Oslo, the capital of Norway, announces boycott of goods produced in the Israeli-Occupied Territories

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  April 28, 2023

Ann Arbor – The city council of Oslo, Norway, the Scandinavian country’s capital, has passed a decree boycotting the importation of goods from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories seized in 1967. The city will also boycott Israeli companies involved in exploiting the resources in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.

The Oslo city council announced, “foodstuffs coming from Israeli-occupied areas must be labelled with the area from which the product comes and must indicate that it is from an Israeli settlement, if that is its source.”

The Norwegian government had already made a rule in 2022 that goods from the Occupied Territories could not be marked “Made in Israel,” only those produced inside Israel within its 1949 borders.

It may not be an accident that Oslo made this decision now. Daniel Boguslaw at The Intercept raised the question of whether the far, far right government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which is filled with open racists, fascists and Jewish supremacists, might be the best ally the movement for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel has ever had. Global headlines have been full of the hate filled comments of cabinet ministers such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. Smotrich urged the ethnic cleansing of a Palestinian hamlet.

The Geneva Convention on occupied territories of 1949 and the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court in 2002 both strictly forbid countries that occupy the territory of neighbors in wartime from settling their own citizens in this territory. The stricture came in response to atrocities committed by the Axis powers in World War II, as when Germany occupied Poland in 1939 and settled it with German citizens even as the Nazis killed and displaced Poles– in a bid to make Poland German and “Aryan” and to wipe out Slavs.

Israeli authorities have since the 1970s assiduously ignored international law and have subsidized the settling of hundreds of thousands of squatters on privately owned Palestinian farms, orchards and town property. At the same time, the Israeli state permanently locked some 300,000 Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza and has exerted various forms of pressure on them to emigrate abroad. They have also illegally annexed Palestinian East Jerusalem and part of the Palestinian West Bank near it, into which they are also putting squatters. Israeli squatter settlements are Jews-only and discriminate against Palestinian residents in Palestine itself.

Oslo’s principled stand is the form of BDS that I favor.

That is, I don’t think it is fair to boycott ordinary Israelis, many of whom do not like the squatters or their goals. Israel sits in the United Nations as a recognized state, and Oslo is not interested in boycotting companies or products produced in the state as it came into the UN, under the borders of the 1949 armistice. However, virtually everything Israeli authorities have done in the West Bank and Gaza since they were seized in 1967 has been grossly illegal. Worse, Israeli authorities have deprived the occupied Palestinians of the basic right to citizenship in the state, keeping them without even the right to have rights.

Much post-war international law was passed in an attempt to implement a “Never Again” policy — no more aggressive wars, no more annexations of neighbors’ territory, no more genocides against minorities such as Jews, Romani, gays and Poles. In flouting international law, Israeli authorities undermine their own alleged commitment to the principle of “Never again.” They have launched aggressive wars, displaced hundreds of thousands of people (who now have 11 million descendants), illegally annexed territory, and have squatted on occupied territory. The Holocaust can be viewed through the lens of Jewish nationalism or Zionism, such that it becomes a justification for Jews to refuse to be bound by international law or yield to outside pressure. Or it can be viewed through the lens of a humanist universalism, such that it is one of many horrific genocides in the twentieth century — the Armenian, the Polish, the Cambodian, and so forth — and the lesson we take away from it is not a Likud or Religious Zionism ‘get out of jail free’ card allowing the flouting of all laws and norms but the urgent necessity of upholding the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Rome Statute with a determination that the lawlessness of the Nazis, of Mussolini’s black shirts, and of the Japanese imperial armed forces should never be repeated.

Oslo’s boycott is in furtherance of a rules-based international order, and is therefore highly praiseworthy.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment. He is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan; he is author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam