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"Like Delano grapes, the prominence of Israeli dates has fortunately diminished through boycott efforts, but it is up to us consumers to continue to diminish it," the author writes. (Photo: just_a_cheeseburger/CC BY 2.0)

Oppression in the Form of Israeli Dates

It is imperative that we follow in the footsteps of the revolutionaries’ tea boycott, the historic Delano Grape Boycott, and boycott the Israeli date industry, too.

Sanaa Khalil

Oppression often comes in the most deceivingly innocuous forms; sometimes bite-sized and seemingly fruitful. The commodities they come in sugar-coat the not-so bite-sized exploitation they represent.

In the 1770’s, tyranny came in the form of British tea. In the 1960’s, exploited labor bore Delano grapes. Both goods were boycotted en masse — and reflexively, both bore witness to their respective boycotts contributing greatly to the dismantlement of their oppression.

Today, labor abuse, exploitation of natural resources, and theft of Palestinian land comes in the form of Israeli dates. It is imperative that we follow in the footsteps of the revolutionaries’ tea boycott, the historic Delano Grape Boycott, and boycott the Israeli date industry, too.

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Israeli date industry exported 321,980 tonnes of dates to the US in 2017 alone, generating $181.2 million in export value. Israel thus becomes the second highest source of date exports to the US since 2015.

Such lucrative brands include Jordan River, Delilah, and King Solomon. Israeli date brands other than these can be identified by checking the label for three main producers: Hadiklaim, Carmel Agrexco, and Mehadrin.

As consumers, we cannot be financially complicit in the exploitation this industry represents. 60% of Israeli dates are grown on illegal settlements—Israel’s enclaves which are established on internationally recognized Palestinian territory. Although all fifteen judges on the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled the construction of these settlements to be illegal back in 2004, Israel continues to establish them relentlessly, often clearing Palestinian farmland for their creation and displacing many. Olive groves are torched; families are evicted; homes are demolished—in two weeks, Israel will displace 500 Jerusalemites for the construction of yet another settlement in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The precariousness of Israeli settlement expansion is thus evermore timely; although the Sheikh Jarrah settlement won’t see a date farm’s creation, the date industry’s profitability financially enables settlements like these to be built.

Yet whether a date farm is amongst the 60% or the remaining 40%, this industry is notorious for its exploitation of Palestinian labor. With a Palestinian economy crippled by the Israeli occupation, Palestinian workers are often have no choice but to work on Israeli date farms to support their families. Israel conveniently throws the gruelling labor of date farming on economically desperate Palestinian employees—all while providing no health benefits and measly pay. Employees are subject to scorching temperatures. They are often forced to climb to dangerous heights with risk of severe falls. Their wages are often below minimum wage and lower than their Israeli counterparts.

Like Delano grapes, the prominence of Israeli dates has fortunately diminished through boycott efforts, but it is up to us consumers to continue to diminish it. Since 2012, the grassroots-based education and advocacy organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) has led the national boycott effort against Israeli dates, in response to Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel. This nonviolent movement follows the traditions of various American boycotts, seeking to use financial pressure to counteract human rights abuses.

Locally, AMP-MN has located over 30 Halal small-businesses in the Twin Cities area that sell date alternatives, as well as co-op stores such as EastSide Food Co-op. From varieties such as Al-Baraka, to Ajwa, to Khodary, to the authentically Palestinian Ziyad Brothers, alternatives are vast and accessible.

This boycott has seen enormous success. Israeli date imports have dropped 2.5 million pounds for the market year 2019/2020 in comparison to 6.9 million pounds the year before. Furthermore, Israel has seen the largest decrease in date exports to the United States by any country since 2015.

Dates are widely revered for their benefits. Health experts highlight their miracle-working nutritional richness which fights disease. For Muslims observing the current month of Ramadan, a month characterized by tranquility and self-improvement, breaking fasts with dates is a religious tradition. But our date consumption undermines both health and personal peace if it comes from an industry that taxes Palestinian health, and upholds theft of their land and livelihood.

As Americans, boycotting this oppressive industry is a moral imperative. Boycott Israeli dates today.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Sanaa Khalil

Sanaa Khalil

Sanaa Khalil is a Palestinian-American writer and activist. She currently serves on the board of the American Muslims for Palestine Minnesota Chapter, a grassroots based advocacy organization that is dedicated to educating and advocating for Palestinian human rights.

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