time since the foreign minister has attacked a country that refused to buy his ministry's information bulletins.

Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council of West Bank settlements, used Davies' decision as an the opportunity to delegitimize Diaspora Jews who connect settlements to Jewish ethics. "How unsurprising that Davies is Jewish," Dayan declared last Saturday. "Once again it has been proven that radical left-wing Jews are very gleefully spearheading the propaganda campaign against the State of Israel. That's what is happening at J Street, and also with Davies and Goldstone in South Africa." Actually, Davies is not Jewish. Dayan relied on mistaken information published last week on Haaretz's website, which was corrected the next morning.

If the fact that industrial zones are located in the occupied territories is not reason enough for consumers to choose other products, the State Comptroller's report released at the beginning of this month provides a slew of other reasons for doing so. The section on industrial zones, which did not get enough exposure, has the heading "a jungle in the villa," borrowing somewhat liberally from Defense Minister Ehud Barak's description of Israel as a villa in the jungle.

Here is a brief summary: the report quotes from a letter in which the head of the Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, describes the situation of the Alei Zahav industrial zone: "Might makes right." The World Zionist Organization's settlement department told the comptroller that several trespassers have settled in the area, including some criminal elements, and noted that the WZO lacks "the tools to prevent trespassing and illegal construction." A document prepared by the Municipal Environmental Associations of Judea and Samaria lists the problems originating from this industrial zone: emissions of air pollutants; flow of domestic sewage into the collection system, inadequate facilities in some plants and failure to deal with dust particle emissions. There were also serious environmental problems uncovered at the Mesila industrial zone, as well as plants functioning without operating or construction permits there.

Another report from the jungle relates to the concern shown by industrialists in the settlements for the well-being of the Palestinian workers, who they say will be hurt by the anticipated decline in exports to South Africa. But the comptroller's report warns that the ongoing shortcomings in supervision and enforcement of safety regulations and hygiene in Israeli plants in Judea and Samaria verges on scorn for human life and may pose a genuine danger to the health, and even the lives, of the workers. Moreover, Israeli employers in these areas discriminate against Palestinian workers, who work side by side with Israeli workers, in violation of the High Court of Justice's decision of four years ago. A Civil Administration internal correspondence reported "unacceptable phenomena in the employment of Palestinians within the settlements," adding that "an absence of monitoring and enforcement is leading to an increase in acceptable practices of real harm to the basic rights of Palestinian workers and prompting international criticism." Now, dear South Africans, run to buy halva from the territories. You know a thing or two about apartheid.

A 'careful' review

In July 2009, we reported here that Palestinian stone manufacturers and Israeli businessmen had launched a joint campaign against con men, many of them settlers, who sell fictitious permits in order to speed up the transfer of stone products from Palestinian stone plants to Israel. Trucks carrying documents certifying the merchandise as having originated in Israeli plants obtain passage more quickly and have lower fees, whereas trucks with Palestinian delivery certification must use what is known as the back-to-back method, which is slower and more expensive. The delivery certification business takes in an estimated three billion shekels annually.

The Defense Ministry said in response, "The preliminary information received from Haaretz will be reviewed very carefully, and if this indeed turns out to be the situation, the matter will forwarded to the law enforcement authorities."

The state comptroller expressed an interest in the report and thoroughly investigated the system. He found that the Civil Administration is concerned that the whitewashing of products will be exploited to smuggle weapons into Israel's territory. He revealed that in December 2009, the authority responsible for operating border checkpoints warned that "merchandise that is not definitively of Israeli origin" is passing through the checkpoints operated by the IDF. In April 2011, the authority reiterated its warning that "the phenomenon of smuggling of merchandise and weapons is expanding," making the back-to-back transfers unnecessary and posing a security risk." The comptroller noted that in June 2011, some three years after we were promised that the information would be "carefully" reviewed, there has been no change in this regard.

Illustration by Amos Biderman.



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