Walk into any Ricky"s store, a beauty shop chain in New York, and you will find a shelf filled with Ahava products. For $28, you can buy mineral toning cleanser; for $22, Dead Sea liquid salt; and for $9, purifying mud soap. The products made by Ahava (which means "love" in Hebrew) seem innocent enough, perfectly enticing for anyone fond of beauty products.
But looks can be deceiving. As activists from the peace group CodePink"s Stolen Beauty campaign are fond of chanting at protests, Ahava can"t hide its "dirty side."
For nearly two years, an international campaign spearheaded by Palestine solidarity activists has targeted Ahava and the various stores that carry its products, including Ricky"s, calling for a boycott. The boycott campaign has heated up recently, eliciting push-back from Jewish organizations around the country and a response from the CEO of Ahava.
While Ahava labels its products "made in Israel," they are actually manufactured in a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in Palestine. According to the Web site Who Profits?, a project of the Israeli anti-occupation group Coalition of Women for Peace, the company exploits Palestinian resources from the Dead Sea.
Under the Geneva Conventions, and various United Nations resolutions, all of Israel"s settlements--which house about 500,000 settlers--are illegal, as is excavating natural resources in an occupied area. Israel has occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Six-Day War. The settlements are widely seen as an obstacle to the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
"[The boycott] is about a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians," said Nancy Kricorian, CodePink"s coordinator for the Stolen Beauty campaign. "The situation on the ground there is dehumanizing and demoralizing and terrible."
Ahava, which rakes in profits of nearly $150 million a year, according to a Dec. 2009 CNN report, is owned by entities deeply involved in Israel"s settlement project in the occupied West Bank. According to Who Profits? 37 percent of the company is owned by Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal settlement located in the eastern West Bank; another 37 percent by the private investment fund Hamashibr Holdings, which also is a major shareholder in two companies that export produce made in settlements; 18.5 perent by the U.S.-based Shamrock Holding, owned by the Roy E. Disney family of Walt Disney fame, and which is a shareholder in a company that manufactures electronic detection systems that are used on the West Bank separation barrier; and 7.5 percent by the West Bank settlement of Kalia.
In an interview, Kricorian acknowledged that Ahava is a huge target, and likened the Stolen Beauty campaign to a "game of whack-a-mole," as new places where Ahava products are sold pop up frequently. But Kricorian says it isn"t just about hurting the company"s sales.
"A boycott campaign is strategic, and it"s a long-term thing," she said. "It"s not just about hurting the company"s sales. It"s also about educating the public about, in this particular case, the company"s illegal practices and sullying the company"s name and reputation."