A note on BDS from "Occupation: The enemy of religions and humanity"

A note on BDS from “Occupation: The enemy of religions and humanity”

This is another report from the two-day conference in Nabi Saleh “Occupation, the enemy of humanity and religions”.  The second day began with a very good introduction to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement by Jamal Juma from Stop the Wall.

Jamal Juma from Stop the Wall, a member organisation of BDS

Jamal Juma from Stop the Wall, a member organisation of BDS movement.

So how did the BDS movement come to be?

The Boycott movement started with the Palestine Popular Resistance. Clearly it was inspired by the success of BDS in South Africa after many years under Apartheid. Israel’s attacks during and after the first and second intifada alerted the international community to the situation for Palestinians, and resulted in some pressure on Israel.  However after 9/11 this pressure reduced, and new strategies had to be developed.

In June 2002, Israel started building the apartheid wall and there was a marked increase in settlement expansion- colonising the land in a way we had not been seen before. In 2003 BDS first started, small scale, in some locations, with some support. Most people thought it strange that this was happening in Palestine and the main repeated question was: ‘where is your ANC (African National Congress)?’ Who should we listen to and who is leading- The Palestinian Authority? The Popular Resistance?

In 2004, the ICJ (international Court of Justice) ruled that the building of the wall was illegal, and that all land and property that had been appropriated and/or damaged, should be returned to the Palestinians, or if not possible, they should be compensated. http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1677.pdf. This is what sparked the BDS movement nationally: they needed to get the call for support out there. But there were questions surrounding what the movement was based on, what the goal was – One state solution? Two state solution? In the end it was clear that the movement should bring people together rather than dividing people. It was clear it had to be based on Human Rights.

The BDS movement is based on three strands or goals:

1.       End the 1967 occupation- this will be a solution for the 38% of the Palestinian population affected.

2.       End the discrimination of Palestinians inside 48 (Israel) – which will be the solution for 12% of the population who reside there.

3.       The Right of Return for those who have been exiled from Palestine and are residing outside- the remaining 50% of the population

It was the belief of the movement that these would bring all Palestinians together and provide a solution for all: for the 50% of the population that live outside and the 50% that remain in Palestine (67 and 48). By reaching consensus on the key points, they could mobilise political parties, NGOs, the civil rights movement and a range of other organisations. In total there are 170 organisations involved. Supporting either a one or two state solution would have fragmented the movement.

But BDS needed to go international, and in 2005 it launched when the UKs Teachers Union took up the call. As the movement relies on voluntary commitment from organisations and individuals to take up the cause, they realised they could not prescribe what, who, when or where to boycott. The movement is decentralised, and there has to be sensitivity of the local context for people to decide what will work best in their own locality- which products and companies to target and what would be achievable there.

BNC (BDS National Committee), which coordinates the movement and expands the network, support all boycott, divestment and sanction efforts – whether it is a comprehensive, limited or minimal boycott- all will help the cause. They rely on the snowball effect, and the strategy has proved successful.

BDS support on the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem

BDS support on the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem

Successes include:

In 2008, a military embargo started and Norwegian investment fund stopped investing in Elbit. Holland and Denmark followed suit, and then it caught on in South America. Veolia was boycotted in the Basque country and in even in Saudi Arabia, where they lost a contract to construct a train line between Mecca and Medina. After Veolia lost 25 billion dollars in profits, they withdrew their contracts in Israel.

BDS has now matured and is considered a threat to the Jewish State by Israel. Inadvertently, Israel itself has also contributed to the success as its panicked attacks on the movement clearly points out how well BDS is working. The Ministry of Foreign affairs allocated 6 million dollars to fight BDS, especially in the US. When this failed, they moved the responsibility to the national security department, with a budget of 100 million dollars. In Israeli embassies around the world, there is at least one person employed to fight BDS.

This year, 2016, has seen the peak of attacks on BDS. It is increasing at the pace of success of the movement:  Orange, the French telecommunications company, ended its work in Israel, and influential church groups such as Council of Catholic Churches representing 40 million people in the US sent a joint letter to the government to urge them to stop funding Israel.

It is especially important that the US adopts BDS. Much responsibility for the situation in Palestine lies with the US government. It is also Israel’s biggest market, and the base of the biggest pro-Israel lobby. Therefore it is particularly the success of BDS there that creates panic in the Israeli government. Therefore it is vital to continue to raise awareness in the US, and stand up against states that are trying to criminalise BDS after such attempts were unsuccessful at a federal level.

Institutions that receive state funding in US states where it has been criminalised will lose part of the funding as punishment should they promote BDS. An example is when Bassem Tamimi, a BDS supporter from Nabi Saleh, spoke at a primary school in the state of NY. The school lost $20K of funding and the headmaster was prohibited to apply to remain for another term. In the same small town 3000 letters and emails opposed another man speaking about BDS at the community hall. The attacks from pro-Israel groups are very strong, and the BDS movement are therefore particularly focused on the US going forward.  Another very important focus in the US should be to oppose the veto, which supports Israeli violations of international law. Nevertheless, the movement is not panicked by the attacks: “we are 100% sure we will win, even if we cannot invest millions into making the movement mainstream- we are democratic and just”.

Inside Palestine, it has been more difficult to promote support for BDS. It may not be fair to compare BDS inside and outside of Palestine as Israel controls everything in Palestine and every product still has to go through Israel, and taxes are paid to Israel. In some ways, Palestine is still waiting for the international community to put pressure on Israel and isolate them. But it is important that BDS takes hold inside Palestine, it must come from inside as well- boycott means resistance, and Israel is afraid of it. Palestinians boycotting a product is not just a 10 Shekel protest but is a boycott of the occupation itself. What is needed is change to the mind-set, so that “if there is only Israeli juice, we do not want juice”.

Palestine is the second largest market of Israeli goods, after the US, and it could mean a boycott of 4 million dollars’ worth of products. At a time when the popular resistance has died down and there is a need for another strategy, BDS is nonviolent resistance that everyone can get involved in. There are some stumbling blocks of course, with some European funders withdrawing money should an organisation support BDS. However, if you unite the Palestinian people, you unite the resistance. And there is no doubt a need for a united resistance against this long, unjust and brutal occupation.




For more information, and how to get involved in BDS go to https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds