Why Shop Ethically in Palestine?

   While we write this edition, another Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip resulted in the killing of 34 Palestinians. In the West Bank, Israeli occupation forces continue arresting and detaining Palestinians, illegal Israeli settlements continue expanding at the expense of Palestinian lands, and settlers continue their attack on Palestinian civilians, burning trees, and harming the environment. Jerusalem remains suffocated by illegal settlements and people suffer from home demolitions and an imminent economic collapse. However, life goes on, and both positive and negative patterns emerge that require us to stop and reflect on where we are heading as a community - fragmented, yet still functioning against all odds. 

   For many decades now, Palestine has been undergoing systematic and institutionalised human rights abuses, belligerent military occupation, and crippling foreign conditional aid. With a struggling economy completely tied to Israel, and decision-makers’ lack of vision on how to empower local economies, many of the local handicrafts, baladi products, and traditional artworks have lost their place on market shelves. Today, Palestinian markets are flooded with cheap replicas of traditional items such as kuffiyehs (traditional scarves), Handala pendants, pottery, and other products, often carrying a ‘Made in China’ stamp. Rarely do conscious buyers (consumers who are conscious of the ethical dimensions of their purchase) find what they are looking for in average stores. Thus, they have to rely on word of mouth, personal knowledge of producers, or cultural festivals to get their hands on authentic and high-quality Palestinian products. 

   At the same time, many producers and consumers, who are still holding onto authentic production methods and products, are highly connected to each other. Thus, a network exists but needs to be more clearly recognized and acknowledged. The guide is a tool to expand this network through providing information on local producers, encourage consumers to buy ethically, and create a web of interactions that go beyond a green product or a seasonal fruit. It builds on existing traditional networks between producers and consumers, which align with principles of ethical consumerism. Our cultural history is full of examples of ‘green’ practices that some progressive Western environmentalists are implementing now as part of a new lifestyle. For example, social practices such as bartering, using local and natural materials for buildings, and rain-fed seasonal farming have been used by our ancestors for generations. These practices are what we as a collective should strive to revive and raise awareness on, while also considering the needs of export markets and the external demand for high quality Palestinian produce. 

   Our purchasing power - the influence we have when we spend money on a product - is much more powerful than we might imagine. If you start shopping more ethically and encourage your family and friends to do the same, this will have a ripple effect. It can support the farmers to continue to grow their food in a clean and sustainable manner, and the craftspeople to invest in maintaining the high quality of their products.  The local economy will be strengthened and can become a “solidarity economy” i.e. a form of interaction that aims to eliminate social and economic injustices and works for the benefit of people rather than corporations. In the case of Palestine, ethical consumption will help build a “resistance economy” where Palestinians will be able to achieve a strong localized economy, food sovereignty, and resource independence. It will be a situation in which we are no longer coerced into being the captive market for Israeli goods produced on stolen land with stolen water. An awareness of the values of ethical consumerism can also change our perception about many other global issues, such as poverty, child labour, environmental degradation, climate change, and genetically modified food. Furthermore, it connects Palestinians to communities that are also experiencing exploitative systems and are striving to maintain their indigenous food production methods and way of life. 

   So, why shop ethically in Palestine? To support local producers, preserve traditional knowledge, revive and strengthen community fabric and cultural heritage.

Background: The Struggle for a Palestinian Economy 

   From the water flowing in our taps, to the fuel we fill we use to fill our cars, to the fruits and vegetables displayed in our local food markets, resource theft and exploitation highly impact our everyday life and consumption. Palestine is a region rich in culture, history, and natural resources. While orientalists and politicians continue to describe our region as water scarce and our lands as unproductive, our ancestral existence on the land has proved the opposite: Full of biodiversity, Palestine boasts rich water sources, fertile soils and lovely landscapes. More importantly, it is overflowing with centuries old local and indigenous knowledge and expertise on living in harmony with nature and on using its resources sustainably, way before the term ‘sustainability’ was trending in the neo-liberal development agendas. 

   The theft of natural resources in Palestine predates the 1940s and the beginning of the Israeli colonization of Palestine. Ottoman and British rulers controlled and centralized water and land use. The dispossession of land and livelihoods that occurred in the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948, that turned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees, had a devastating impact on the farming communities of historic Palestine. It ripped away the core identity that characterised the existence of Palestinians in their villages and towns. An even bigger blow came with the Israeli colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, when Palestinians were abruptly denied from continuing their agricultural activities through a series of military orders and restrictions. Many farmers were forced into becoming construction labour in illegal settlements throughout Palestine in order to make ends meet. 

   A social and political awakening occurred in the 1980s with the rise of the first Intifada, which was characterised by a heightened awareness of national identity, sense of belonging, and struggle against the occupation. Popular committees were set up by political factions to address people’s needs as the endured injustice, violence, and terrors of the occupation. Household economy and agriculture were among the themes addressed by some of those committees, alongside health and education.  Partly because many men were imprisoned by the occupation forces, women played a leading role in mobilizing and running these committees. A campaign to boycott Israeli products was the driving force for so-called “victory gardens”, where crops were grown for household and neighbourhood consumption. Other activities included raising animals, producing processed food items, and drying different types of fruits and vegetables.[1]

   These popular actions of community resilience triggered alarm in the Israeli army. One example of the hysteria of the army in the late 1980s was the search for the “wanted 18”. This did not refer to a group of high-profile freedom fighters but rather to 18 cows! With the first intifada at its peak, a group of activists from Beit Sahour, in an act of defiance to the illegality of the Israeli occupation regime, decided to set up a cooperative dairy farm and produce an alternative to Israeli milk and dairy products. To counter this popular grassroots initiative, the Israeli army raided the farm and declared the cows ‘a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.’ This story was brought to life in 2014 by the award-winning director Amer Shomali in his film “The Wanted 18”.[2]

   Alas, such accounts by community leaders of that generation seem distant from the reality we are living in Palestine today. After over 25 years of impotent and futile peace negotiations, Palestinians are living in times of uncertainty and weakening of political values, solidarity and social cohesion. Our ways of life and values have shifted us from a productive and cohesive community to a more individualistic and consumerism-oriented society. Our resources are largely out of our reach and our daily lives compel us to be pragmatic, almost robotic, and less attached to our ideals and values and further away from the cultural, social, environmental and economic elements of our community. 

   Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has issued military orders to govern the use and management of natural resources and set policies in place to influence Palestinian economic activity and trade. These were later institutionalized through the Oslo Accords’ Paris Protocol, leading to the cutting off of Palestinian businesses and markets from their regional and international markets. These regulations severely weakened the emergence of a Palestinian economy and subjugated it to the Israeli one. Since then, the Palestinian market has become the destination for Israeli goods and products, resulting in the generation of significant profits for the Israeli economy in the occupied territory.[3]

   The Palestinian economy also faces challenges associated with globalization, particularly with international economic institutions and large corporations dominating global markets, undermining local economies, eroding cultural diversity, monopolizing natural resources, and causing enormous damage to ecosystems all over the world. Globalization has affected social, cultural, economic, and environmental aspects of our lives worldwide, we Palestinians are no exception. Although of course, within the current economic structures, the Palestinian economy cannot develop independently, and thus is limited in its participation in the globalized markets except as a foil to the Israeli economy. This is coupled with the neo-liberal approach that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been adopting, in its efforts to appease to the international community as a deserving entity in the global market.

   Moreover, in the years between 2006 and 2016, Palestine has been among the top recipient countries of foreign aid per capita.[4] Conditional aid has deepened the dependency and reliance on external resources. By putting economic development first, this approach dismisses the precarious context that Palestinians experience under colonization and formulates policies and ‘development’ agendas, that are geared towards appeasing multinational investors and the demands of export market. This approach comes at the expense of strengthening and empowering projects contributing to Palestinian steadfastness on the land (sumud), and empowering local economies with the vision of achieving self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

   Nonetheless, amidst all this chaos, there are conscious citizens who are demanding that this situation must change. We can still find farmers working their lands and reviving the diminishing traditional agricultural knowledge and preserving the precious baladi seeds. We can still find local crafts that are emerging to provide products from the bounty of the land and its resources, despite the occupation’s exploitation and we can still decide how our consumption patterns support a resilient local economy. We see the spirit of the 1980s of collective action and solidarity resurging today with many of the initiatives we highlight in this guide. Through facilitating more environmentally and socially-just consumer choices in Palestine, the impacts of this booklet will hopefully go beyond that of a shopping guide. Its aim is also to shed light on the struggle and hardship local producers are going through due to the occupation and the unequal economic opportunities facing Palestinians. Therefore, it strives to be an alternative guidebook that can educate, provide resources and strengthen solidarity movements in Palestine.

Formulating Local Standards for Shopping Ethically in Palestine

   The economic structures that govern Palestine today are disastrous and problematic. The combination of a globalized world, and a suffocating occupation that cripples all aspects of life, are a recipe for disaster.[5] Donor aid may have worsened the situation by making our economic systems more dependent on conditional funding and diminishing any attempt to deviate from their conditions. With the false narrative that our water is scarce, our lands are not enough to sustain our livelihood, and that our products are not of good quality, local and international actors are weakening our belief in our capacity as a nation, which has survived decades of foreign colonization, and our power to create the change we all long for. 

   We as Palestinians need to formulate our own strategy to overcome the stagnation and deterioration of values in our society, to rejuvenate our values for living in this land as a resistant community, and to rebuild the social ties that the occupation has repeatedly attempted to destroy. By doing this, not only will we strengthen local producers, but also be able to tell a new and proud story of Palestinian resistance and connection to the land. We will not be starting from scratch, the existent and vital network of workers’ unions, local baladi producers, activists and popular resistance committees are all key actors in helping us achieve this goal. The local knowledge and wisdom that we have inherited from our ancestors must be preserved and transmitted to educate ourselves and the new generation and help them maintain this treasure. 

   Until now, our Palestinian society’s relationship with food has not completely transformed into capitalist consumerist one. We are culturally aware of the importance and uniqueness of baladi products. We look for seasonal fruits and vegetables and create festivity around them. Many families still have a strong connection to local farmers and Bedouin communities to ensure a regular supply of olive oil, olives, pickles, white cheese, eggs, meat, etc. These connections have been part of the cultural fabric of our society for many years, but they need to be recognized, revived, and strengthened as meaningful pathways to sustainable and holistic living. 

   In order to preserve our local foods and crafts, as well as to maintain a high level of authenticity, quality, and marketability, we as Palestinians need to define what is considered fair and ethical within our context and local economy. The recent phenomenon of exporting our high-quality products has left us fragile and mere consumers of cheap international and Israeli products that fill our markets. Therefore, local initiatives portrayed in this guide aim to envision a local standard for testing the authenticity and locality of a certain produce, and the social impact it is having on increasing the resilience and steadfastness of local producers. This will also re-establish and strengthen the direct relationship between buyers and producers, which has weakened due the quick pace of modern life and the increasing consumer demand for reliable and easy to access products. Technology can be introduced to connect us better to local producers who might operate closer to our homes and can facilitate easier and faster interaction than going through intermediaries and merchants. Using social media as part of a cohesive marketing strategy has proven essential for some producers, as you will see in this guide.


[1] Nassar and Heacock (1990) Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York: Praeger

[2]Barrows-Friedman (2011) The Wanted 18