Letter Exchanges with Ingrid Newkirk, Executive Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

We ask People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to change its consumer certification stamp on Ahava from 'Cruelty Free' to 'Not Tested on Animals' to ensure that no one purchases the illegal settlement product out of confusion. August 2011

1. (Nancy's letter to Ingrid)

Sent: Monday, August 01, 2011 10:31 AM
To: Ingrid Newkirk
Subject: Cruelty-free certification

Dear Ingrid Newkirk,

It has been called to our attention that your organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has certified Ahava cosmetics as “cruelty free” and “vegan.” We believe that Ahava does not test on animals, that its new product line is vegan, and that it is paraben free. But we do not believe that occupation profiteering is “cruelty free.”

Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories (www.ahava.co.il) is a privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea. The company's main factory and its visitors' center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Ahava products are labeled as of 'Israeli origin,' but according to international law, the West Bank cannot be considered to be part of the State of Israel. Not only does Ahava profit from the occupation by locating its main plant and store in an illegal Israeli settlement, it also uses in its products mud from the Dead Sea, excavated in an occupied area, and thus it exploits occupied natural resources for profit, a practice which is explicitly forbidden by the fourth Geneva Convention. Ahava is co-owned by two illegal settlements—Mitzpe Shalem, where the plant is located and Kalia, which is where the mud excavation site is located—and these two settlements are subsidized by the company's profits.

In November 2009 the Dutch Foreign Minister initiated an investigation into whether AHAVA violates European Union rules, and in January 2010 a British Minister of Parliament denounced AHAVA's fraudulent labeling at a hearing in the House of Commons. In February 2010, the European Union court in Luxembourg ruled that Israeli settlement products manufactured in the Occupied Palestinian Territories—including AHAVA—cannot be considered products of Israel and are therefore not covered under existing EU/Israeli customs agreements. Activists in France have filed suit against Sephora for knowingly trafficking in settlement goods, whose production flouts international law. Activists in South Africa have filed suit against Wellness Warehouse for the same reason. A two-year bi-weekly protest outside Ahava's flagship London store has resulted in Ahava's losing its lease.

For more information on the boycott campaign, go to “Stolen Beauty”

For more information on the manufacturer and its involvement in the occupation, go to “Who Profits from the Occupation?” (A project of The Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace)

For more information on the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, go to Global BDS Movement for Palestine:

If you want to publicize the fact that Ahava does not test its products on animals, that is certainly your choice. But to certify the company's occupation profiteering as "cruelty free" is to use your group's good name to promote dispossession and resource theft. We appreciate your principled work on behalf of animals. We hope that your concern extends also to the people of Occupied Palestine.

All best,

Nancy Kricorian
Stolen Beauty Ahava Boycott Campaign Manager

2. Ingrid's response

From: Ingrid Newkirk
Date: Mon, Aug 1, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Subject: RE: Cruelty-free certification
To: Nancy Kricorian

Dear Nancy:

Thanks for your email. I was in Palestine a few Christmases ago to give a talk about non-violent resistance to cruelty and spoke up against the wall. My theme was “Respect me, for I am a living being” and I abhor all manner of exploitation and discrimination, prejudice and religious intolerance. I am myself an atheist and my religion is compassion.

The term “cruelty-free” applies only within the context of testing on animals and the use of ingredients from animals: it does not imply any other conduct. Please understand that a manufacturer may beat his wife for all we know. Our purview is limited by our charter to whether or not the product is cruel to animals.

I wish you the very best in all your efforts for peace and understanding.

Kind regards, IEN

3. Nancy replies

From: Nancy Kricorian
Date: Mon, Aug 1, 2011 at 5:22 PM
Subject: Re: Cruelty-free certification
To: Ingrid Newkirk

Dear Ingrid,

I appreciate your prompt response to my letter about PETA's having certified Ahava products as cruelty free. One of our CODEPINK staff members had mentioned to me that she interviewed you while you were in Palestine during the visit you reference, and we assumed that you were sympathetic to the struggle against the Annexation wall and the ongoing land theft in the Occupied West Bank.

While, technically, the absence of cruelty to animals may be a sufficient reason to apply PETA's "cruelty-free" label to a product according to the organization's own dictates, the presence of flagrant and cruel human rights violations in the very expropriation and manufacture of a business' products is a NECESSARY reason to withhold such praise. By your reasoning, PETA would have been happy to have certified Belgium's Congo rubber plantations or the IG Farben gas works in Germany as "cruelty-free.” But when human beings see the label, they understand it to be making ethical claims that, while specific to animals, include in those claims, more than implicitly, human animals too. PETA, in the case of Ahava, is now knowingly lending its moral capital to an immoral and cruel business, which is a position that must be challenged.


Nancy K
Stolen Beauty Ahava Boycott Campaign Manager

4. Kristen's letter to Ingrid (August 10, 2011)

Dear Ingrid,
I am a longtime supporter of your work on behalf of animal rights. I may have been the sole person who was beside myself with excitement when the Holy Land Trust invited you to speak at our nonviolence conference in Bethlehem a few years ago! But I write to you today with a heavy heart.

I lived and worked in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip for some 10 years, documenting Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights, among other horrors of occupation. I lived under occupation, was stopped at checkpoints, was arrested, had my hair pulled in order to humiliate me and so that I would “remember my place” under the Israeli soldiers. During that first decade of the new century I also took instructions via telephone from my veterinarian sister regarding care for the dozens of homeless dogs I saw running in the fields and streets. I was somewhat of an anomaly there: a vegan who clandestinely rescued animals while struggling for Palestinian rights.

During my work in Palestine, I was both a journalist and an activist for justice. When I sat down with you for our interview in a hotel café next to the Church of Nativity on the edge of Manger Square I was wearing the hat of journalist, but my politics informed our discussion. I understood that while ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine was not your primary concern, you considered it a clear issue of oppression that needed to be addressed. The piece that I wrote after that interview was entitled, “It's Difficult to Talk About Peace with a Mouth Full of Blood”. It lasted on a local English-language news site for about 15 minutes before I was admonished for choosing such a “horrifying” headline.

It is now a sad turn of events that leaves me shocked that PETA has given Ahava its “cruelty free” status. Ingrid, the occupation of Palestine is not “cruelty free”. I understand that Ahava cosmetics are “not tested on animals”, however they are incredibly, deeply, horrifyingly cruel.

The occupation, as you know, ensures that Palestinians are enslaved due to economic occupation and imprisoned due to the siege on Gaza, the Wall in the West Bank, checkpoints and Jewish-only settlements. Ahava is produced in such a settlement. It is made with mud illegally pillaged from the shores of the Dead Sea in occupied territory – Palestinians are prevented access to these very shores by machine-gun toting Israeli soldiers, barbed wire and restricted roads.

I am horrified that PETA has certified Ahava as “Cruelty Free”. Please write instead, “Not Tested on Animals”. It is a matter of justice and compassion.

With respect,
Kristen Ess (Schurr)
[email protected]

5. Ingrid's response to Kristen

From: Ingrid Newkirk
Date: Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 11:50 AM
Subject: RE: From Kristen Ess, Bethlehem Journalist
To: Kristen Ess Schurr

Dear Kristen:

I am baffled by this and the other email I received.

You don't have to point out to me what is going on in Palestine as if I am oblivious about Palestine, honestly. I am horrified by all violence, oppression, injustice. You heard what I said that time and some people opened their hearts, others did not. I have taken a lot of flak galore for including in my “nonviolence includes the animals” video and in talks a reference to the wall as being wrong, which I believe with all my heart, but I can do it and I will do it.

That list is ‘cruelty free” IN RELATION TO, and ONLY in relation to, whether or not the product is tested on animals. The owner of the company may beat his wife, lock his children in the basement, oppress human beings, eat other animals, keep a chained dog, you name it. The label ONLY applies to whether or not the product is tested on animals, not about anything else at all. Everyone knows that.
I wish you well in your endeavors. I remember you as a kind person, struggling with your paper.

Kind regards, and I hope to see you again one day.