Ten years of BDS in solidarity with Palestine

July 31, 2015

BDS action in Adelaide's Rundle Mall.

Adelaide may be as far from Palestine as it gets, but a dedicated group of activists have just celebrated 10 years of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns. Their weekly actions in the Rundle Mall highlight what BDS has become — a growing, grassroots, global phenomenon that presents a real threat to Israeli apartheid.

In the 22 years since the Oslo Accords, Israel has massively expanded illegal settlements and confiscation of Palestinian farmland and homes. Israel has also built the illegal wall it calls the “separation barrier” and Palestinians call the “apartheid wall”, which cuts deeply into the West Bank, dividing communities, often separating farmers from their land.

Israel continues to subject Palestinians in the West Bank to military dictatorship and legal apartheid while Palestinians in the Gaza Strip face a starvation siege and periodic military assaults and carpet bombing.

Israel continues to ignore UN resolution 194, which stipulates a right of return for refugees.

The “peace process” initiated by the Oslo Accords has Israel's staunchest backers — the US and the European Union — playing the role of referee, which means that while Israel does these things it is the Palestinian side that faces continual demands to compromise. Because the Palestinians are the ones living under occupation, these one-sided demands to compromise can only mean giving up the right to even ask for basic equality.

The BDS campaign was started to highlight such breathtaking inequity.

And over the last 10 years it has indeed done so.

A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report said that foreign direct investment in Israel had plummeted 46% throughout 2014 as compared to 2013, Ynet reported on June 21. “We believe that what led to the drop in investment in Israel are Operation Protective Edge and the boycotts Israel is facing,” Dr Roni Manos, one of the UNCTAD report's authors, told Ynet.

Since beginning in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2004, BDS campaigns have grown to become a worldwide phenomenon presenting an increasing threat to the apartheid policies of Israel. Its impact was demonstrated when, on January 20, 2014, major Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth published on its front page an open letter by 100 business leaders that warned: “The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing”.

In other words, if the pressure of grassroots BDS campaigns continues to build, on top of whatever economic cost they directly put on Israel, the possibility of state-to-state sanctions increases.

The French industrial conglomerate Veolia decided to dump nearly all its business interests in Israel and the occupied territories in April, after BDS campaigns resulted in the company losing billions of dollars worth of service contracts between 2008-14. Its sole interest now is the controversial Jerusalem light rail project that will cater for illegal settlements and which steals more Palestinian territory.

Veteran South African anti-apartheid campaigner Denis Goldberg is in no doubt that the word “apartheid” very aptly describes what Israel does both to Palestinians in the occupied territories and Palestinian citizens of Israel: “It's simple: the dominant group excludes the indigenous people from their equal rights within the borders of Israel itself and in the occupied territories, in breach of international law,” he told to Middle East Monitor on July 28.

“Well I say you don't need to be like South Africa to be an apartheid state, there is a definition in international law through the UNESCO declaration on apartheid. There is no doubt in my mind that Israel is an apartheid state”.

It is interesting that some significant BDS victories have come from South Africa. For example, the University of Johannesburg cut ties with its former partner institution in Israel, Ben-Gurion University, after more than 400 academics called on it to no longer cooperate with an institution that was directly complicit in apartheid measures and discrimination against Palestinian students and academics.

In a related academic BDS victory earlier this year, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London voted overwhelmingly in a student-led referendum to sever ties with equivalent Israeli schools and institutions.

The school has ties with Hebrew University — one of many institutions that provided financial support for soldiers who took part in the 2014 blitzkrieg against Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.

A recent BDS success was the cancellation in July of an Irish dancing competition that was to be held in Israel on August 15. The London-based Carey School of Irish Dancing had been involved in organising and promoting a Feis (Irish dancing competition) in Tel Aviv, but announced its cancellation after a sustained campaign from BDS activists.

The critical point about the cancellation of the Feis is that it was a sustained campaign by ordinary fans of Irish dancing as much as dedicated Palestine solidarity activists that forced the issue.

It comes off the back of a wider campaign by the Irish Artists’ Pledge to Boycott Israel, in which over 500 creative and performing artists across Ireland and Britain signed on to say that they would not perform in Israel. Both of these successes demonstrate how cultural boycotts work both to put pressure on Israel and to inform a wider audience about why they are taking place.

Some big name performers have listened to fans and BDS supporters and announced the cancellation of scheduled Israeli performances, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Sting, Snoop Dog, Carlos Santana, Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, Cassandra Wilson, Cat Power, Lauryn Hill and Faithless.

The standard Israeli response — that even the mildest statement of support for the Palestinian people is by definition anti-Semitic — gets trotted out at every opportunity. However, accusations of extremism from Israel and its supporters begin to sound incredibly hollow when examined against what its own officials say about Palestinians.

Recently appointed Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is on record as calling for a genocide against the Palestinian people. Like many Israeli politicians she argues that all land in the West Bank and Gaza as well as pre-1967 Israel belongs to Israel and should never be ceded.

To the Western “referees” of the Oslo peace process this does not disqualify her as a negotiating partner in the process that allegedly has a “two state solution” as its goal. Instead, the Western arbiters, comically portraying themselves as “honest brokers”, demand that the Palestinian side prove to the Israelis that they are worthy partners in the peace process.

In this atmosphere there are few strategies left for Palestinians and their supporters, which makes BDS all the more important. A vigorous and dynamic BDS movement is needed now more than ever. The development of a global mass movement that puts irresistible pressure on Israel and its allies is a vital bulwark against ongoing attempts at destroying the entire Palestinian people.

[More information at BDSmovement.net.]

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