The Real Cost of Dates

When we think about racism, we tend to think about the segregation of Black South Africans during Apartheid, the expulsion of Indigenous Americans from their lands and the daily systemic injustices that black folks face in the United States. In fact, we, as Americans, pride ourselves on the history of the civil rights movement and use examples, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to point to instances where Americans acted against racism and oppression. Those buses offered convenient means of travel to and from work, but they carried a cruel reality, a reality which was changed by consumers taking collective action. 

Similarly, indigenous Palestinians face constant and severe exploitation of their land and labor. Palestinians in occupied Palestine and abroad, have witnessed the invasion of their homes, bombing of their villages, separation of their families, arrest and torture of their youth, denial of their right to return to their lands, and many more atrocities at the hands of the Israeli state. The Israeli date industry has a direct connection to this oppression. 

In 2020, the Israeli date industry exported over 140,000 tons of dates, valued at around $250.9 million US Dollars, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Of these dates, around 60% are grown in illegal settlements, plots of land that are illegally annexed from Palestinians in violation of International Law. Forced dispossessions evictions, home demolitions and other injustices have violently forced the Palestinian population out of the land wherein which generations of their families inhabited. 

Not only is Palestinian land stolen to create these date farms, but the industry exploits Palestinian laborers who often have no choice but to work on there. The occupation has crippled the Palestinian economy, so Palestinians must often turn to Israeli settlement farms for their source of livelihood. Palestinians are subject to dangerously hot temperatures and physically grueling working conditions with pay as little as $3 an hour.  

It’s not just adults; Israeli date farms are known to employ children as young as 11, according to Human Rights Watch. Would you let your children spend their days in the hot sun, picking dates in poor working conditions? Would you watch them risk their lives working with dangerous equipment, earning around $19 for a full day’s work? Like their parents, these children don’t have any other choice. With Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian freedoms of movement, land-use, and access to water and markets, children often drop out of school in search of jobs in order to financially support their families. 

As consumers, our power lies within our wallets, and by making conscious decisions regarding our purchases, we can send a message to Israel that such oppression will not be tolerated. American Muslims for Palestine launched its annual Date Boycott Campaign which calls on consumers and businesses to boycott Israeli dates. Some of the major Israeli date companies that export to the United States include: Hadiklaim – with brands such as King Solomon and Jordan River, Mehadrin, Carmel Agrexco, Galilee Export, Agrifood Marketing –  with brands such as Star Dates. At the local level, the organization is visiting grocery stores and other businesses to raise awareness for this issue and offer alternatives to Israeli dates, such as Yaffa. We are also reaching out to consumers at universities, houses of worship, and other community hubs to educate our neighbors and friends about the exploitation of Palestinians and inspire them to take action. 

The date boycott is easy as there are an abundance of alternatives to Israeli dates. Conscious consumer choices can result in widespread change. In the 1950s, the Montgomery Bus Boycott called to attention racial segregation in the United States and ultimately led to the Supreme Court banning segregation on public buses. Such as the generation before us took a stand, so must we. And it begins with a date. 

About The Author

Nicholas Merlino

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