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Boycotting Israel

Enthusiasm in Palestinian territories as rejection of Israeli goods gains momentum.

Palestine boycott
A foreign peace activist holds up a placard calling for boycotting products from Israeli settlements during a demonstration by Palestinian, left-wing Israeli and foreign protesters against settlers in the occupied West Bank on May 29, 2010. (Hazem Bader/Getty Images)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — On a dusty road at the edge of Nablus’ old city, Abu Mahmoud eagerly hands out a fistful of Palestinian-made chocolates, encouraging his customers to try them.

While waiting for his customers' reactions, his enthusiasm quickly overwhelmed him.

“There are lots of places to buy chocolate from in the Arab world!” he bellowed.

Abu Mahmoud then watched expectantly as his customers inspected the chocolate bricks, made mushy by scorching summer heat.

“The settlements are a big problem here,” he added in a more conspiratorial tone.

Abu Mahmoud’s storefront window, like thousands of others in the West Bank, is adorned with a yellow sticker that reads: “Your Conscience, Your Choice.” It’s part of an effort by the Palestinian Authority to boycott all goods made in Israeli West Bank settlements. Palestinians view the settlements as usurping their territory and much of the international community considers them illegal.

And it’s why Abu Mahmoud now exclusively carries Palestinian chocolate.

The movement is grassroots to the bone. Many Palestinians have been observing a boycott of settlement goods for years. The Palestinian Authority, however, formalized the boycott this year, decreeing punishments for those who stock settlement goods on their store shelves and, in the last few weeks, deploying a small army of volunteers to inspect shops across the territory.

Five such volunteers recently showed up at Joe’s supermarket in Ramallah to check for any outlawed goods. They didn’t find any.

“There were not too many goods from the settlements,” said Yazan Tartir, who works at Joe’s. Tartir noted that before the inspection, he only had to pull a few yogurt and biscuit products from his shelves.

According to the new law, those who violate it would be subject to five years in prison and a $22,000 dollar fine.

Despite the Palestinian Authority’s new hard line on dealing in settlement goods, Palestinians seem to be welcoming the measure. Many Palestinians have even said they would like the boycott to extend to all Israeli goods.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me because there are still a lot of Israeli goods on the shelves. They only banned settlement goods. Why don’t they ban everything?” asked Rafaat Bargouti, a manager at Bravo supermarket.

“Why do we bring Israeli products? Why do we benefit them?” added Yazir.

Palestinian welfare is so intertwined with Israel, though, that the boycott of settlement goods is already presenting some downsides and a total boycott of Israeli goods could be an economic disaster.