This is a guest blog post by former Programme Assistant Hannah Slater.
QCEA is pleased to present a new short-film looking at the role of the Rami Levy supermarkets in the West Bank. You can watch the video below, and please share it with friends and colleagues!
Rami Levy stores have been springing up across the West Bank for several years now. Israeli businesses have been providing services to the settlements for decades but there is something different about these supermarkets. Rami Levy stores are located just outside the settlements, drawing both Israeli and Palestinian customers from the area.
In these shiny, well-stocked supermarkets, Palestinians and Israelis shop side by side. Families and individuals from both sides of this 60-year conflict encounter “the other” as they roam the aisles searching out the best deals.
On the superficial level, the integration of both communities in the economic forum of a supermarket is a positive development, especially at a time when separation (or even apartheid) policies are becoming the norm. The best way to break down the pernicious stereotypes which fuel hatred and fear and which are sadly deeply entrenched in this conflict is for Palestinians and Israelis to actually meet each other. In a supermarket, shoppers are all there with the same objective; finding good products at good prices. Politics are not part of the equation.
But is this really the case? The argument that economics and politics are separate, unconnected spheres is a fallacy which has been disproved time and time again, in many places and contexts. How do Rami Levy stores affect the social, economic and political dynamics of the West Bank on a deeper level?
Rami Levy currently has four supermarkets in the West Bank. They are situated just outside the settlements of Gush Etzion, Sha’ar Binyamin, Beitar Illit and Mishor Adumim[i]. Like many other Israeli industries in the West Bank, they provide jobs for Palestinians as well as Israelis.
Job provision for the Palestinians is an argument that has long been used by those who seek to justify the occupation of the West Bank, where hundreds of Israeli companies now operate. But really what we should be asking is why unemployment is so high in the West Bank in the first place. The occupation discriminates against Palestinian business and keeps economic activity at minimum levels. To have Israeli companies providing a few jobs here and there is not a substitute for a healthy Palestinian economy.
Like any other discount chain, Rami Levy seeks to undercut its competition. In this case its competitors are Palestinian shopkeepers. Israel already maintains a tight stranglehold on the Palestinian economy through the restriction of access and free movement of goods and people. Are Israeli supermarkets in the West Bank another means of dominating the Palestinian economy? With Palestinian infrastructure (even that which is funded by international donors) unable to gain permits and at high risk of demolition, it is unlikely that a Palestinian supermarket in the West Bank would have been granted a permit.
The Palestinian Ministry of National Economy calculated the costs imposed by the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy to be $6.9 billion for 2010 alone[ii]. (In 2009 the Israeli economy measured $214 billion and the Palestinian economy measured $12.79 billion.[iii]) Despite talk of an economic peace between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, it is clear that economic warfare is a major arrow in the Israeli bow.
Rami Levy stores were considered to be so harmful to the Palestinian economy that the PA called for a boycott of the supermarkets in 2010. Nevertheless these stores continue to attract Palestinian shoppers with their reliable supply, cheap prices and wide-ranging goods, even at the expense of the Palestinian shopkeepers.
Rami Levy’s profits return to Israel. Tensions are created in communities between those who work or shop at Rami Levy and those who work and shop at Palestinian stores. If a Palestinian shop goes out of business and a family loses its livelihood, it’s a victory for the occupation which seeks to transfer Palestinians out of large areas of the West Bank, as noted in a recent EU report on Area C.
Rami Levy contributes to the normalisation of the occupation by alienating Palestinians from their own communities and encouraging Palestinian shoppers and workers to appreciate the Israeli provision of jobs and services and cheap goods. While it is important not to encourage the mentality of “us versus them,” it is also crucial to recognise that it is the occupation that has created a situation of high unemployment and prices in the West Bank. Encouraging Palestinians to shop in Israeli supermarkets undermines not only Palestinian identity and solidarity, but also the two-state solution.
We also know that founding entrepreneur Rami Levy himself is a supporter of the Zionist project. In 2011, the magnate moved into the real estate business, investing in the development of the Nof Zion settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. He told the Israeli National News that his motivations in this investment are not only as a business but also because “of my love for the city of Jerusalem and its importance to the Jewish people[iv].”
The political role of these supermarkets is clear when you consider the separation for security narrative which dominates Israeli thought today – both politically and in the general population. Israel claims that the only way to protect its citizens is to separate them from the Palestinians by a vast separation barrier (“the Wall”), checkpoints, and a totalitarian permit regime. But when it comes to Palestinians foregoing their own long-fought-for identity to shop in Israeli supermarkets, this discourse suddenly disappears.
While bringing together Israeli and Palestinian families and individuals in their everyday lives is ostensibly a positive step for peace on a personal level, it is important to be vigilant to the ways in which these supermarkets can undermine Palestinian social, political and economic life and indeed the two-state solution through the normalisation of the occupation.
[i] Israel National News ‘Zionist Entrepreneur Saves Jerusalem Neighborhood’ http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/141777#.T6ksl-joLgU
[ii] Palestinian Ministry of National Economy ‘The Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation for the Occupied PalestinianTerritory’ September 2011
[iii] CIA World Factbook Country statistics on Israel https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/is.html and Country statistics on West Bank (and Gaza) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html
[iv] Israel National News ‘Zionist Entrepreneur Saves Jerusalem Neighborhood’ http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/141777#.T6ksl-joLgU