Boycott Israel protests on Valentine’s Day
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Boycott Israel protests on Valentine’s Day

To mark Valentine’s Day, protests have occurred in the UK, Belgium and the United States. Carmel-Agrexco and Leviev jewellery stores were the targets, as diamonds and flowers are central products in Valentine’s Day consumption.

Agrexco is the largest exporter of Occupation produce from the West Bank. The company exports fruits, vegetables and flowers grown on illegal settlement areas in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley, once the cornerstone of Palestinian agriculture, is now often sealed off to non-resident Palestinians, while checkpoints and roadblocks essentially cut off the Valley from most of the West Bank. Furthermore, the Occupation authorities have long blocked farmers from independently exporting their crops. With potential buyers kept out and produce closed in, the economy has nosedived. This is exacerbated by the expansion of the settlements, accompanied by continued demolition of homes, shops and farmland. These acts by the state are part of a more long-term project, which aims at cleansing the remaining Palestinian presence from the Valley.

Given that Agrexco directly benefits from these illegal Occupation practices, solidarity activists in the UK and Belgium used the occasion of Valentine’s Day to highlight how Agrexco benefits from state crimes. In Belgium, dozens of activists from Wallonie, Flandre and Brussels made their way to Liege airport to demonstrate in front of the headquarters of Israeli cargo airlines (CAL) and its handling service operator LACHS, who carry Agrexco’s produce. The airport is central hub for Occupation flower trade with Europe.

Protestors, in response to the Palestinian call for BDS, carried signs reading, “Boycott Israeli flowers”, “Boycott the fruits of the Occupation” and “Boycott Israel”. They attempted to deliver a letter to the president of LACHS at the airport attacking their involvement in war crimes. They were blocked when airport personnel locked the outer gate. However, the lockdown also affected the movement of trucks in and out of the area. Aside from the United States, Belgium is the Occupation’s largest trading partner.

On February 9th, UK activists blockaded the UK headquarters of Carmel Agrexco in Swallowfield Way, Hayes, Middlesex. Using arm tubes and super glue, they prevented lorries from companies such as Sainsbury and Tesco from entering the premises to load up on flowers and vegetables. Protestors were assaulted by Agrexco security, who smashed a video camera. Two activists were held by police, but later released. This action, which is part of a week of action against Carmel-Agrexco called for by the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign, comes at one of the busiest times of the year for the company.

Agrexco has long been the target of UK activists, who have blockaded its depot before in 2004 and 2006. Activists were arrested in 2004, and in September 2005, a judge ruled that Agrexco (UK) must prove that their business is lawful. The acquittal of the seven activists before they were able to present their defence meant that the court did not have to rule on the legality of Carmel-Agrexco’s involvement in the supply of produce from illegal settlements. Under the International Criminal Court Act of 2001 the company is complicit in war crimes and it is the goal of the UK activists to bring this matter to trial. However, Agrexco is now reluctant to press charges, as it would lead to an embarrassing court appearance where their business practices would come under legal scrutiny.

Furthermore, in New York and London, activists targeted Lev Leviev’s jewellery stores. Leviev, who mines diamonds in Angola, actively funds illegal Israeli settlements in Bil’in and Jayyous. These two villages that have been adversely affected by land confiscations for Israeli settlements and the Wall, with Occupation soldiers regularly subjecting the populations to attacks and harassment. Bil’in is often invaded, with soldiers indiscriminately firing tear gas and rubber bullets near homes and arresting villagers. Jayyous also suffers from incursions, with soldiers threatening to handicap youth and taunting the village over loudspeakers near the Wall.

In New York, 45 protesters called on Madison Avenue shoppers to boycott the jewellery store of Israeli billionaire and settlement magnate Lev Leviev on Saturday February 9th, the last major shopping day before Valentine’s Day. The protest was the seventh organized by the New York activist group Adalah-NY since Leviev’s store opened in mid-November.

Demonstrators countered the New York store’s Valentine’s Day advertisements with signs reading, “Settlements are Heartless,” “Have a Heart Leviev” and “Won’t You be Just.” Protesters sang a parody, vaudeville-style version of “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend” and preformed a racy parody of “The Dating Game”, highlighting Leviev’s connections and complicity in human rights violations. Also displayed at the protest was a six foot JDate profile for Leviev which noted, among other things, “In my free time, I enjoy: Exploitation, Profiteering, Union-Busting, and Macrame.”

Also, in an assertion of Palestinian identity in defiance of the Occupation, the Palestine Liberation Dance Troupe performed the Palestinian folkdance dabkeh, including traditional wedding dances.

In London, 25 demonstrators from Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, together with support from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestinians held a Valentine’s Day protest outside the jewellery shop Leviev in normally sedate Old Bond Street, holding placards, and leafleting to curious passers by. The posters highlighted Leviev’s settlement construction in Bil’in and Jayyous, the violence of uprooting olive trees and armed soldiers’ assaults against Palestinian farmers.

Both produce and diamonds are important Israeli exports, albeit in different ways, and thus key areas to target for BDS campaign. The boycott of agriculture, which comprises around 3% of Israeli exports, may not significantly damage the economy. However, this particular boycott is a powerful symbolic weapon, given that Occupation agribusiness directly benefits state policies of ethnic cleansing and illegal settlement. Furthermore, the agricultural R&D is crucial for the Occupation, especially on the diplomatic front. The Occupation state presents itself as an agricultural miracle, offering its services to developing countries around the world. Attacking the diamond trade is important on both the symbolic and economic level. Diamonds make up a huge 28% of exports and are part of dealings that involve Occupation arms deals and military training in conflict areas, particularly in Africa.