Guest contribution by Deanna Othman
As Ramadan approaches, the month during which Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, families hurry to their local grocery stores and ethnic food shops to buy the most precious food items of the month: dates.
In line with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, Muslims break their fast on these nutritious, wholesome fruits, signifying an end to their day of fasting.
But could such an act of worship, spiritual and pure, become sullied by eating the produce of oppression?
Unsuspecting consumers will pick up a box of fresh Medjool dates, unaware of their origins. This is why American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) has launched a groundbreaking Muslim-led BDS campaign to inform consumers and business owners that some of the dates they purchase come from Israeli settlements. The campaign is titled: “This Ramadan, Make a Date with Justice: Choose Occupation-Free Dates.”
Israel produces more than half the world’s leading variety of dates, the Medjool date. The majority of these are grown in Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas, on occupied Palestinian land, and then exported worldwide for a profit of $265 million for Israeli companies.
Currently, most Israeli dates are marketed by Hadiklaim, a company that exports dates from Israel and its settlements in the Occupied Territories, especially in the Jordan Valley. Hadiklaim markets the dates under the brand names of Jordan River, Jordan River Bio-Top and King Solomon, and under the private labels of supermarket chains.
Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea areas in 1967, the largest arable land reserves in the West Bank remain in its control. Expanding the amount of settlements, which violate international humanitarian law, Israel continues to seize and confiscate land in the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank.
In addition to the illegal nature of these settlements where dates are grown, the Palestinian workers who harvest them face exploitation, discrimination and lack social welfare and job security guarantees. They are paid less than the minimum wage, earning approximately $2 an hour or less, and pay is often withheld for several months.
Moreover, Palestinian laborers in the Jordan Valley are often required to remain atop nearly 40-foot-tall date trees throughout the eight-hour workday, not even taking breaks to use the bathroom. Some of these laborers are children, who are sought after because of their light weight and ability to climb trees more quickly. In 2008, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found that more than 7,000 children between 5 years and 17 years old were working in the Jordan Valley alone, and this figure has since increased, and does not accounting for undocumented child workers.
The Role of Consumers and BDS
In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations united to call for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to pressure Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. By opposing Israel’s human rights abuses by participating in a consumer boycott of companies that profit from the occupation, you can do your part to help prevent the exploitation of Palestinians .
This Ramadan, purify your intentions, purify your fast and choose American-grown dates. For more information about the dates targeted in this campaign, refer to www.ampalestine.org/justicedates.
How you can help
While this campaign initially is targeted at the Muslim community, AMP is asking all people to boycott dates produced in Israeli settlements.
A Twitter campaign is set for Wednesday, July 18th at 11 a.m. Pacific Time / 1 p.m. Central time / 2 p.m. Eastern Time / 9 p.m. Palestine time; we will be tweeting about the boycott of occupation dates using the hashtag #JusticeDates.
Sample Tweets include:
This Ramadan, make a date with justice: boycott Israeli occupation dates http://bit.ly/Mhz0X5 #JusticeDates
Occupation Dates Are Not Halal. Boycott Israeli Occupation Dates this Ramadan http://bit.ly/Mhz0X5 #JusticeDates
This Ramadan, don’t break your fast with occupation dates http://bit.ly/Mhz0X5 #JusticeDates
This campaign is endorsed by the national organizations United States Palestinian Community Network, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.
Shirien D. contributed the research in the article.
Deanna Othman is a Palestinian American from Chicago, IL. She currently works as the assistant editor of Islamic Horizons magazine and serves on the editorial board of the Chicago Crescent. Deanna is also a member of the Chicago Executive Committee for the American Muslims for Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @deannaothman.
Shirien D. is a Palestinian organizer based in Chicago. She is a founding member of Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights, a youth-led organization advocating for Palestinian rights through direct action. Shirien is also part of the alumni association of National Students for Justice in Palestine.