International NGO Oxfam is using its Make Trade Fair campaign to encourage building coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, according to visiting Oxfam campaigner Pushpanath Krishnamurthy.
On Wednesday, Israel's first-ever Fair Trade fair will be held at Tel Aviv's Old Port, with a variety of goods on offer.
Krishnamurthy told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the work of local nongovernment organizations to facilitate the growth of fair trade between the two communities and to introduce products produced under the banner of fair trade to Israel had far exceeded his expectations.
"When I first came here 15 months ago I did not think it was possible to find a common conversation between the two groups, but within the last year, 5,000 kilograms of olive oil [made in the Palestinian Authority] has been sold in Israel," said Krishnamurthy. "Fair trade can really build a bridge between two communities."
Launched in Israel in 2005, Oxfam's Fair Trade Campaign is run here by the organization's local branch and other NGOs, primarily Green Action, a nonprofit association that works to promote socio-ecological change.
"Fair trade is an alternative to the established system of trade in the world today, called free trade. Despite the positive connotations attached to the words free trade, in reality this is an economic system that justifies all means of production for the sake of increasing profits. The free trade system does very little to protect workers rights... These unfair conditions are justified by companies and corporations who put a higher price on increased profits then on the well being of their employees," according to Green Action's Web site.
Eyal Hareuveni, a Jerusalem-based researcher for Oxfam, said the local campaign played out in the form of olive oil, labane and zatar production in Mas'ha, west of Ariel, as well as similar projects encouraging cottage industries among Ethiopian immigrants in Kiryat Gat, veteran Israeli Jews in Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neighborhood and Beduin villages in the Negev. Local campaigners have also imported fair trade coffee.
Oxfam has been criticized as anti-Israeli. Hareuveni said the NGO officially supported a two-state solution.
"Oxfam did not work in Israel prior to three years ago," said Hareuveni, adding that the organization never tried to be political but rather focused on humanitarian issues such as poverty and water sanitation in the Palestinian territories.
However, a 2003 campaign by an Oxfam-backed Belgian affiliate called for consumers to boycott Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. Oxfam officials denied that the boycott was anti-Semitic, but the organization did not disassociate itself from divestment efforts. On Monday, Krishnamurthy told the Post, "Oxfam is not part of any boycott."
He seemed unfamiliar with divestment activities by his own or other organizations.
Krishnamurthy - who has worked with Oxfam for 20 years - said he had seen the Fair Trade campaign bring rival communities together in countries such as Rwanda and Bosnia.
"It is possible to have conversations even between those who differ," he said. "I always find coming here is very challenging but I'm feeling very upbeat. With such a big endeavor, every small step is important."