As I was strolling down Jerusalem’s Mamilla Avenue on Friday, I glimpsed three
prominent Palestinian women from the West Bank. Carrying brand-name bags, these
women definitely were not there just to take in the sights.
Palestinians I know shop in Israel, as well as in supermarkets like Rami Levi
where the prices are very competitive. But these particular women are outspoken
and prominent activists in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign,
weekly popular resistance demonstrations and the March 15th group that hoped to
launch the “Palestinian Spring.”
I wondered why they weren’t in Bil’in,
Ni’lin or Nabi Saleh where they usually spend their Fridays. Most importantly,
what were they doing here shopping? Surely they must understand that shopping on
the Israeli side is directly contradictory to their activism.
in addition to being a national pastime in the West Bank where there are few
entertainment options, has in recent years become a politically charged and
sensitive topic that that drives Palestinians into heated debates.
the various Palestinian initiatives to boycott Israeli and settlement products
as well as support local merchants and goods, the casual shopper navigates a
metaphorical minefield of do’s and don’ts.
Seemingly simple questions
such as where to go and what to buy have taken on mythological proportions. It
has become a patriotic duty to shop one way and not another.
been several boycotting initiatives aimed at Israeli and settlement products, as
well as academic and cultural boycotts, the latest of which involved several
Palestinian activists preventing the Arab-Israeli singer Sharif Durzi from
performing at a New Year’s Eve party in Ramallah. Durzi’s discography includes
many Hebrew songs, which enraged young Palestinian activists.
boycotting of settlement products, which was officially embraced by the
Palestinian Authority, boycotting Israeli products is neither legal nor
The Paris Protocol signed by both parties in 1994 does not
allow for such boycott, nor is it possible from a practical point of view given
the interconnectedness of the Palestinian and Israeli economies.
such boycott campaigns are encouraged only by civil society groups, and since
it’s coming from the street level, these campaigns have taken on moral and
Israel is not the only boycott target.
have taken to this approach. There has been a much-forwarded e-mail circulating
lately supporting the boycotting of American, British, Danish or Dutch products
either because of the war in Iraq, supporting Israel or publishing controversial
cartoons depicting religious figures.
While the boycott campaign against
Israel has found support abroad, in the West Bank it is taking a more radical
form, called anti-normalization. Nowadays, if one were to voice uncertainty
regarding the boycott, they would immediately be labeled as less patriotic than
they should be.
Because of this radicalized environment, especially with
regard to boycotting Israel, I was deeply surprised by the sight of these women
shopping in Mamilla.
It begs the question: is boycotting Israeli products
an effective mode of resisting the occupation? I often wonder because, for
example, substituting Israeli dairy products for Palestinian alternatives is
simply adding a middleman; the source of all milk in the country is the Israeli
Add to this that there is no price-monitoring in the
Palestinian market, and the result is that although Palestinian merchants do
benefit, many more Palestinian consumers are burdened financially. The same
situation occurs when purchasing brand-name clothes from a Palestinian merchant,
who in turn bought them from Israel.
So the only thing this boycott means
is having to go through another channel.
And under the tempting banner of
“supporting the Palestinian economy” one would only be helping specific
merchants by not buying the same products from the original chain stores in
As a casual shopper myself, I rarely venture into such serious
and heated topics because they have the power to ruin a joy-filled sojourn in the
Mamilla, Malha or Ben-Yehuda malls.
ANY DAY I have a permit to visit
Jerusalem is a happy day. I have many Jerusalemite friends who accompany me for
walks in the Old City, eating mutabak sweets and sometimes visiting the holy
sites. But one of my important missions on such days is to shop, shop,
It is not my place to formulate strategies for resistance, but even
if boycotting Israeli products was effective there is another reason it would
not work. Palestinians shop on the Israeli side because it saves them money.
Furthermore, they can pay by credit card and take advantage of clearance sales,
all of which are not utilized by Palestinian merchants to attract
We also enjoy the variety of choices, the unified prices (i.e.
no exhausting bargaining), the warranties, the ability to return the purchases
and the more comfortable shopping experience, in the sense that you can come to
look or compare prices without feeling obliged to buy.
But what if I
didn’t possess a permit? I would obviously have to shop in the West Bank. A few
months ago as I was shopping in Ramallah for a pair of jeans. A shop worker
actually told me she liked my figure and has always wished she had a slim body
like mine. I thought she was trying to talk me into buying them. But what if a
shopper wasn’t slim? To be fair, she was just trying to give people a
physiological push! I saved myself the embarrassment of having to say I didn’t
like the jeans and told her I would definitely come back to buy
Shop owners and employees in the West Bank don’t like it when
customers leave without buying anything, and I didn’t want to be remembered as a
“not-alwaysbuying” customer, and then not get good service next time.
course, I never went back.
Although the idea of boycotting Israel, as a
state occupying Palestinian land, might seem tempting to Palestinians such as
myself that are committed to a peaceful, non-violent resolution, one cannot
expect any Palestinian to break the bank and sacrifice the pleasure of shopping
for the sake of showing solidarity with Palestinian merchants.
still cannot comprehend how BDS activists can shop in an Israeli mall. It makes
If there is a point to that campaign, then I guess we should,
for example, also refrain from using Israeli Internet (which is better than the
Palestinian one). But if shopping in Israel doesn’t entail any political loss,
why do we insist on enforcing a ban on it as if it’s a social taboo? If
boycotting Israel does not make any sense, or have tangible effects, I don’t get
To shop or not shop? I think shop!