Palestine: Building solidarity after Gaza

March 7, 2009

The article below, by Jamal Juma, is abridged from <>. Juma is the coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (visit A leader of the South African Palestine Solidarity Committee mentioned in this article, Salim Vally, will be a guest speaker at the
World at a Crossroads conference, Sydney Girls High, April 10-12. For more information, or to register, visit

The Israeli invasion of Gaza, which claimed more than 1400 lives, generated a popular global backlash.

Most government's weak official positions, especially in the Arab world, stood in stark contrast to the outpouring of rage in the streets of capitals, cities, and towns across the globe.

However, this recent wave of protests has a particular quality
that differentiates it from past mobilisations: the initial flare-up of energy is being channelled into effective grassroots political action, primarily in the form of an ongoing campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel.

The tangible victories and rise of BDS activism immediately following Gaza are a direct result of the many years of often
little-acknowledged organising and mobilising that was undertaken following the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society.

It is important to look at these last four years in order to make sure that we continue to build on these victories.

Protests against Israel's invasion of Gaza occurred in every inhabited continent involving millions of people across hundreds of cities. In the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Western Europe, the numbers of participants and scale of actions were astronomical.

In the Middle East, the disconnect between the stance of US-backed regimes and their people vis-a-vis Israel was laid bare. In Egypt, the regime's army of riot police was often unable to suppress demonstrations.

Latin America, on the other hand, is the only region where popular anger was more or less reflected in official discourse and action. It is no coincidence that Bolivia and Venezuela, the two countries in the region that cut diplomatic ties with Israel, are also the two states whose governments operate
according to the needs of the majority.

Palestine has developed into a global litmus test for democracy.

The mobilisations also evidence a growing popular support for the Palestinian people. Yet, these protests, while encouraging, do not guarantee longer-term political gains.

We should look to the concrete BDS victories that followed Israel's latest war as evidence of lasting political change.

Immediately following Gaza, South African trade unions took action. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), part of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), declared that they would no longer handle Israeli ships.

Things came to a head when the Johanna Russ, a ship operated by the Zim Israel Navigation Company, attempted to dock in the Durban port. Despite pressure and threats, SATAWU workers refused to handle the cargo or allow scab labour to unload the ship.

This victory can be traced back to the early work of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which, since its founding at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), has been active in promoting a South African boycott of Israel. Organisers have built up considerable support for BDS within trade unions, movements, churches, and institutions.

In 2008, the COSATU promised to take "drastic action to disrupt" a government deal with the Israeli firm, Orsus Solutions Israel Ltd., which had been awarded a US$5 million contract to upgrade the South African transportation system.

With the Johanna Russ, the union took their first concrete

Such a success provide us with a framework with which to ensure the sustainability of expanding Palestine solidarity.

University activism also effectively uses the situation of Palestinian students and universities to connect with the student community and build support for BDS. Students' calls for divestment from Israel and academic boycott are clearly linked with the call for more involvement in the
universities' decision-making processes and financial transparency.

The work over the last few years has set the stage for the various actions that we have witnessed in the universities, including the wave of direct action taken by students across Britain, the push for divestment at Hampshire College in the US, and growing interest in the academic boycott campaign in the US, Europe and Canada.

Israel has lost this most recent war on all fronts.

In addition to failing to crush the resistance within Gaza, it was unable to control dissent in any of the territories under its military control. Also, despite a massive public relations effort, Israel was unable to shape global popular opinion.

A growing majority has openly condemned the operation for what it was — a massacre. The most recent victories of the movement have shown that the global struggle for genuine democracy and justice is not only a common ground on which the support for Palestinian rights is based, but a crucial precondition for effective solidarity.

Our task now is to channel popular outrage into coordinated, collective action.

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