Members of an Australia Palestine Advocacy Network study tour in front of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank in January last year. Photo from APAN.org.au.
Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) — the national peak body of Palestine support organisations — resolved on October 25 to endorse and begin advocating for a policy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of international and Israeli institutions involved in the violation of human rights and international law in Israel and Palestine.
APAN counts a range of organisations among its membership, including Palestine solidarity groups, churches, trade unions, humanitarian aid organisations, peace groups and individuals.
Paul Duffill, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney whose teaching and research focuses on international conflict resolution, is a member of Sydney University Staff for BDS, an APAN affiliate. He told Green Left Weekly that the vote was overwhelmingly supported by APAN member organisations.
“For some time we have seen a worrying, deep double standard in Australia's approach to the Middle East. Compared to its neighbours, Israel continues to receive very special treatment through Australian foreign policy”, Duffill said.
Indeed, the Australian government maintains a wide range of sanctions on countries in Israel's region, including on states and groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran and Libya.
Duffill points out “There is, however, one country in the region with a terrible human rights record which is conspicuously absent from Australian sanctions. That is Israel.
“This motion by APAN is a call to address this dangerous double standard and special treatment towards Israel, and support a balanced Australian foreign policy on the Middle East.”
Previously, APAN had only expressed general support for the international BDS movement which started in 2005 with more than 170 Palestinian civil society organisations including NGOs, unions, professional associations, religious groups, human rights organisations, refugee networks, and youth and cultural organizations. Last November, at its annual general meeting (AGM), APAN decided against changing its position.
The BDS movement has three goals: an end to the occupation of Arab lands occupied by Israel since 1967, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of Palestinian refugees displaced or expelled during conflict in the region to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
It was launched on the one year anniversary of the landmark 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice that found Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory to be illegal.
APAN said on October 26 that its change of stance on BDS came down to three main developments.
The first was the collapse in April 2014 of the “peace process” between Israel and Palestine, initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry. APAN noted that Israel's decision to build 14,000 new settlement housing units in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had effectively sabotaged the process and said the main outcome “has been to normalise the process of colonisation and displacement”.
Gaza was the second reason cited as a cause for APAN to change its position on BDS. It noted a United Nations report on Gaza, released in September, which stated that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 due to “ongoing de-development, eight years of economic blockade and three military operations in the past six years”.
According to the UN report, 95% of Gaza's water supply is already “not safe to drink” and its electricity supply was insufficient to meet 40% of its demand, even before the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure inflicted by Operation Protective Edge.
The last reason given for APAN's change of mind was the Israeli election held in March this year, where “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was re-elected on a platform of continued settlement expansion, explicit opposition to Palestinian statehood and naked appeals to anti-Arab racism”.
An APAN statement announcing its support for BDS said: “It is noteworthy that [Netanyahu's] commitment to Israel's settlement enterprise, the siege of Gaza and the demolition of Palestinian communities reflects a broad consensus within Israel's Knesset [parliament] which is shared by all of its 'centrist' parties, including the Zionist Union,”
APAN said it could no longer call for an end to the occupation and a just, peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict “without also advocating for a credible non-violent means of opposing the structural nature of Israel's oppression and violence towards the Palestinian people”.
Duffill told GLW that Australia's direct involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict through support for organisations carrying out violence against civilians and human rights abuses is revealed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade own figures.
Duffill said, “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade own data shows that over the last 10 years the Australian government has spent more than $1.5 billion of Australian tax payer's money to directly fund Israeli arms companies. These are the same arms companies actively involved in human rights abuses, violence against civilians and other breaches of international law in Israel and Palestine. Elbit Systems has received the bulk of this Australian tax-payers' money.”
Elbit System's drones were used extensively by the Israel military in their 2014 assault on Gaza, in which more than 2000 people, including more than 500 Palestinian children, were killed. Elbit Systems also profits as the key supplier of electronic surveillance equipment for the illegal Israeli separation wall built throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“BDS is about facing up to the fact that Australia is already heavily involved in this disastrous conflict — and not in a helpful way”, Duffill said.
“It outrageous that the Australian government uses tax-payers' money to fund organisations that are demonstrably and intimately involved in violations of international human rights treaties — the same human rights treaties that Australia itself has publicly committed to protect.”
“It's easy to search around for someone else to point the finger at, to try and tell others that they need to change. But first we need to take a good hard look at what we in Australia are doing. How can we change our own behaviour, which is seriously exacerbating the conflict.
“The Australian government must adopt a sensible, balanced foreign policy that reflects our own and our allies' core stated values of basic legal equality and basic human rights. Withdrawing Australia's own support from — that is, boycotting — organisations violating international human rights treaties is one important step in that direction, and this is what this APAN BDS motion is about.”
Duffill is hopeful that APAN's decision will lead to more institutional support for BDS and a boycott of products from the Israeli settlements.
APAN also used its AGM to reaffirm its opposition to racism in all forms “including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” and said it “understands that BDS targets need to be carefully chosen in order to support the work of Palestinian and Israeli peace organisations”.