Today is Nakba Day, a day organised to remember the “displacement, dispossession, and dispersal” of the people of Palestine, an extremely unhappy part of the history of Palestine/ Israel.  Reading stories and accounts, really sitting with the agony, violence and dislocation, has surely given me an empathy to Palestinians, even, perhaps especially, from my point of view as a person of Jewish descent and cultural identity, in the specific ways I grew up understanding what these were.

Nakba Day is a day that has been used for both political violence and political denial, depending who you are.  Those are part of the story, but I really advocate for this day to be about listening, contemplating, and remembering, and acting from your conscience from there.

Here’s a Gideon Levy piece in Haaretz (if you can’t see it, you register, then with luck you will be able): “This country of monuments [Israel] forbade any monument to their tragedy,” he writes. “This country of commemoration days and wallowing in grief forbade them to mourn. Every Arab carrying a rusty key is considered an enemy; any sign marking a destroyed village is an abomination.”

Or you can read historian Ilan Pappe article published today, a summation of the painful history with quite astonishing details about UN Observer efforts on behalf of Palestinians.  This piece is really worth a read.

It’s in this context of thinking and learning, in which the physical sensation is a kind of disquieted nausea, that I became aware of a call to boycott Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream coming from a pretty small but very smart group called Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP).

I like the fact that from Vermont they are taking on Ben and Jerry’s which still, despite global reach, remains branded as a Vermont company.  There’s some important assertion of localism in there.

VTJP has spent years in polite dialogue with Ben and Jerry’s and finally decided it was time to up the ante.  Mondoweiss has published a history of this campaign.

A particular uncannily horrific detail from the deadly war on Gaza last summer sets the stage for understanding complicity in terms of militarised infrastructure:

“Because Gaza’s morgues could not handle the horrific carnage, bodies of dead children and babies had to be stacked temporarily in ice cream freezers prior to burial. While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and being sold to supermarkets and for catered events in Jewish-only settlements.”

Have a look at this page of the VTJP website, and get a glimpse of the incredible inequality regarding water rights between settlers and Palestinians, and the questionable nature of the water used at the ice cream factory.  Reading this page about an illegal settlement where Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is sold, and the profitting from war crimes, it’s hard to imagine how that company cannot take a stand.  Selling ice-cream “normalises” the occupation, though there is absolutely nothing normal about the nature of the settlements or the shops within them, and the transfer of goods.

Here a link to  VTJP’s 2013 report entitled “Ben & Jerry’s Economic Complicity in Israel’s Military Occupation and Illegal Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

You can read the official response of Ben and Jerry’s to the campaign, written a bit in advance of this recent call for a full boycott.

I’ve read around the links, and I guess what is going on — obviously I can’t know if this is true– is that Ben and Jerry’s is trying in its way to stay out of the controversy, loyal to a long time franchiser friend in Israel, and also wary of missteps.  Maybe they are afraid of a backlash and don’t quite know how to handle this situation. Maybe they actually support the occupation? Yet: however much as a company they strive for a folksy, peace-and-love imaging, they’re now such a part of a global food conglomerate that we can trust their capacity to volley our own peace-and-love challenges.

And all this despite my genuine admiration and appreciation for their genuine efforts to campaign on climate change action and against TTIP.

The thing about a boycott like this: if it becomes widely broadcast, there’s a great opportunity for the debate to be made louder….. For this reason I think the boycott is a good, non-violent strategy for advancing a justice approach to Palestine, one that honours the pain of the past and offers some kind of future hope.   And if Ben and Jerry’s is unwittingly complicit in international crimes, they may well lose the loyalty of many long-time customers.

The morally inspiring Jewish Voice for Peace describes its support for the the BDS movement.

I shan’t be buying any Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream, which is available, courtesy of the marketing infrastructure of Unilever, it’s parent company, at our small supermarket in this small town in the middle of Wales.  And I’ve written my letter — why not write yours?


Some other posts about Palestine– I see talking about the situation, upping the discourse, as its own kind of activism… at least one way I’m able to contribute.