The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK has launched an attack on some of the largest British supermarket chains for stocking food produced in the occupied West Bank.
Ambassador Manuel Hassassian wrote to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in December last year. This week he said he had received no reply, and so urged members of the public to write to the stores to ensure that “Israel does not profit from its illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.
Mr Hassassian said most, and “very probably all”, produce from the West Bank comes from Israeli settlements and not from Palestinian farms.
“The West Bank has become synonymous with Palestine in the public mind. Consumers buying these products believe that they are supporting the Palestinian economy, while in fact they are supporting the economy of the occupier,” he said.
He called the exports an “unethical and illegal operation” and added: “Profiting from military occupation is that most unethical act and must be stopped immediately.”
But Amos Orr, head of the salad division and former UK manager of Agrexco, Israel’s largest agricultural importer into Europe, defended the practice of supplying British supermarkets with West Bank produce.
“The EU allows such products into Europe so long as they are clearly labelled and show the name of the grower and their address,” Mr Orr said.
“If it was illegal then the EU would not allow it and the supermarkets would not sell the products. We stopped selling from Gaza, for example, once it was no longer under Israeli control.
“Palestinian farmers also use us to export their goods. If we were so bad, then they wouldn’t want to do that.”
He added that no European countries had refused to sell products grown in the West Bank and that the supermarkets were continuing to buy these goods.
He also said that products from the West Bank made up just one per cent of the company’s exports and explained that most of these goods were grown in the Jordan Valley, “where there have never been Palestinian villages”.
Gil Erez, trade and commercial attaché at the Israeli embassy in London, explained that Israel has an agreement with the EU whereby it pays a duty to export any products from the West Bank and must label them stating where they were produced.
He added: “I do not know of any country or shop that has refused to stock products from the West Bank.”
The supermarkets defended their actions. A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said that where possible all goods were sourced from the UK, but due to climate and seasonal changes some products were bought elsewhere, including Israel and the West Bank.
“Israel and the surrounding area form an important part of this supply chain,” she said.
A Tesco spokesman said: “We are complying fully with EU and UK government guidelines which state that produce from the occupied territories should be labelled clearly with a regional indication.
“Tesco products are labelled with the country or region... This means that it will be shown on the packaging if the product is from Israel or one of the occupied territories.”
Waitrose would only confirm that it sells “a small amount of organic cut herbs from the West Bank”.