Olive tree next to the Israel's separation wall
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A major American department store chain has been selling products imported from Bethlehem as products of Israel, despite Bethlehem being located in the occupied Palestinian territory, according to a report from a public radio station in Texas, US.
KETR reported last week
that Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun was “astonished” after she discovered that Neiman Marcus, which is based in the Texas city of Dallas, was selling nativity scenes that were crafted from olive wood in the occupied West Bank town, but labelled as products of Israel.
“This is illegal," Baboun told KETR. "It’s not Israel. Bethlehem is Palestine."
"It’s unacceptable ... From our side, from the olive wood store and from their side," she added. "God knows how much we are working in order to keep this a traditional and a national Bethlehemite product. And this is very important."
PLO official Xavier Abu Eid viewed the case as an attempt to "normalize" Israel's illegal annexation of Palestinian territory.
"To say that Bethlehem is part of Israel is not only an attempt to normalize the annexation of occupied territory. But it's also an attempt at fooling the consumers. The consumers have the right to know from where the product is coming. And this product in particular is coming from Bethlehem, Palestine," KETR quoted Abu Eid as saying.
A Neiman Marcus spokesperson did not directly respond to KETR’s request for comment, and only informed the radio station that their import division was "in charge of making sure all of our imported products, fashion, fur, home goods, etc. are properly labeled in accordance with all applicable laws."
However, Katrina Skinner, a spokeswoman for the US Customs and Border Protection, told KETR that origin labels bearing the name "Bethlehem, Israel" would not in fact be in compliance with federal regulations.
"With respect to the specific inquiry concerning the use of the marking 'Made in Bethlehem, Israel,' the language would be considered not legally marked in accordance with the policy stated in T.D. 97-16 because Bethlehem is within the West Bank," she said.
According to KETR's report, Neiman Marcus could face fines for not complying with the regulations, which increase “for egregious violations like undermining foreign sanctions, or for mislabeling products to indicate they were from areas subject to less taxes.”
However, the guidelines also apply to products made in the West Bank by Palestinians.
Regulations distinguishing Israel from the Palestinian territories date back to the 1990s. The Clinton administration issued the rules in 1995 and 1997 requiring unique origin labels for imports manufactured in Israel, as opposed to those produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
According to the Palestinian Postal Services, demand from online shoppers for Palestinian products -- specifically olive wood handicrafts -- have noticeably increased over 2016. Meanwhile, Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka reported earlier this year that the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine has stifled Palestinian economic growth while producing billions of dollars in Israeli revenue.