Muslims, UpDATE Your Fasting Regimen for Palestine

Here’s how you can help Palestine this Ramadan

This Ramadan, when we’re asked the repetitive and yet comical question, “do you have to fast for 30 days straight?” Perhaps our answer won’t be as laughably obvious as it always is. Perhaps our answer, and our fasting regimen, may be a little more complicated this time around.

Don’t freak out. For the most part, the rules are still the same. Abstain from food and drink; yes, not even water; no, you can’t chew gum. Do all of these things only from dawn to sunset, and then, you are free until the next dawn. Nothing new or notably more intense here.

But this year, there will be one part of our fast which we will carry on in continuity without breaks. Yet this will be one part of our fast that we sustain for days on end — no suhoor — no iftar — it won’t deplete a single physical function. This part of our fast will not only not kill us, but save other lives and amplify religiosity. Yes, we will partake in this fast non-stop for 30 days and even more.

I am talking about “fasting” from Israeli dates.

What’s the deal with Israeli dates

As the holiest month of the year is rolling around, many of us will soon begin to stock up on dates out of tradition and Sunnah. However, little do we often realize that some of the date brands we grab thoughtlessly off the shelves are farmed by an industry that swallows up Palestinian land — -the Israeli date industry. These brands include Mehadrin, Jordan River, Hadiklaim, Delilah, King Soloman, and Carmel Agrexco. Since 2015, at least 20% of date imports from the US comes from this oppressive enterprise, amounting to nearly 321,980 tonnes of dates between 2015–2017. Of these imports, at least 60% are grown on illegal settlements in the Jordan River Valley, therefore expanding the economic development of Israel’s settlement complex. The industry’s enormous revenue only allows that land theft to continue. In 2017 alone, the export value of the dates amounted to $181.2 million. This prosperity financially upholds the occupation and allows it to thrive. But in a month characterized by alms giving and Ramadan charity, can we?

After all, we are by no means compelled to uphold this industry — but Palestinians living in Palestine often are. With the occupation crippling their economy, families often have no choice but to work on Israeli date farms, as it is often their only viable work option. This last resort proves not to be liberating, but exploitative and oppressive. Date farming is an incredibly grueling task, so the industry intentionally pushes the dirty work on Palestinians while subjecting them to grossly low pay. The labor conditions are terribly bleak; tedious date picking in scorchingly hot temperatures, high-risk physical demands, and no health compensation for inevitable injuries are amongst the range of abusive circumstances these workers are subject to.

Children are not exempt. Israeli settlements are known for employing Palestinian children on their date farms. The repercussions of employing children are obviously much more alarming, especially considering that the physical demand of the work compromises time which could otherwise be spent learning in schools. Whereas Ramadan is a time that many of our own children learn the art of fasting in the comfort of our homes, young Palestinian laborers are forced to sustain their fast farming the very products that starve their livelihood.

Furthermore, whereas a hallmark of Ramadan is practicing gratitude for our blessings such as water, Israel diverts these natural resources to their date farms and forces Palestinian farmers to buy them from Israeli companies. While many of us enjoy the luxury of stable water supply here in the US, Palestinians are often held financially captive to work in the industry that deprives them of that same water, both for drinking and agriculture.

For these reasons, it is not enough to only abstain from food and water this Ramadan; let’s “fast” or boycott Israeli dates. Given the Islamic responsibility to protect the justice of our Ummah, it is imperative that we Muslims do not break our fast on the commodity that starves Palestinian livelihood. Consider the vast array of date brands that are not Israeli, the wide range of “halal” dates to choose from, including Ajwa, various Tunisian varieties, Ziyad Brothers, so many more.

Dates to boycott

Where to buy dates in MN

Upon calling over 30 halal markets in the Twin Cities, I have found that almost every market carries non-Israeli date brands. Such markets are located in various areas of the Twin Cities, including:

  1. Columbia Heights Stores: Jerusalem Market and Northeast Halal Market and Deli
  2. Minneapolis Stores: Seward Market and Halal Meat, Nicollet Halal Meat Market, and Dur Dur Bakery and Grocery Store
  3. St. Paul: McKnight Market Halal Meat and Ashama Grocery and Meat
  4. Burnsville: Cliff Market, Metro Foods, and Halal Groceries

Furthermore, AMP is partnering with Penny Appeal, a date brand to support Palestinian farmers. By buying from Penny Appeal, you are directly purchasing Palestinian-grown and cultivated dates in the US that support the wider Palestinian economy. With such a wide array of options, we are in luck! It is almost impossible to go wrong.

Why dates though?

Yet inevitably, the question often arises: “Of all brands that support Israel or any injustice, why did dates arbitrarily become the target?”

While many brands support Israel, to try to boycott everything at once would be unstrategic and infeasible. The focus gets lost; it’ll feel like so big of a leap that its effectiveness is likely to be unrealistic. On the other hand, the date boycott is strategic and focused. By launching it, we are not discouraging people to boycott other brands on an individual level if they please, nor are we stopping at dates. The date boycott campaign is the stepping stone — it is the most strategic starting spot to mobilize for, and once we get successful with this campaign inshaaAllah, we can expand our efforts further.

Why is it most strategic? It is an easy boycott target for a niche community. Muslims are a prime consumer base for this industry and dates are every Muslim household’s commodity during Ramadan. It is a campaign that every Muslim can play a part in, and because the boycott is simple and has many alternatives, pushing for action will both be easier and can make a tremendous impact. We purchase close to 40 million pounds of dates every year in Ramadan alone. We have enormous consumer power, and the religious demand for dates in one concentrated time of the year makes it easy to mobilize around.

The numbers don’t lie; our efforts have already made an incredible impact. Israeli date imports have dropped 2.5 million pounds for the market year 2019/2020 in comparison to 6.9 million pounds the year before. Israel has seen the largest decrease in date exports to the United States in volume and value by any country since 2015.

The boycott really is working already, so what are we waiting for?

Let’s partake in what will be the easiest fast we’ve ever known. This Ramadan date “fast” will go 30 days and beyond Ramadan, and it’ll never have to be met with hunger in the face of a multitude of other dates that can begin our iftar and not subdue our social advocacy. This fast will have us feeling more than full from the oppression that warranted it. This fast will never entail the hassle of disputing what time we can break it — we’d have no interest in doing so when it’s much more satisfying to break your normal fast with justice.

We educate and empower our community around Palestine. Every day is a day closer to a free Palestine ✌️