By Matt Buckley
Rundle Mall is an open-air shopping mall in the heart of the Australian city of Adelaide. It has shops, cafes, a tavern and sculptures. On any given day in Rundle Mall one can find tourists, shoppers, street performers, families, and young people.
The presence of an Israeli cosmetics shop in Adelaide’s shopping district Rundle Mall has caused clashes between Palestinian rights activists and Christian Zionists.
The atmosphere of Rundle Mall on Fridays in the early evening is no longer only of Adelaide’s night-life just awakening, but also of tension and anger.
Seacret is an Israeli company that sells cosmetics made from minerals extracted from the Dead Sea.
Its products are labelled, “Made In Israel”.
The Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) is an Adelaide-based activist group formed in 2003, which campaigns against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
AFOPA accuses Seacret of stealing Palestinian resources to make its products.
Since October 2010, members of AFOPA having been regularly protesting on Friday nights outside the Seacret store in Rundle Mall.
They wear green shirts, carry Palestinian flags and hand out flyers.
“Firstly, we hope that the effects of the boycott will encourage the owners of Seacret to put pressure on the Israeli government to change their inhumane policies to the Palestinians,” AFOPA member Margaret Cassar says.
“Secondly, Seacret is an Israeli company that profits from the illegal military occupation of Palestine.
“Its use of Dead Sea minerals in its products is in direct contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids exploitation of resources in land held by an occupying power.”
The Dead Sea is an inland sea that is 80 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide, and has coasts on Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
While demonstrating a couple of the products to me, a Seacret sales assistant tells me that the company sources its materials from the Dead Sea, which, she says, borders Israel and Jordan.
I notice she does not say, “Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.”
According to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) a state can determine its “territorial waters” within the area up to 12 nautical miles (22.224 kilometres) from the baseline.
A “normal baseline” is, with certain exceptions, "the low-water line along the coast as marked on large-scale charts officially recognized by the coastal State.”
The “exclusive economic zone” is the area in which a nation has the sovereign right of exploiting and conserving the resources in the waters, and is no more than 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from the baseline.
If states have adjacent or opposite coasts to each other, disputes can be settled either with the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, with the latter having sole jurisdiction over mining disputes.
In regards to “enclosed seas”, of which the Dead Sea applies, its coastal states are to cooperate with each other in conserving and exploiting its resources.
As Margaret says, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from “pillaging”.
Also, the United Nations General Assembly has continuously called on Israel to refrain from exploiting Palestinian resources.
However, if Seacret were only to exploit resources from Israel’s section of the Dead Sea, the AFOPA would still protest the company.
“Firstly, because Israel has never defined its borders so it is impossible to say where Israel starts and ends and … Israel is still changing its borders,” Margaret says.
“Secondly it is still obtaining a resource from illegally occupied lands and is contravening international law.
“Thirdly the BDS campaign targets all Israeli companies.”
“BDS” stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and is movement founded in 2005 by a coalition of over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations.
It seeks to internationally isolate Israel, in the same way that South Africa was under apartheid, until Israel meets a number of demands.
Firstly, ending the occupation of the Arab territories it captured in the Six Day War, including dismantling the Separation Barrier in the West Bank.
Secondly, granting Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel the same rights as the nation’s Jewish citizens.
Thirdly, allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.
The BDS movement calls for boycotts of Israeli products and companies, as well as international companies that profit from Israeli human rights violations.
It also calls for divestment from Israeli cultural, academic and sporting institutions, as well as any companies that are complicit in Israeli human rights violations.
It also calls for international sanctions against Israel.
“AFOPA has been committed to the BDS movement since in inception in 2005,” Margaret says.
In more recent times AFOPA’s anti-Seacret protests have been joined by counter-demonstrations.
The counter-demonstrators are Christian Zionists, who believe God is literally on Israel’s side.
Handing out their own flyers, and often accompanied by a life-size crucifix, the counter-protestors support Israel’s claim to the Palestinian Territories.
Therefore, according to them, Seacret has every right to exploit resources from the Territories.
Unlike the AFOPA, the Christian Zionist demonstrators do not comprise an officially established organisation, but are instead a loose collection of people from a number of denominations.
Peter Egel, from The Church At Moonta, is one of them.
I spoke to him at one of their counter-demonstrations, although on this Friday the AFOPA demonstrators were absent.
He believes AFOPA’s claim that the resources Seacret uses rightfully belong to the Palestinians is false.
“Well, the Psalms tell me very clearly, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,’” he says.
“The earth belongs to the Lord, and He can give it to whom He chooses and He chose to give that part of land to Israel.”
Peter believes the anti-Seacret protestors “can say that they like but the fact is they are against Israel.”
He says their overall aim is to destroy Israel and refuse to recognise the Jewish people.
However, he also believes the protestors “should be free to speak their minds.”
“I’ve been with those guys many times and I’ve got to know some of them, and some of them are very, very well educated,” Peter says.
“And they’re in their position. And we can talk with each other. We can argue the point. We can move on that point.”
Peter believes the Arab world been dedicated to destroying Israel and wiping out the Jews ever since Israel’s inception in 1948.
According to him, and fellow counter-protestor Mike Ayoub, Israel successfully defended itself in the Six Day War, “so by right, they’ve won it [the Territories] by conquest.”
I point out that it is illegal under international law to take land by conquest.
Mike intercedes, “They were under attack and they defended themselves.”
That claim is contentious, but I overlook that issue and say, “You can defend yourself but it’s illegal to claim the land as your own.”
Peter responds, “They were defending it quite strongly and if you look at the Six Day War that had to be a miracle of God anyway.”
He says the Israelis were “outgunned, outmanned. So God intervened into that situation. God has a purpose and a plan for Israel and whoever comes against it is not going to win.”
Peter believes politics and international law are irrelevant to the Israel/Palestine conflict, as it is in God’s hands.
Therefore, a political solution is futile.
“My concern is that people get right with God, including both the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he says.
“You see, the earth belongs to Him and we need to give over to Him. So long as politics tries to leave God out of the equation and doesn’t go back to what he says in His word about Israel then they’re gonna be fighting a useless battle anyway. You’re gonna see toing and froing between the two. So the Arabs hate Israel, Israel isn’t going to give ground. God promised them He’d bring them back into the land and they’re not about to give it up.”
Peter believes that because God gave the West Bank and Gaza to the Jews, and also because of defensive considerations, Israel should hold onto them.
I say, “But the claim is that it’s an occupation.”
Peter laughs, while Mike intercedes, “How can it be an occupation in their own land? It’s their land.”
I reply, “It’s an occupation under international law.”
Peter says, “Don’t you think Israel has a higher claim than the Palestinians because they’ve only just come into play in the twentieth century?”
Mike says, “There are no Palestinians. They’re not actually a people.”
Mike goes onto say that the so-called “Palestinians” are actually Arabs who came from other countries and who “want to take over the whole of Israel” and “wipe the Jews off the map.”
Mike adds, “You’re kidding yourself if you think there will be a two-state solution.”
So what should become of the Palestinians?
Peter believes they should be citizens of Israel.
“They’re valuable to God just as much as anyone else,” replies Peter.
An interview was sought with the management of the Seacret store in Rundle Mall, but they declined, and refused to comment.
The same thing happened after an interview was sought with Seacret’s head office.
– Matt Buckley is doing a double degree in Journalism and International Relations at the University of South Australia. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.