Featured Illustration: Soufeina Tuffix
We are nearing the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Our religious holiday as Muslims is trademarked by dates; the sweet, fleshy fruit that we break our fasts with every evening. With that consumption comes a dirty little secret — many of us are (unknowingly) eating dates that support human rights abuses and illegal military occupation and colonization of Palestine.
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During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to practice heightened self-awareness and regulation of our good and bad behavior. We are commanded to enjoin in good and forbid evil — to identify and tackle sins or wrongdoing in our everyday life to train our spirit for the rest of the year. Indulging ourselves in dates and investing our money in date companies that exploit and profit from Palestinian labor and stolen land poses an issue of cognitive dissonance. We cannot support injustice committed abroad, especially in the Holy Land, during the Holiest month.
Dates distributed by Israeli companies are grown and packaged on Israeli settlements in the West Bank which are in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — illegal under international law. This makes purchasing and consuming these dates an act of support for the illegal occupation and the theft of Palestinian land and resources.
The corruption doesn’t stop there. In addition to land theft, Palestinians are being exploited with pay less than half of the minimum wage. They work in scorching temperatures for extended hours, and many of them are children under the age of 16 years old. They are not given holiday, sick, nor emergency leave; they are not given health insurance, and they are banned from unionizing. With a Palestinian economy crippled by the Israeli occupation, Palestinian workers often have no choice but to work on Israeli date farms to support their families. Israel’s strict policies on the Palestinians severely restrict their access to land, water, agricultural inputs like fertilizers, and their ability to transport goods. Big companies know this, and exploit it.
The presence of these date farms on stolen land is an issue on its own. But maintaining the farms requires a lot of resources. As exemplified in most colonizer/colonized relationships, Israel appropriates and redirects Palestinian resources for their profit in global trade. A vast majority of the water supply in the West Bank is allocated to the Israeli settlements and diverted from Palestinian homes, and the same is done to supply the Israeli date farms.
Since Ramadan of 2012, the education and advocacy organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) has led a national boycott of Israeli dates as a response to Palestinian civil society’s call for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (or BDS) of Israel.
To achieve freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians, BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. This campaign calls for grocery store owners to remove these dates from their shelves. AMP-New Jersey’s team has been working hard to involve Muslim and non-Muslim communities in counties around the state — working hand in hand with other AMP chapters across the country doing the same.
Israeli date companies that export to the US that you should avoid include Haidiklaim, Mehadrin, Devik intl, Carmel Agriculture Co. The biggest brands, that may or may not be sold at your local Halal market, or stored in your pantry, are Jordan River, King Solomon, Star Dates, and recently, Delilah. According to recent data by the USDA, Israeli date imports have dropped to 2.5 million pounds for the market year 2019/2020 in comparison to 6.9 million pounds the year before, and it continues to drop for the 2020/2021 year.
The date industry is fruitful (pun most definitely intended) globally, and there are a plethora of ethical, human rights-friendly alternatives to Israeli dates. Dates from Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and other Arab countries are just as delicious, if not better, and come with plenty of variety. Palestinian farmers also have dates you can purchase through organizations like Penny Appeal USA. If you’re looking for more local distributors, California grown dates are just as juicy and flavorful!
Especially during Ramadan, it’s important as Muslims and allies for justice with the Muslim community, to study the impacts of our everyday actions — even the simple and routine act of breaking our fast with a date. Upon reflecting on our successful grassroots organizing initiatives to keep Israeli dates out of stores and off our dinner tables, it’s important to recognize that we must be purposeful with our purchases. We must be tasteful with our preferences. Keep your Ramadan halal and boycott Israeli dates today.