Dates were Israel’s leading fruit export in 2005. Today, it is estimated that Israel produces over 5,000 tons of dates annually, bringing in approximately $100 million. Up to 80% of the Israeli date crop is exported, mainly to Europe where it has around 10% of the market share. The two major Israeli companies involved in the production and export of dates are Agrexco and Hadiklaim. Both companies operate illegally in the occupied Jordan Valley, exploiting Palestinian laborers (including children), who are being systematically forced off their land by the Israeli army.
Agrexco, Israel’s largest produce exporters, includes the brands Carmel, Carmel Bio-Top, Alesia, Jordan Plains, and Jordan Valley. Carmel Agrexco exports 350,000 tons of produce and flowers annually, yielding $580 million. These leading export brands buy their fruit from various growers located throughout Israel and occupied Palestine, including the Jordan Valley, but they fail to differentiate between produce from Israel and that which is produced in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. In addition to selling dates produced in settlements, Agrexco has a regional office in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
Agrexco is owned by the Israeli government (50%), Israeli growers represented by the country’s production and marketing boards (25%), and the Tnuva cooperative (25%), whose controlling shareholder is Apax Partners (UK and USA). In 2008, the government approved a program to privatize the company, however privatization has not yet been initiated.
Ongoing BDS campaigns against Carmel Agrexco in the United Kingdom and Italy have highlighted Israel’s policy to mislabel settlement produce as products of Israel in order to benefit from European-Israeli trade agreements. Settlement products, sold as products made in Israel, violate the preferential trade terms for Israel defined by the European Union-Israel Association Agreement (EU-IAA) in effect since 2000 and confirmed by the European Court of Justice’s February 2010 ruling.
Carmel Agrexco also violates international law. The fourth Geneva convention, of which the State of Israel is a signatory, deems settlement on occupied lands illegal, as well as the agricultural production taking place in such settlements, because of the exploitation of occupied resources it implies.
The Hague Court’s 2004 advisory ruling on the Israeli Separation Wall affirmed this illegality, condemning as a breach of international law Israeli settlements constructed beyond the Green Line, the internationally-recognized boundary between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Settlements on occupied land and the agricultural production.
Carmel Agrexco has been a target of boycott campaigns in the United Kingdom and Italy.
In England, activists have been blockading Agrexco depots and halting delivery trucks to protest imports since 2005. In November 2006, during a trial in the United Kingdom in which protesters who had blockaded Agrexco’s UK distribution center in Middlesex were acquitted, Agrexco UK’s then general manager, Amor Or, admitted under oath that Agrexco single handedly markets 60–70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Since then, Agrexco has refused to cooperate with the police in prosecutions to avoid having its business practices exposed by the scrutiny of the courts.
The UK-based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa has launched the Check the Label campaign aimed at raising awareness among British Muslims to not buy Israeli dates to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Stop Agrexco Italy (a coalition of over 50 associations, political parties and trade unions) announced a BDS victory in May 2010 upon the suspension of sales of Agrexco products by two Italian chains, COOP Italia and Nordiconad. Spokespeople from these stores denied any blanket boycott, saying that only products from settlements in the occupied territories would not be carried.
Hadiklaim is the other major date export marketer. Functioning as a growers’ cooperative that “consolidates the activities of Israel’s largest and most advanced date producers,” the Hadiklaim cooperative includes date growers from 1948 Israel, mostly the South, and from the settlements in the occupied Jordan Valley.
The website, which states “Hadiklaim date farms stretch the length of Israel, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea region, from the Arava Desert to Beit Shean Valley,” is purposely ambiguous in regards to the cooperatives activities in the occupied Jordan Valley. However, the companies CEO has stated in YNet that the occupied Jordan Valley is an important area for Hadiklaim.
In October 2007, a group of campaigners from the Brighton Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group entered Tomer settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley and photographed Hadiklaim medjoul dates, packaged by Carmel Agrexco, labelled ‘Made in Israel’ and marked as bound for Tesco stores. Products exported as ‘Made in Israel’ benefit from the preferential trade terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which came into effect in 2000. Settlement products, however, are excluded from the beneficial terms of the EU-IAA. When ITN, British New Agency, screened an expose in 2007 accusing supermarkets of misleading British consumers, Tesco admitted it had acted “in error” and stated that Israeli dates “originating solely in the West Bank will [in the future] be labelled as such.” The controversy spurred the 2009 UK Department for Environment, Food and Rurual Affairs "Technical Advice: labeling of produce grown in the Occupied Palestinian Territories", which states the Government considers that traders… would be committing an offence if they were to declare produce from the OPT as ‘Produce of Israel’.
Although many stores market Hadiklaim dates under their own brand names, some Hadiklaim labels to watch for include Jordan River, Jordan River Bio-Top, King Solomon, and Klein Pella.