Why Palestinian boycotting of Israeli products went bust
Published at http://www.jmcc.org/media/reportonline
the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center
by Joharah Baker
BACK IN 1988, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza
learned to do things they never had before - can their own
tomato juice, plant cucumbers, onions and peppers in their
backyards and even make their own mayonnaise - anything
that would ward off the temptation of buying products with
Those were the days of the first Intifada. Early on, the
Unified National Command - the underground leadership of
the uprising - called on the Palestinians in the occupied
territories to boycott all Israeli products and to form popular
committees to produce their own.
Thirteen years later, the Palestinian leadership - this time a
public one - has tried to revive this form of popular
resistance that was at least partially successful the first time
Ibrahim Abu Ein, a member of the Fateh regional committee
in Ramallah, says the call for a boycott in this Intifada was
primarily a political move. "After the Intifada began, the
relationship between the Palestinians and Israel became one
of hostility. So it was necessary to make such a call."
Abu Ein elaborates, "If we are going to resist them in every
way possible, we must also do it at the level of their
products." He mentions Israel's aggressive war against the
Palestinians and its military superiority. "This is one tool of
resistance [against that force]."
But things did not work out as planned. While the majority
of Palestinians were for the most part willing during the first
Intifada to give up their Osem cookies and Tnuva butter,
substituting them for oftentimes less than satisfactory locally-
made substitutes, this current uprising has yielded less
"People are just not aware enough," says Aziz Halaweh, a
long-time employee of Zabaneh's grocery store in the center
of Ramallah. "Even when there is a local substitute, people
still buy the Israeli merchandise."
Zabaneh's, owned by one of Ramallah's oldest families and
one of the city's most reputable places to shop, is no
exception. While the store is known for its rare assortment
of imported foods, ranging from Swiss Mocha coffee to
Lucky Charms breakfast cereal, the shelves of the tidy store
are predominantly stocked with products made in Israel.
Halaweh lays the bulk of the blame on the consumer. "If a
person comes into the store to buy a certain Israeli product
and doesn't find it, he or she will just go somewhere else.
When we have products on our shelves that don't get sold,
we just stop bringing them."
His comment brings to light an underlying assumption among
many Palestinian consumers today. Even when there is a
local alternative, he implies, consumers still won't buy it
because Arab production just isn't up to par.
"See this milk," points Halaweh, at a neatly stacked pile of
milk cartons on the floor of the store. "Although there is a
good local Palestinian alternative," he says indicating to a
similar pile with a different label, "people don't think local
products are good enough." And so they buy the Israeli
A shopper at Izhiman's grocery store a few blocks away
confirms this notion. "If there were local alternatives of equal
quality I would definitely buy them," she says as she lays out
Israeli-made candy on the counter before the cashier. "But
there aren't many local products and even when there are,
they are not top quality."
Dirar Tayem, the co-owner of Balqis cosmetics store, says
there are other reasons for the boycott's failure. He says that
the ban of the first Intifada was a partial success because
people knew and needed less.
"Today, the average person on the street has different
demands, they want different things." He attributes this to
the technology information boom over the past decade.
"People see advertisements for clothes, food and cars on
satellite and over the Internet. Fifteen years ago, we didn't
have these things." So, he says, "people just won't settle for
things that are locally-made."
Tayem says merchants want to boycott Israeli products and
would be willing to do so - if only there was a viable
alternative. "We would be lying to ourselves if we said there
was," he maintains.
But he does not blame Palestinian industry for this
shortcoming. "Even if we did directly boycott Israeli
products, the fact remains that all the raw materials come
from Israel. And even if we just brought in imported goods,
all the borders and crossings are still controlled by Israel."
But Abu Ein says he is not concerned by the boycott's lack
of success. "Our call for a boycott was not a 'win or lose
all' tactic." He says the national forces did not demand that
all Israeli products should be boycotted, but only those that
have a reasonable local alternative. "We did not want the
people to feel like they are at a dead end."
It is the rest of the Palestinians that Abu Ein is banking on.
"There was a considerable percentage of people who did
adhere to this call," he says, although he estimates that this
percentage still falls below the halfway mark. It's true, he
admits, that "there are many people who still don't have
faith in Arab products." -Published 20/6/01 (c) Palestine