Friends of Palestine to mark 100 weeks of protest

Friends of Palestine activists in Adelaide's Rundle Mall. Photo: Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

This month, the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) will mark 100 weeks of protest against the sale of cosmetics containing minerals extracted from the Dead Sea — in Palestinian territory under Israeli military occupation — by Seacret.

Seacret says on its website: “We believe everything we do must embody honesty and reflect purity.”

Its products are made with “the ancient, and some say mystical, salts and minerals found only in one place on earth, the Dead Sea”.

Seacret says these minerals are then taken to Israel, where they are used in the manufacture of its skin creams and other cosmetics.

In its advertising, Seacret is not so honest about the legal implications of potentially criminal activities in the Palestinian West Bank.

The extraction of resources from the West Bank by Israeli companies like Seacret could constitute “plundering”, which would violate Article 47 of the Hague Regulations and Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The human cost is even more horrific.

While consumers in Australia are rewarded with luxury cosmetics, the impoverished Palestinians who were cited as the rightful owners of the West Bank under UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II) gain nothing.

Instead, their homes are bulldozed to make way for Israeli colonists. At best, they can be exploited as cheap labour by predatory foreign corporations.

Since Palestinian civil society first called for a global campaign to boycott, divest and impose sanctions (BDS) on Israel in 2005, the BDS campaign has grown rapidly.

Police crackdowns interstate have failed to intimidate BDS activists in Adelaide, who have continued to campaign for a free Palestine.

AFOPA executive member Margaret Cassar has been heavily involved in organising the weekly pickets of Seacret's Myer Centre stall in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall.

“BDS provides ordinary people with the tools to effect political change,” she said.

“Every day somewhere in the world a new campaign is being launched, [and] Palestinians are taking heart that the world has responded to their call.”

Although the picket has drawn mostly positive responses from the public, the protests have encountered significant opposition.

Activists have been verbally abused, and AFOPA has received a number of malicious emails. These messages are vulgar, and mostly target female activists with sexist and derogatory language.

Christian Zionists have also maintained a presence in Rundle Mall, and often stage counter pickets against AFOPA.

Cassar told Green Left Weekly: “I remember one protest in 2011 in the middle of winter on a Friday night when the Zionists turned up in full force complete with loud speakers and a kerosene powered film projector. They turned a serious protest about the appalling conditions in Gaza and the West Bank into a circus.”

Long-time BDS advocate Souraya Serhan says it has been worth it. Serhan has been involved in AFOPA's picket since the first month, more than two years ago.

“It's been a wonderful experience,” she said. “I have done my best to inform and educate with lots of positive feedback. The people I have met at the protest have been fantastic and I have made long term [relationships] with many. I feel privileged to be part of such a great milestone.”

Although AFOPA organises the pickets, the campaign has been supported by Adelaide University's “Justice for Palestine” club, and members of Resistance and the Socialist Alliance.

A team of buskers, Helen and Phil, have also supported the pickets with songs about the plight of Palestine.

The Melbourne-based national Seacret wholesaler has declined to comment on the BDS campaign or AFOPA's weekly pickets of their Adelaide store. The Rundle Mall stall franchisee had not responded by the time of publication.

At its annual general meeting last month, AFOPA reaffirmed its commitment to continue the pickets until Seacret ends its unethical practices.