Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 2 December 2009
Bathrobe brigades in Amsterdam informing people about the dirty secrets of Ahava beauty products in front of a store that sells the product. (Cris Toala Olivares)
The international campaign to boycott Ahava beauty products has recently won the support of a Dutch parliamentarian and an Israeli peace group. During the past few months, activists in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Israel, the United States and the Netherlands have campaigned against the sale of Ahava products because of the company's complicity in the Israeli occupation.
The Stolen Beauty campaign has included protest actions by "bikini brigades" around the United States organized by the American peace group CODEPINK, and allied actions have taken place in London, Paris, Vienna, Montreal and Amsterdam. The Dutch "bathrobe brigades" that appeared in shopping centers in Amsterdam and Haarlem, not only caught the eye of the press, but also that of Dutch parliamentarian Harry van Bommel.
Ahava manufactures its cosmetics in a factory in the illegal Mitzpe Shalem settlement in the occupied West Bank. However, Ahava labels its skin care products imported into the EU as originating from "The Dead Sea, Israel." Van Bommel, concerned about this misleading labeling, asked Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen to investigate the origin of Ahava cosmetics, and Verhagen agreed.
The settlements Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia, located deep within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, own 44 percent of the shares of the company. Before the June 1967 war, Palestinians lived on some of the lands that are now part of the two settlements; there were Palestinian communities in Nabi Musa where Kalia is now located and in Arab al-Taamira next to Mitzpe Shalem.
According to the Israeli group Who Profits From the Occupation? (www.whoprofits.org), the mud used in Ahava products is taken from a site on the shores of the Dead Sea inside the occupied territory, next to Kalia. Ahava uses Palestinian natural resources without the permission of or compensation to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel denies Palestinians access to the shores of the Dead Sea and its resources, although one-third of the western shore of the Dead Sea lies in the occupied West Bank.
This week Palestinian tourism minister Khouloud Daibes voiced her disagreement with Ahava's practices in the West Bank. In protest of Israel's aspirations to nominate the Dead Sea for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition, Daibes wrote her Israeli counterpart a letter to express her objection to "promoting the Dead Sea in the competition, alongside products like Ahava, which are produced illegally in the Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian lands."
Recently, the international campaign to boycott Ahava beauty products received support from the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, which sent an open letter on 17 November to Ahava's management, urging the company to move its operations out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Gush Shalom stated: "Your decision to locate in Occupied Territory and make use of natural resources which do not belong to Israel was a mistaken gamble which already harmed your interests and might harm them even much further. Sooner or later you will have to get out of this damaging and illegal location -- and the sooner, the better."
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, parliamentarian Van Bommel told The Electronic Intifada he welcomes the international Ahava campaign. "It might appear a minor issue, but it is important as an example of [Israel] economically hampering the realization of a Palestinian state." He added that he would welcome initiatives in other EU countries to raise the issue in their parliaments. "Subsequently, the pressure on Israel will increase and more importantly, we can engage the public in the debate."
Adri Nieuwhof is an independent consultant based in Switzerland.