By: Dr. Aref Assaf
Dates grown in Israeli occupied Arab lands are sold in New Jersey are in violation of US laws.
Dates, the succulent fruit of the palm tree, especially those marketed by giant Israeli companies, such as Agrexco and Hadiklaim, have deliberately avoided showing the country of origin in fear of rejection by Arab and Muslim consumers. Israel has systematically conspired with unscrupulous importers to circumvent prohibition by many countries on importing products made in Israeli settlements which are built on occupied Arab and Palestinian lands. Under international law, Israeli settlements are illegal and many countries prohibit the import of products made in these locations.
The US does not place restrictions on settlement-produced products, allowing the sale of these dates in US markets, including those located in Arab and Muslim neighborhoods. However, the US has “COOL,” or “country of origin labeling” guidelines, requiring imported products to clearly state the country of production.
Pursuant to code 19 USCS § 1304: “[E]very article of foreign origin (or its container…) imported into the United States shall be marked in a conspicuous place as legibly, indelibly, and permanently as the nature of the article (or container) will permit in such manner as to indicate to an ultimate purchaser in the United States the English name of the country of origin of the article.” Further, the law mandates that, “Any person who, with intent to conceal the information given thereby or contained therein, defaces, destroys, removes, alters, covers, obscures, or obliterates any mark required under the provisions of this Act shall: (1) upon conviction for the first violation of this subsection, be fined not more than $100,000, or imprisoned for not more than 1 year, or both; and (2) upon conviction for the second or any subsequent violation of this subsection, be fined not more than $ 250,000, or imprisoned for not more than 1 year, or both.”
Selling palm dates to Muslim consumers, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, is a multi-billion-dollar industry. More than a billion and a half Muslims around the world will soon have to venture out to buy this nutritious and holy fruit that is mentioned more than a hundred times in the Holy Quran as a blessed fruit. Though dates have become a staple food in many Muslim homes, during the holy month of Ramadan, the fasting month, the ritual consumption of a few dates at sunset takes on a religious fervor, as Muslims emulate Prophet Mohammad’s practice of breaking his fast with dates. Ramadan is set to begin on or around July 20, 2012. However, in New Jersey, and indeed all over North America, Muslims may be eating dates produced in Israeli settlements that have been deliberately mislabeled. Consumers are misled in regards to the place of origin of these dates by popular brand names such as “King Solomon” and “River Jordan.”
The story becomes more intriguing when we learn that Arab and Muslim-owned import companies may have conspired with, or were fooled by Israeli export companies to sell these dates, or as the case is in the US, with no traceable country of origin. Unquestionably, mislabeled products are defrauding American Muslim consumers and enabling the economic sustenance of illegal Israel settlements built on expropriated Arab lands.
(See Picture) Dates famed in Israeli settlements are widely marketed to Arab and Muslim consumers but without showing country of origin info as required by US laws which imposes stiff penalties on violators.
A sample we found in Paterson, NJ Arab owned stores. The two brands, Jordan Valley, and King Solomon show no country of origin, unlike other brands we saw produced in Tunisia, or California, USA.
A visit to ‘Little Arabia’, the two-mile Arab and Middle Eastern thoroughfare in South Paterson/Clifton, New Jersey, shows signs of bustling activity, with shopkeepers stocking their shelves with Ramadan-specific wares, foods, and sweets. Dates from around the world will be offered in tempting displays. The dates marketed under the brand name “Jordan Valley,” containing highly prized Medjool-type dates, will fetch around $70 for an eleven-pound box – but missing from the product information will be the country of origin, information required by state and federal regulations. Wholesalers and even retailers, however, are violating these laws for fear that consumers will not buy Israeli-made products.
Speaking to merchants and consumers last weekend provided ample evidence of a growing illegal activity by small and large wholesalers that deliberately evade the radar screen of local, state, and federal inspectors, allowing them to sell illegal, expired, outdated, or seriously mislabeled products. “If I knew for sure these dates are made in Israeli settlements, I will never bring them into my home,” exclaimed a shopper at Fattal’s Bakery on South Main Street, Paterson. When we pointed out that the package did not include the required ‘country of origin’ info, another customer commented, that he always had the suspicion that something was wrong about the label on the “Jordan Valley’ branded dates. ” Aren’t they made in Jordan?” he asked. When we informed him that a Jewish company by the name of Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers Cooperative Ltd , which markets these dates to Muslim consumers without stamping Israel on the package, he wondered if it was legal to do so. We told him that it is illegal to deface or altogether not display the country of origin on any imported product. He ended up buying a tub of dates produced in California.
Most Israeli imported dates are farmed in the Jordan River basin, which constitutes roughly 25% of the occupied Palestinian lands and it is almost totally under Israeli military and economic control. A recent report by Adri Nieuwhof focuses on the illegal Israeli exploitation of the Jordan Valley.
The matter of selling mislabeled dates posit two sets of violations that must be viewed as deliberately intended to misrepresent a product to Arab/Muslim consumers. Not only do dates sold without a visible place of origin violate US consumer laws and export and import requirements but they inadvertently deceive Muslim consumers into buying products from Israeli-owned companies that harvest these fruits in huge farms established on occupied Arab owned lands. If given the choice, many Arabs and Muslims will not buy such product as a gesture of their support of the millions of Palestinians who languish under Israeli military control.
We have reached out to state and federal agencies to seek redress of these violations. We are in close contact with the United States Department of Agriculture under whose umbrella the specific ‘country of origin’ section is housed. We will report on our findings soon. Meanwhile — buy dates with the country of origin clearly stated on the package.
Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.
COOL requirements for imported foods as required by the Tariff Act of 1930 and as later amended.