On International Land Day: Boycott. Divest. Sanction.
This post was written as part of the Global BDS Action Day, March 30th 2010
On Land Day, as the world will reflect (or not, depending of where you’re coming from) on the situation of the Palestinian people and the daily humiliations and breaches of their rights they have to endure and have been enduring since 1948, we wanted to focus on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, more simply known as the BDS Campaign.
The BDS Campaign was launched in July 2005 after a Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel endorsed by over 170 Palestinian organisations. This Call stemmed from the frustration of the Palestinian Civil Society in front of the impunity with which Israel regularly violates International Law. Indeed, the Call enunciates at its very beginning all the resolutions that Israel never deigned to respect, the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on the Building of the Wall of 2004 that the Jewish State so blatantly ignores, as well as the ongoing occupation and colonisation process that is still taking place. The Call also underlines the shortcomings of the International Community and of International Law in general that failed to effectively pressure or force Israel to comply with its humanitarian, human rights, and legal obligations. We will never tire of repeating it: without effective enforcement mechanisms, human rights treaties and humanitarian law are little more than just sheets and sheets of paper that any State can ignore if it decides so.
Given this harsh context, Palestinian Civil Society decided to call on International Civil Society Organisations in Palestine and all over to world, as well as on “People of Conscience” to boycott Israeli products or products from brands known to be supporting the Israeli regime, as well as implementing divestment strategies. Taking its inspiration from the measures that were taken during the Apartheid era in South Africa, this “name and shame” campaign aims at pressuring Israel to:
1. End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall;2. Recognise the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
These non violent measures send a strong signal to Israel and to the Palestinians: it constantly reminds the former of its unmet obligations and encourages the Israeli population to look more into their government’s policy towards the Palestinians, and express solidarity with the latter and indicate that even if the officials of the international community seem to have forgotten them, this is not the case of the global civil society.
The campaign’s scope is rather broad as the boycott actions range from cultural/academic to consumption to sports. For example, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called in Januray 2010 for the boycott of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, a festival that aimed at being
“a unique cultural and social means to presenting a different Israel to the world, [an] Israel which supports and invests in pluralism, culture and equal opportunity”.
That kind of statement was deemed provocative (what with the teeny tiny details of ongoing colonisation of Palestinian territories, constant discrimination of Arab Israeli Citizens and the building of the Wall that doesn’t exactly scream “ Come to Israel we believe in pluralism and inclusion!”), and was therefore boycotted by BDS activists.
The sanctions imply, amongst other things, encouraging States and regional economic bodies not to conclude cooperation agreements with Israel, as well as raising awareness and publicly speaking out against Israel’s role in the arms trade and the Israeli conventional weapons and nuclear arsenals.
The divestment initiatives target the investments of companies and aim at pressuring companies to stop investing in Israel until it changes its policy against the Palestinians and implement the relevant UN resolutions.
The BDS Campaign has been supported by all kinds of civil society organisations: it is a place where academics and NGOs have met, but also where faith-based organisations have worked alongside Trade Unions. One of the many achievements of the mobilisation of Faith-based organisations and religious leaders is the drafting and voting of the Kairos document, a document calling for the BDS campaign written by Palestinian Christians and like-minded organisations, supported by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and endorsed by the World Council of Churches, causing quite a stir and bringing together representatives of various faiths.
It of course goes without saying that the BDS campaign has met tons of supporters, but also a significant amount of opposition, among them McGill University history professor Gil Troy and American-Israeli policy analyst Mitchell Bard. Both academics coordinate the group that is working on developing actionable recommendations for key Jewish groups and the Israeli government to combat what it calls a “full blown political, economic, cultural, ideological struggle against the very existence of Israel.”
To this group, the aim of the BDS campaign is the destruction of the state of Israel and doesn’t lead to an honest and open criticism of Israeli policies. While they claim they would be willing to listen to a constructive criticism of the Jewish State, these members of the opposition consider the whole BDS movement to be far too “extremist”.
By using the same “name and shame” methods that the BDS movement uses and diverting the whole debate from the fight for Palestinians’s rights to the very dramatic rhetoric of “the annihilation of Israel” , this group is trying to deligitimise the efforts made by churches, religious leaders, students, teachers, trade unionists, activists and “people of conscience”.
On this day of the Land, it is important to remember that step-by-step, at our level, we can oppose the dreadful policies implemented by the Zionists. If we choose not to buy certain products from brands that we know support the Israeli regime, it sends a strong message that we won’t simply watch a whole people suffer and do nothing. We don’t need to be politicians, or to be in a position of power. It only takes our own will. If we choose to take part in the BDS campaign, not to take mainstream media for granted, to refuse that our money gets to Israel, we become agents of change. We have to keep on naming and shaming, we have to try and impact of their revenue, we have to keep our voices raised. For every little thing we do can then become part of a greater movement and eventually pressure some governments to take action.
Boycott. Divest. Sanctions.
On Kairos Palestine: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/Documents/Message%20from%20Sam%20Kobia.pdf
How to Identify Products manufactured in Israel and other relevant lists