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Israel stung by imports ruling

Suzanne Goldenberg in Jerusalem
The Guardian
July 6, 2002


British supermarkets have been told that they must clearly identify produce on sale from the illegal Jewish settlements of the West Bank and Gaza.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said yesterday that it told importers last week that cherry tomatoes, baby potatoes, avocados, fruit juice and flowers grown in the illegal outposts could no longer be sold under the "Produce of Israel" label.

"Supermarket customers over here raised questions about produce with supermarkets, who raised it with us," it said.

"Produce from these occupied territories ought not to be labelled 'Produce of Israel', because the territories are not recognised as part of Israel."

The directive is largely symbolic. The value of exports from the settlements to the whole of the EU amounts to €20m (£13m) .

Nevertheless, the decision has dismayed the Israeli authorities, because it comes at a time of increasing sensitivity about Israel's isolation in the international community.

As far as Israel is concerned, the Palestinian uprising is a war of words as much as of weapons, and there is deep unease about the boycott of Israeli academics and goods from Israel proper by Palestinian solidarity campaigners in Britain.

The foreign ministry said Israel was still considering its response. But the newspaper Ha'aretz reported that embassy officials were stunned by the directive and had complained that it was unfair and discriminatory.

Israeli peace activists, who have urged their fellow citizens to boycott settlement produce, welcomed the directive.

"This is a very important step because this, in fact, is the crux of the issue," said Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom.

"The issue is very simple: are these territories inside Israel, or are they not part of Israel?"

The EU has stiffened its rules of origin, which means goods from the settlements will be subject to customs duty, unlike exports from Israel proper.


End of "Produce of Israel" label for West Bank, Gaza & Golan Heights produce

Sharon Sadeh
July 5, 2002


The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has ordered an end to Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights being labeled "Produce of Israel."

A letter sent out last week by David Holliday, chief horticultural marketing inspector to "all interested parties," said "advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department of Trade and Industry is that produce from these occupied territories ought not be labeled as `Produce of Israel,' because these territories are not recognized as part of Israel."

As a solution, Holliday's letter says that "it has been agreed that in this particular case, and in order to give as much information as possible, these products should be labeled with their region of production, rather than a country of origin that may be misleading."

This is the first time the British government has issued instructions that clearly differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories, after deflecting pressure from pro-Palestinian organizations and MPs over the last year.

The letter has stunned the Israeli Embassy here. Diplomatic and financial sources here expressed their disappointment and amazement at the instructions, calling it the most prominent example of discrimination against Israel, since, to the best of their knowledge, similar orders have not been issued concerning products from other disputed areas, such as Cyprus or Kashmir.

The sources believe that labeling the product with the region of produce rather than country of origin will confuse the consumer - the exact opposite of what the order hopes to achieve.

A spokesman for DEFRA said in response that the step was "not a form of action" against Israel, and was not done out of political motivations, nor did it herald a shift in British policy.

Israel's sales of food products total around 100 million pounds sterling annually. The majority of goods produced in the territories comes from the Gush Katif bloc in the Gaza Strip and the Jordan Valley, but is a marginal amount of Israeli exports. The DEFRA decision is not expected to have any economic implications for Israel, but is mainly a symbolic and diplomatic decision.

According to figures obtained by Ha'aretz, there was actually an increase in the balance of trade between Israel and Britain in the months January-April 2002, despite the pessimistic forecasts in Israel, and a campaign to boycott Israeli goods here.

Israel is now Britain's number one trade partner in the Middle East, after falling to third place last year, behind Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.