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Pillsbury General Mills Israel

Activists participate in a September 21, 2020 demonstration outside General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis calling on the company to stop making Pillsbury products at a plant located on stolen Palestinian land in the illegally occupied Israeli settlement of Atarot. (Photo: Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church/Twitter)

Facing Activist Pressure, Pillsbury Pulling Out of Israeli-Occupied West Bank

While General Mills framed the decision a strategic one "to drive superior returns," activists said the development proves the power of campaigning.

Brett Wilkins

Following years of grassroots pressure, multinational food giant General Mills announced Tuesday that after a 20-year partnership, it will sell its majority share of an Israeli company operating a plant where Pillsbury products are made on stolen Palestinian land.

"With this move, General Mills is joining many other American and European companies that have divested from Israel's illegal occupation."

In a statement, General Mills said its decision to divest its 60% stake in the Israeli firm Bodan Holdings was centered on "strategic choices about where to prioritize our resources to drive superior returns."

Members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—the Quaker peace group that launched the "No Dough for the Occupation" campaign to boycott Pillsbury products two years ago—credited years of activism for the move.

"General Mills' divestment shows that public pressure works even on the largest of corporations," Noam Perry of AFSC's Economic Activism program said in a statement.

The campaign targeted the Minneapolis-based company because since 2002 it has made Pillsbury products in the Atarot Industrial Zone, an illegal Israeli settler colony in the occupied West Bank in Palestine. Israel's exclusively Jewish settlements have been condemned as a form of apartheid by United Nations human rights officials as well as international, Palestinian, and Israeli advocacy groups.

According to the Ramallah-based human rights group Al-Haq, the establishment of the industrial zone following Israel's 1967 conquest and occupation of the West Bank and nearby East Jerusalem has had "devastating consequences" on Palestinian "individuals, communities, and the environment."

Al-Haq says Israel "has systematically and unlawfully appropriated Palestinian public and privately owned land, exploiting Palestinian natural resources, while forcing the transfer of, and creating coercive environments to forcibly displace, the protected Palestinian population."

Before Atarot was built, the area where it is located was largely agricultural land belonging mostly to residents of the Palestinain village of Beit Hanina, who were ethnically cleansed under pretext of building unlicensed homes or to facilitate construction of the West Bank separation barrier, commonly called Israel's "apartheid wall." 

"No Dough for the Occupation" is endorsed by groups including the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, SumOfUs, Women Against Military Madness, and others.

The campaign is also supported by several members of the Pillsbury family. In April 2021, Charlie Pillsbury published a Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion piece explaining that "we cannot support the products bearing our name when its parent company is benefiting from Israel's war crimes."

In a June 2021 interview with AJ+, Pillsbury noted that the General Mills facility is not only built on occupied land, "it's also a sweatshop where the Palestinians are searched when they come in, and when they go out" and "work under armed guards all day" for "half the wages" that they would if employed in Israel. General Mills denies claims of unequal treatment.

Pillsbury's Star Tribune article also noted that Israel is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged and documented war crimes including the construction and expansion of settler colonies on land conquered both during the 1948-49 Nakba ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians and the 1967 expulsion of hundreds of thousands more.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016, declares that "the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law."

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also states that an "occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," while prohibiting "individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory."

In 2020, the U.N. Human Rights Office included General Mills in a database of more than 100 companies—only seven of them U.S.-based—involved in Israel's occupation.

"With this move, General Mills is joining many other American and European companies that have divested from Israel's illegal occupation, including Microsoft and Unilever just in the last couple of years," said AFSC's Perry.

"We call on all companies to divest from Israel's illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine," he added, "and from the apartheid system it is part of."

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