By Nancy Kricorian
Since 2009, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, an Israeli cosmetics firm with its factory and visitors center in an illegal West Bank settlement, has been the subject of an international boycott campaign because of its violations of international law. Ahava means love in Hebrew, but there is nothing loving about the company’s occupation profiteering. The Stolen Beauty Ahava boycott campaign scored its first big press hit a few months after launch when starlet Kristen Davis was suspended from publicity work as an Oxfam Goodwill Ambassador for the duration of her contract as Ahava’s spokesmodel. One of the other major victories of the campaign came in the September 2011 when Ahava’s flagship store in London lost its lease because of eighteen months of bi-weekly protests outside the shop.
Ahava is a privately held company. Two of the co-owners are illegal Israeli colonies—Mitzpe Shalem, where the factory is located, and Kalia, another settlement on the shores of the Dead Sea—both of which are subsidized by the company’s profits. (Approximately 37% of the company is held by Mitzpe Shalem, 37% by Hamashbir Holdings, 18.5% by Shamrock Holdings and 7.5% by Kalia.)
Not only does Ahava have its manufacturing plant in the Occupied West Bank, but it also excavates mud from the occupied shores of the Dead Sea. This sourcing of mud is forbidden under international law as ‘pillage’ and ‘plunder’ of occupied natural resources. In addition, Ahava labels its goods as “Product of Israel” when they are made in the Occupied Palestinian territories. This fraudulent labeling has been the subject of inquiry in the U.K., the Netherlands, France and South Africa.
Since the beginning of this year Ahava’s brand has been further tarnished by bad publicity and a series of international setbacks. In January of 2012 a group of prominent U.K. academics and intellectuals denounced Ahava’s collaboration in an E.U.-funded research project. In February 2012, the company lost its Japanese distributor because of controversy surrounding Ahava’s illegal practices. In April, Norway’s Vita chain announced it would no longer stock Ahava products. In May the United Methodist Church voted to boycott Israeli settlement products, and in July the Presbyterian Church (USA) followed suit, specifically naming Ahava in its settlement boycott resolution. Also in May of this year, Who Profits, a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace released a new investigative report entitled, “Ahava: Tracking the Trade Trail of Settlement Products.” Around the same time, South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry announced new labeling rules for Israeli settlement goods; Ahava was mentioned by name as a company whose goods were fraudulently labeled as “Product of Israel” when their place of origin is the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Only last week a prominent U.K. jurist presented an opinion paper stating that it was legal for the U.K. and the E.U. to ban Israeli settlement products, a position that suggests further scrutiny of Ahava’s participation in an E.U.-funded nanotechnology research project. Just a few days ago, 250 European academics released an open letter calling for the exclusion of Ahava and Israeli arms firms from E.U. funded research projects.
The Stolen Beauty campaign is a part of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement in support of Palestinian rights.
Nancy Kricorian is the campaign manager for the Stolen Beauty Ahava boycott and she is a member of the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group. (She is also a New York City-based novelist.)