By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
From stalls in shopping malls around Adelaide, cosmetic company Seacret distributes skin and spa products. Seacret’s website claims that their products are “extracted from the ancient, and some say mystical, salts and minerals found only in one place on earth, – the Dead Sea.”
“We believe everything we do must embody honesty and reflect purity,” says Seacret.
Australian Friends of Palestine (AFOPA) executive member Margaret Cassar, however, thinks Seacret’s sleek marketing does not tell the whole story behind their products.
Her organisation holds a weekly picket outside the Rundle Mall Seacret stall, located in the Myer Centre.
Last year, Ms Cassar told Mondoweiss.net that these pickets are “tapping into a growing disquiet among Australians about the human rights abuses in Palestine, and the complicity
of our government in supporting a military occupation that causes so much suffering.”
Since 1967, the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem has been recognised by the UN as subject to Israeli occupation.
This area had previously been designated as the site of a future Palestinian state under UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II).
However, the Israeli government does not recognise that it is in contravention of international law. Last July, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported a government panel, headed by former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, dismissed the claim that Israel’s presence in the territory is considered an occupying force.
Not only has this conclusion been rejected previously by the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, but even the Israeli High Court has ruled Israel’s presence in the West Bank constitutes a “belligerent occupation”.
Amnesty International’s 2012 report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is telling. It reveals continued widespread human rights abuses resulting from the ongoing occupation.
In an effort to cut off the international support base of the occupation, in 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
AFOPA’s website states that BDS “target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights.”
According to AFOPA, Seacret has been targeted because its products are made from resources extracted from the occupied western shores of the Dead Sea.
Whether or not this violates international law is questionable.
A report issued by the Palestinian human rights organisation al-Haq last month stated that Israeli cosmetic companies are violating Article 47 of the Hague Regulations and Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention by “pillaging” the Dead Sea.
In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry told the UK’s Guardian that under the Oslo Accords, Israel can legally “license a company to excavate mud in that area (the West Bank) if it chose to do so.”
Although the report singles out cosmetics firm Ahava, it raises legal and humanitarian concerns relevant to any Israeli business that extracts resources from the West Bank, including Seacret.
While both the Seacret national distributor and the proprietor of the Rundle Mall store declined to comment on this story, the movement has drawn a number of vocal opponents in Australia, particularly since the arrest of 19 BDS activists in Melbourne last July.
The activists were involved in a picket of the Max Brenner chocolate store, which had been targeted because of its close ties to parent company, the Strauss Group, and the Israeli military.
The Australian’s article ‘Prominent Australians fight anti-Semitism with hot chocolate’ claimed that Australian Workers Union Secretary Paul Howes described BDS activists as “mimicking the behaviour of the Nazi thugs.”
Following another BDS protest that erupted in Brisbane on August 25 this year, Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies president Jason Steinberg told the Australian Jewish News that pickets targeting businesses like Seacret are “unacceptable”.
He said: “[E]veryone’s entitled to be able to voice their views, but the moment they incite any form of racial vilification or hatred, that’s where we need to step in.”
Adelaide University’s ‘Justice for Palestine’ club supports the pickets, though president Sean Robinson strongly denies any racial motivation. He argues that BDS “is founded on the recognition that the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian territories is the main reason the… conflict continues.”
“The pickets target…(Seacret because it) profits from the…occupation,” he said.
Despite intensifying opposition, AFOPA picketers celebrated their 100th week of protest on August 24. Their weekly pickets continue.