I don’t know why I do it to myself. It’s not as if I could ever buy anything from there. But whenever there is a sale on (and often when there isn’t) I find myself gazing longingly at the clothes in Marks and Spencer’s Per Una collection. They make particularly beautiful skirts – flowing ankle-length ones in many different fabrics, silks and velvets and lovely smooth cottons. As I have abnormally long legs (I am like a giraffe gone wrong), it’s tricky for me to find ankle-length skirts that fit. Per Una has solved the problem by making the same-sized skirts and dresses in different lengths. And I love the style in there – I would buy my entire wardrobe from Per Una if I could.
Today I was in M&S with my nana. At eighty-three years of age she isn’t about to change her shopping habits, and I doubt she would understand the rationale behind the boycott if I tried to explain it. I was standing by a pillar, waiting for her to finish, when a dress caught my eye.
M&S is a keen supporter of Israeli economic growth. It always has been. Its founder and chief executive Marcus Sieff became a logistics adviser to David Ben-Gurion’s government, at Ben-Gurion’s own request, and even served with the Israeli military. Sieff’s personal gift of time and talent was supported by generous financial contributions from M&S as a company. In a book published in 1990 (Management: The Marks and Spencer Way) Sieff wrote that one of the fundamental objectives of M&S is to aid the economic development of Israel. That policy remains current.
And as peace activists are all too well aware, there is a price to be paid for that economic development. The Palestinians pay it.
I looked at the dress. Buy me! it urged. I’m modest, I’m gorgeous, I’m down to half-price, I’m in your size, and I’m the only one left on the rack!
I held it against myself and looked in the mirror. I suit you! it crowed. And it really did.
I put the dress back. I did a restless circuit of the shop. I picked it up again. Look here, the dress said pointedly, how exactly is this stubborn-necked resistance to my charms going to support people in Palestine? One beautiful silk dress reduced from £55 to £29 can’t hurt. And if you don’t buy me, somebody else will!
That was when Mutaz suddenly popped into my head. He is an orphaned sixteen-year-old from Hebron whom I’ve been sponsoring for nearly two years. When I signed up to the sponsorship scheme, I received some information about him – and a picture. In the picture he is wearing a shabby old T-shirt with ‘Girls Team Member’ printed on the front. It’s not the sort of thing your average fourteen-year-old lad wants to be wearing, but Mutaz didn’t have any choice. He didn’t have many clothes. He didn’t have much of anything.
I hung up the Very Pretty Dress for the last time and walked out of Per Una. I won’t be going back.
For those of you who think that it is awfully self-indulgent of me to devote a whole blog post to the agonies I went through when I couldn’t add yet another dress to an already well-stocked wardrobe…that’s the point. I am quite a self-indulgent person. And so are all the other people who keep finding excuses not to participate in the boycott. We want to work for justice, but we also want to buy the fancy computer with the Intel processor and eat M&S Indian ready meals when we haven’t time to cook. When our resolve to boycott is tested by these little nuisances, we decide that the boycott can’t really be that effective anyway, or we hope that just one purchase won’t hurt.
I will keep thinking of Mutaz. I will also think of Alia, a girl I sponsored until very recently. She dreamed of going to college to train as a teacher, but the sponsorship money would never have covered her training and there was no way she could afford the fees herself. At the age of nineteen she requested that the sponsorship be transferred to a younger child or teenager in need. She was very gracious about it.
I wonder how I would feel if I had to give up on my career and my dreams because I was too poor to pursue them. I suspect that it would make me feel a whole lot worse than not being able to buy a nice dress.
There are human reasons why we boycott Israeli goods and companies that support Israeli interests. Never forget them.