Malaysian PM defends Hamas ties on Germany trip

Malaysian PM defends Hamas ties on Germany trip
Malaysian PM defends Hamas ties on Germany trip

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: British Muslims usually check supermarket labels to ensure their purchases are halal. This Ramadan, however, they are also checking to see where their dates are grown.

Muslims typically break their fast with the sweet fruit, following in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. This year, against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, British Muslims are keen to avoid buying Israeli dates.

The UK is reportedly the second-biggest importer of Israeli dates in Europe, and, in 2020, imported more than 3,000 tons of dates from Israel, worth about £7.5 million ($9.6 million), according to statistics released by Friends of Al-Aqsa.

For more than 14 years, FOA has led the #CheckTheLabel boycott campaign to raise awareness among consumers who are unknowingly buying Israeli dates.

The campaign has focused on Muslims during Ramadan — a time of surging Israeli date sales in Europe.

As part of its campaign, the advocacy group has encouraged imams in local mosques to address the boycott in their sermons during the holy month.

“Mosques are very important during Ramadan to push that message of unity and encourage people to be ethical consumers,” Shamiul Joarder of FOA said.

“The campaign is always received really well. No one wants to knowingly break their fast with Israeli dates, with produce that helps sustain the illegal occupation of stolen land,” he added.

Israel’s illegal occupation has forced many Palestinians to work under degrading conditions on settlement farms.

Human Rights Watch has documented the exploitation of Palestinian labor in the Israeli date industry, including children as young as 11 exposed to harmful pesticides and women enduring long hours in harsh conditions.

The boycott movement has gained momentum in the UK over the years, especially in the context of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people since October 2023.

Abbas, a London-based Iraqi designer, told Arab News about the prevalence of Israeli dates in the UK.

“I’d always assumed they were produced in Arab countries,” the 21-year-old said, adding that social media in recent months had helped him become aware of the importance of checking labels.

Meanwhile, Joarder warned that Israeli exporters are hiding the origins of dates to “deliberately mislead” consumers.

“I stick to buying my dates from one company I know that is Saudi. That way, I don’t end up accidentally buying from Israeli brands,” Soha, a 52-year-old British Muslim, told Arab News.

Equally, there has been a push in the UK to promote Palestinian date consumption, which has been adversely affected by the growth of the Israeli date industry.

Islamic charity Penny Appeal has been selling dates ethically sourced from Jericho, which helps to provide a crucial livelihood to Palestinian farmers.

“We are certainly noticing that Muslim consumers are much more careful about buying dates. We receive calls and emails every day asking us to prove our dates are Palestinian,” Ahmad Bostan of Penny Appeal told Arab News.

Zaytoun, a UK-based nonprofit that supports Palestinian farmers, said that the proliferation of affordable medjoul dates in the UK has prompted consumers to compare pricing.

“Farming and trading under occupation results in higher costs, and Palestinian growers lack the economies of scale that typically reduce production costs,” the organization told Arab News.

Despite this, Zaytoun has experienced an “overwhelming surge in support” for its Palestinian products, which are now featured in major UK retailers like Selfridges, Fenwicks and Whole Foods Market.

“Beyond the direct cultivation of dates, the date sector creates employment opportunities in related industries such as sorting, processing, packing, printing, packaging, refrigeration, haulage, logistics and more,” the organization said.

“By contributing to the growth of the date sector, consumers actively contribute to the broader economic development of Palestine, fostering resilience in the face of challenging conditions.”

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