Palestinian lawyer Mohammed Khatib once dreamed of bringing his own children back to ride the swing in the roman olive tree where he used to play as a child, but that vision was shattered by the ongoing illegal expansion of Israeli settlements.
“I always dreamed that this olive tree and this place that I used to play when I was a child, that my children will play there,” Khatib said. “Unfortunately, this has been demolished, this has been uprooted, and in its place, they have built a huge settlement.”
Khatib’s story is all too familiar. The settlement enterprise, backed by the Israeli government, is responsible for stealing Palestinian land and has destroyed approximately 48,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories since 1967. This ongoing process of settler colonialism began prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land and homes by the Zionist movement and then Israel. Known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), it continues to this day.
Khatib, a human rights activist, was invited to share his experiences at the recent online launch of the campaign to Boycott Duty Free Americas (DFA), a chain of stores owned by a family that has donated millions of dollars to fund right-wing Israeli settler organizations.
Owned by the Falic family from South Florida, Duty Free Americas operates over 180 duty-free stores that sell items like hard liquor and chocolates at airports and border crossings across the United States and Latin America.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Falic family “has donated at least $5.6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and east Jerusalem over the past decade” and according to Haaretz, the Falic family also operates the Panama-based Segal Foundation for Israel, which ran afoul of even Israeli law because it “did little more than transfer millions of shekels to right-wing organizations in Israel.”
As documented by the Palestinian-led campaign Defund Racism, so-called charitable funds raised in the United States from donors such as the Falic family are used “to carry out the mission of the Israeli settler organizations.”
The South Florida Coalition for Palestine, a coalition of social justice organizations, has called for a campaign to boycott Duty Free Americas because of the role its owners play in funding the settler movement’s expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land. The coalition felt a particular responsibility to initiate this campaign given that the headquarters of Duty Free Americas and its owners are based in South Florida.
At the launch of the boycott campaign against Duty Free Americas, South Florida Coalition for Palestine member Ken Barnes, who is also a South Florida representative with Jewish Voice for Peace, said, “We are boycotting Duty Free Americas until they stop funding Israeli apartheid.”
Anas Amireh, another coalition member representing Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, echoed this sentiment, saying, “A corporation or business that funds the ethnic cleansing of an Indigenous nation must be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, in a video produced by the Defund Racism campaign and shown at the launch, Mohammed El Kurd, a writer, poet and activist from Sheikh Jarrah, explained the role of settler organizations. “You know we often say and speak about this settler colonialism,” he said, “but when you … see how it manifests and how this subtle colonialism crystallizes in real life, it is through the settler organizations who actively work to displace Palestinians or isolate Palestinians from one another in the Naqab, in occupied ‘48 territories, or in the West Bank.”
Khatib emphasized that “settlements are violent places,” explaining that many Israeli settlers are ready to kill, beat and threaten Palestinian farmers to prevent them from reaching their homes and land.
“What these settlers are doing, no one could imagine and accept it … and all of this is coming from American support,” Khatib said.
“Let’s end U.S. complicity in Zionist settler colonialism,” added Bana Abu Zuluf of the Good Shepherd Collective and Defund Racism campaign, discussing the importance of using multidimensional strategies and identifying clear targets in boycott campaigns such as this one.
The organizers of the Campaign to Boycott Duty Free Americas intend to engage in protest and community education and to continue to strategize and coordinate with partners in the U.S. and in Palestine. A simple ask coming from the coalition is for people to send photos with signs saying “Boycott Duty Free Americas” or “DFA funds ethnic cleansing” at the airport, in front of DFA shops, or at home. The groups representing the coalition say they are committed to long-term organizing and community building around this issue.
Samir Kakli from the South Florida Muslim Federation spoke at the launch of the campaign about the power of organizing collectively and collaboratively: “While we are constantly in a state of heartache due to the ongoing apartheid and occupation, we are also strengthened by the very strong and principled resistance taking place in Palestine and across the globe,” Kakli said. “Individuals, groups and communities must continue to come together, and collaborate in partnership, for the best results will come from working as a powerful collective.”
The organizers of the boycott campaign understand that there will surely be opposition coming from supporters of the Israeli settlements and from those who deny Palestinians their humanity, but Lara Ghannam of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged activists to remain steadfast in their clarity about the reasons for the campaign.
“This is about human rights,” Ghannam said. “This is about the silence of world leaders as 73 years of violence continue against the Palestinian people. And this is why it is vital for us, everyone here today, everyone watching, to join the campaign to boycott Duty Free Americas.”