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JPost: “UK protesters try to hurt Israeli flower sales”

by Ellis Weintraub and Laura Rheinheimer, February 13th

To hurt the high-volume sales of Israeli flowers on Valentine’s Day in the United Kingdom, three anti-Israel protesters chained themselves to a fence over the weekend outside the distribution site of Carmel-Agrexco in Middlesex. Police arrested them.

The UK-based Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign launched the protest on Saturday as part of a five-day campaign against the sale of Israeli flowers.

According to Abraham Daniel, director of the Flower Growers’ Association in Israel, Valentine’s Day should bring in NIS 11.5 million in sales. This amounts to 10 percent of the NIS 115m. Israel expects to export to England this year.

The boycott group hopes to diminish these sales, according to group spokesman Tom Hayes. They aim to damage Carmel-Agrexco’s reputation, negatively impact profits and lobby supermarkets to not sell Israeli flowers, he said.

No stores have agreed to the boycott yet, Hayes told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. But his group remained in contact with several stores, he added.

Saturday afternoon, some 90 demonstrators blocked trucks from leaving Carmel-Agrexco’s Middlesex site. According to Amos Or, Agrexco-UK’s general manager, the protest lasted from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and caused a 30-minute delay.

“It’s a small, noisy group, but the police were well prepared,” he told the Post. Most of the trucks carried Coral strawberries grown by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, he added.

But according to Hayes, the protesters stopped operations for the whole afternoon. His said his group opposed all Israeli companies, but had specifically targeted those with farms in the Jordan Valley, believing they exploit cheap Palestinian labor. He said Palestinians could not develop their own farms in the area because of security checkpoints.

Hayes said his group did not distinguish between flowers grown in the Jordan Valley with those grown elsewhere in Israel.

“We are the Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign, so we are against all Israeli flowers,” he said.

Hayes said his group was against Agrexco for several reasons: It is partially owned by the Israeli government, it operates farms on settlements in the Jordan Valley “at the Palestinians’ expense,” and it “profits from the apartheid.”

He said he based his information on a recent visit to Israel in which he met with workers in the Jordan Valley.

Daniel said only 1%-2% of the flowers grown in the Jordan Valley were exported.

“Most of the flowers from the Jordan Valley are sold in local markets,” he said.

Jordan Valley Regional Council head Dubi Tal said although Palestinians needed permission to enter the area, they were free to work wherever they want. There were “no complaints from outside [organizations] or the Palestinian side,” he said. Palestinians were free to establish farms in the valley, he added.

According to B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli, only Palestinians who are prepared to work on a settlement in the Jordan Valley or those who live there may enter the area.

Michaeli said Palestinians from outside the Jordan Valley sometimes encountered problems accessing land they own in the region.

According Atzmon Meltzer, the general manager of a flower distributor called Aviv, the Jordan Valley exports only 5% of Israel’s total flower exports. Israel grows most of its flowers in the Arava, around Beersheba, the North and the Jezreel Valley, he said. Aviv and a European company hope to buy Agrexco from the government, he added.