Bias in Oxfams report, The road to olive farming
See response from Jeremy Hobbs, below
Re: Bias in Oxfam’s report, “The road to olive farming”
Dear Mr. Hobbs,
Oxfam’s report on Palestinian production of olive oil, “The road to olive farming,” deals with the import topic of improving economic opportunities in the West Bank. One of the central tensions in this regard, as noted by Oxfam, is the need to minimize interference with Palestinian lives without compromising the security of Israeli citizens.
Oxfam’s publication contains useful analysis and a number of constructive recommendations. However, in several places in the report, and glaringly in the accompanying press release, Oxfam once again reveals an underlying bias inconsistent with these positive elements.
In particular, we note the following issues:
1) Missed opportunity. Oxfam condemns Israel’s security policies and their impact on Palestinian development without offering plausible alternatives. Instead of its strictly critical approach, Oxfam could play a constructive role by recommending concrete, cooperative measures that would both facilitate Palestinian trade and not compromise Israel’s legitimate security needs.
2) Use of a highly selective and tendentious headline in the press release. Oxfam disseminated its report by declaring “Palestinian olive oil profits in the West Bank could double if Israeli restrictions ended.” In other words, Israel is the primary, if not sole, impediment to vast growth of the Palestinian olive oil industry. There is an additional implication that Israel limits economic development per se, and that Palestinian warehouses are full of high-standard product waiting to be shipped. Yet, as Oxfam notes in the report, Palestinian olive oil production is fraught with internal problems such as inefficient farming methods, improper storage, and unsuitability of bottling “requirements of European or North American markets.” Olive oil producers also “identified a lack of adequate marketing skills as being the single biggest obstacle facing the olive oil industry.” Many readers (including journalists) are likely to concentrate on the headline, and miss the context and complexity of the situation.
3) Inventing international standards. On page 20 of the report, Oxfam asserts that “Whilst Israel has both the right and duty to protect its citizens from attack, it must ensure that any measure it takes does not have a negative impact on the civil and political, economic and social rights of the Palestinian population.” There is no legal obligation in international human rights law or international humanitarian law that would prohibit any “negative impact.” In fact, many rights treaties expressly permit restrictions on rights due to security concerns.
4) Misstating the ICJ’s advisory opinion. On page 19, Oxfam alleges that “The Israeli government has so far failed to comply with the ICJ’s  ruling [on the security barrier].” The implication that the ICJ advisory opinion is a binding “ruling” with which Israel must “comply” is incorrect, falsely portrays Israel as a rogue state, and ignores the well-documented biases of the Court’s decision. The security value of the barrier in dramatically reducing terror attacks against Israeli citizens is also erased.
We welcome your response to these concerns, and look forward to continued dialogue with Oxfam on these important matters.
Response from Jeremy Hobbs, November 25, 2010
Dear Mr Balason
Thank you for your letter of 3 November about Oxfam’s latest report the ‘The road to olive farming’.
Our press release for this report was headlined and sent to journalists as:
"Palestinian olive oil profits in the West Bank could double if Israeli restrictions ended and better production practices adopted, says Oxfam."
The release has always been present on the Oxfam GB website at:
Unfortunately, due to a production error, the release was shortened on the Oxfam International website. We have now corrected this error and would like to thank you for pointing this matter out.
The world over, Oxfam strives to help civilians suffering as a result of natural disasters, climate change, conflict, injustice and poverty. We challenge policies that prevent people from pursuing productive lives. In the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, we support a peaceful solution to the conflict that will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.
Executive Director, Oxfam International