Following the age-old premise of struggling locally to effect change globally, activists fighting for justice for the Palestinian people are taking big steps forward in a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeted against the criminal Israeli state.
The reasons for this seem clear enough. The title of a March 9 report jointly released by eight NGOs, including Oxfam, Care and Amnesty International, says it all: The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion. The report reveals, that due to Israel's economic siege, 80% of Gaza's 1.5 million residents have to live on US$1.20 a day or less, while 80% only survive because of humanitarian aid. The report states: "The situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967."
The most recent figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that half of West Bank Palestinian households were living in poverty.
The causes of this poverty are also clear enough. A July 2007 OCHA report, Humanitarian Impact on Palestinians of Israeli Settlements and Other Infrastructure in the West Bank, notes "that almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure", including settlements, checkpoints and the 703-kilometre apartheid wall.
The report detailed how Israeli "roads linking settlements to Israel, in conjunction with an extensive system of checkpoints and roadblocks, have fragmented Palestinian communities from each other". It noted that "the consequences of settlements and related infrastructure on Palestinian life are severe, and if current trends continue, socioeconomic conditions in the West Bank are likely to worsen.
"Despite the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) being illegal under international law, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank settlements has continued to grow steadily by around 5.5% each year. In 2007, approximately 450,000 settlers live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside 2.4 million Palestinians."
A March 2006 position paper by the Stockholm-based international Christian charity organisation Diakonia notes: "The system with separate rights and services for Jewish settlers and Arabic Palestinians has similarities with those of the old apartheid South Africa. The ID-system, constant control of movement for the Palestinian population, unequal services and separate roads and transport system are other similarities."
In an interview with the March 9 British Guardian, South African archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa".
In a January 28 media release, Amnesty International described the conditions facing the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation as "virtual imprisonment".
Despite the fact that Israeli oppression of the Palestinians is so well-document, well-funded pro-Israeli groups in many countries, particularly those with pro-Israeli governments like Australia, have had considerable success in convincing people that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, who are under attack or, that they are as bad as each other. They know that if they can at least neutralise support for the Palestinians' struggle against the Israeli occupation, they will have won a significant victory,
One such organisation is the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, which publishes the Australia Israel Review. The AIJAC likes to present itself, to the media and the general public, as the representative voice of Australian Jews. But it is a right-wing pro-Israel propaganda and lobby organisation.
The challenge for those who support justice for the Palestinian people is to find ways in which the true stories from Palestine can reach the widest audience and to convince more people to take protest action against Israel's apartheid system.
With this in mind, the BDS campaign against Israeli apartheid was started in June 2005 by 175 NGOs in occupied Palestine. The BDS campaign gives activists in every part of the world the chance to indirectly put pressure on Israel by calling on the governments and corporations of their countries to boycott Israel, disinvest from Israel and impose sanctions on Israel as long as it does not end its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantle the apartheid wall.
Boycott campaigns, on the scale needed to isolate Israel, can only start to create change when they are able to link up with a mass movement. It is only then that they can bring the power of large numbers of mobilised people to bear on the politicians who support and the corporations that profit from the Palestinians' oppression.
The BDS campaign seeks to do this by aiming to draw into activity as many people as possible, wherever they are. The campaign also concentrates on the local institutions that are complicit in Israeli apartheid, helping to expose the wider problems of our own societies.
In Australia, we have already seen protest actions against the likes of Starbucks, Connex and Caterpillar. We have also seen various rallies and speak-outs in support of Palestine and against Israeli aggression. But we must not stop there.
The growing movement for BDS has already started to rattle Israel, with the Israeli government appointing a task force to watch over BDS activities. Pro-Israel groups around the world have employed many people to counter the impact of the campaign.
But we know from the experience of the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa that these struggles are not won overnight. They are also not won without huge amounts of international support and a mass movement.
Imperialist governments like those of Australia, Britain and the US, and their big-business masters openly supported the apartheid regime in South Africa until international opposition to apartheid became a mass movement.
This is why the protest actions promoted by Palestinian solidarity activists, in Australia and around the world, are so important. It is also why your involvement is so important. If you feel passionately about human rights and want to fight the scourge of injustice, you shouldn't just talk about it, you should get active and join us!