21. Beauty secrets

WASHINGTON – May 18 – After years of strenuous denial, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, an Israeli cosmetics firm with its main manufacturing plant in an illegal West Bank settlement, is proven by documentary evidence to be in violation of international law through its theft of Palestinian resources.  This evidence was recently discovered by Who Profits, a research project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, which documents corporate activity in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.

Merav Amir, Coordinator of Who Profits, said, “Ahava can no longer continue misleading consumers about where they get the mud used in their products.  This mud is from the Occupied West Bank and is stolen from the Palestinian people.” 

(The full press release on the Ahava finding is here.  More detail on CODEPINK’s Stolen Beauty Ahava Boycott is here.)

Merav Amir is one of several activists featured in Cracks in the wall, a chapter on boycott, divestment and sanctions in Our Way to Fight.

Born in Haifa in 1972, she grew up in a family that was “somewhat left but not active politically.”  In the Israeli education system she learned little more of Palestinians than that they were to be feared.

“I sensed that something was wrong with this picture,” she says, “but I had no resources to form an independent opinion.” At university she began to ask more questions, and when the second intifada broke out in the early 2000s, she was drawn to engage more deeply.

In 2005 Merav joined MachsomWatch, a volunteer women’s organization that monitors checkpoints.  Most of her duty-shifts were at the Huwara checkpoint, which controls traffic in and out of Nablus, the largest city in the occupied West Bank.  “There you see, directly, with no filters, how Israeli soldiers deal with Palestinian civilians,” says Merav.  “You see the power relations of military rule, its impact on daily life, on the possibility of living.  It’s quite a blunt learning experience.”

She heard that members of the Coalition of Women for Peace had begun to investigate economic forces involved in the occupation.  “I found this initiative really exciting,” she says.  “Much attention is paid to the political and ideological aspects, but not enough to the economic interests that have fueled the the occupation for more than 40 years.  It’s a missing piece of the picture.”

Merav joined the Coalition and the project in 2007, and with the launch of the online Who Profits database (www.whoprofits.org) in February 2009, she became research coordinator.

So who does profit from the occupation?

In a 2010 report, Merav Amir and her colleague Dalit Baum, project coordinator of Who Profits, detail how neoliberal policies have succeeded in turning the occupation from a costly burden into a highly profitable enterprise for Israeli and international elites.  “A potentially competitive Palestinian economy was actively de-developed, the movement of Palestinian workers and goods was regulated to the benefit of the Israeli market, and the Palestinian consumer market has become a captive market for Israeli goods.  Israeli manufacturers, employers and merchants have used this economic-military control to secure profits.”

Not only Israeli, but transnational corporations have profited richly from the occupation.

Who Profits collects corporate data not only from company and government sources, but also from field research on the ground.  When I travelled in the West Bank with Israeli activists, I noticed how meticulously they observed changes in settlements, outposts, industrial zones, and villages along the way.

“This is how it works,” says Merav.  “Over time you learn how to read the different facets of Israeli control.  On one hand it’s quite simple, the military occupation of a civilian population, but when you look more closely you see a hugely complex and sophisticated system of economic-military control.”

On its ever-expanding but highly accessible database, Who Profits organizes corporate data into three categories: the settlement industry, economic exploitation, and population control.  Each of these is subdivided into specific activities; under each are listed companies known to profit from these activities, along with the products or services they provide, annual revenues, subsidiaries, major shareholders, website and contact information.

Some very familiar brand names show up in the various categories.

Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories is listed under Settlement Products.

With this new revelation about Ahava’s beauty secrets, consumers will be better equipped to choose whether they want to support a company which is now “proven by documentary evidence to be in violation of international law through its theft of Palestinian resources.”

About Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.
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