Even I – an Israeli – think settlement goods are not kosher
Preventing the mislabelling of products as 'Made in Israel' would be a giant leap for Middle East peace
Published 08/06/2012 | 05:02
Amid the darkness surrounding the Middle East peace process, we now see a ray of light. Since 2009, the United Kingdom has been taking measures, in accordance with European consumer protection rules, to ensure that settlement products – goods you might find on your supermarket shelves that have been produced in the occupied Palestinian territories – are no longer labelled as "made in Israel".
After a meeting of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers last month, several European member states now appear ready to follow the British initiative. Denmark has already announced it will do so. Member states also committed to ensure that settlement products were excluded from preferential treatment under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
Contrary to what you may think, EU member states which take these measures act in Israel's interest. They do so because they take steps that defend and reinforce the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Green Line is of decisive importance to achieving Middle East peace. It is the line that was drawn in green pencil on the maps that were on the table at the time of the cease-fire agreements between Israel and the Arab states, signed in 1949. Regrettably, this line survived only until the 1967 war.
During this war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since, efforts of consecutive Israeli governments to blur this line and, ultimately, to erase it have not ceased. The Green Line has disappeared from the official maps of the State of Israel. Schools were even prohibited from presenting it in educational materials.
The large-scale and expansionist settlement enterprise erodes the Green Line every day. Residential communities, now housing more than 500,000 settlers, were established within occupied Palestinian territory in order to make us forget the Green Line's existence and prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It should long have been clear to every Israeli that anything located inside the Green Line is the democratic, legal, normative Israel, and anything beyond the line is something else: undemocratic, illegal, not normative. Not ours.
But the Israeli people's eyes are blind, their ears are deaf and their leaders are flaccid and weak. This is precisely the situation in which civilised societies urgently need feedback and intervention from the outside: to mirror the absurdity of the situation created and to focus attention on the damage of human and political blindness. To tell Israel that it is impossible to be treated as "the only democracy in the Middle East", while it is also the last colonial occupier in the Western world.
It is not anti-Semitic and not anti-Israel to convey these messages. On the contrary: the settlers, the conquerors and their political allies – including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel – are the real enemies of Israel's future.
Indeed, anyone who wants to erase the pre-1967 border is essentially asking to erase the basic values on which the State of Israel was established: democracy, equality, the rule of law, secularism and modernity. Colonising Palestinian land across the Green Line goes in the opposite direction: it generates fanatic, nationalistic, fundamentalist and anti-democratic energies that threaten all civilised Israeli foundations.
I have decided to not buy any product that comes from the settlements. I do not cross the Green Line, not to promote public causes and not for family events. Because everything happening across the Green Line is the dark alter ego of Israel. Its hidden personality is manifest there. Evil, aggressive and impenetrable. This personality threatens to take over the good and humane parts of the legitimate Israel. With international help, we must return these demons to their bottles, or rather to those positive domains for which this state was established.
Preventing the mislabelling of settlement products as "made in Israel" and blocking their preferential entry into the EU seems a symbolic and minor step. However, in the present circumstances, it is a giant leap for Middle East peace, which seems more remote than ever.
Contrary to what you may be told, this is not a sweeping boycott of Israel, but a subtle and moral distinction that marks the difference between Israel's great potential and its destructive capabilities.
If, God forbid, the Green Line will be permanently erased, from consciousness and from the ground, then Israel will also be erased. The struggle for the preservation of the Green Line is the struggle for Israel. Anyone who defends and reinforces it is a friend of Israel and keeps hope alive.
Avraham Burg was Speaker of the Knesset (1999-2003) and Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization