What is BDS?
Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) is a global campaign using economic and political pressure to get Israel to comply with international law and Palestinian rights. The stated goals of the movement are: “end of Israeli occupation and colonisation of Arab land and dismantling the Apartheid Wall, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and right of return.” In other words, it is a strategy allowing people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice.
It started in 2004 when the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched, building on previous calls for a boycott. Then on July 9th, 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s Wall in Palestine, a huge alliance of Palestinian groups called on “people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and demand sanctions against Israel until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.”
Simply, it is a long-term, rights-based strategy in which non-violent resistance to the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime may be undertaken by people across the world, calling for the implementation of international law against Israel. The BDS call, endorsed by 171 Palestinian civil society organisations, was a result of many initiatives to normalise Israel’s occupation and its continuous ethnic cleansing and discrimination against Palestinians. This call “cannot be counter-productive unless Palestinians are not rational or intelligent enough to know or articulate what is in their best interest,” Omar Barghouthi, a founding committee member of PACBI said.
Michael Deas, the Europe coordinator at Palestinian BDS National Committee mentioned that Israel is only able to maintain its apartheid system because of the huge amount of support it receives from several different governments and as many large companies are willing to participate in its crimes. BDS is an effective way to end the international support on which continued Israeli impunity depends. By boycotting Israeli goods, or campaigning against companies such as G4S, which helps Israel run its prison system pressure can be put on Israel and its supporters to comply with international law. G4S provides security systems, central control rooms, and security equipment for many Israeli prisons which hold Palestinian political prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory inside Israel. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory into the territory of the occupier. It also provides equipment for Ofer prison, located in the West Bank, at which human rights organisations have documented ill treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including children. “Defence for Children-Palestine (DCI-Palestine) has released an urgent appeal to end the practice of holding Palestinian children from the West Bank in solitary confinement in Israeli prisons.”
Britain and BDS
“Historically, Britain has played a supportive role in the human rights abuses Israel has committed against the Palestinian over the past 6 decades”, Adie Nisterlooy, a BDS activist in Manchesterargued. This began with the British mandate in Palestine which laid the ground for Al-Nakba, the enormous ethnic cleansing and enforced flight of Palestinians with the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948. The boycott of South Africa had a huge part in denormalising apartheid for many white South Africans. Aware of Britain’s involvement and support for the South African apartheid regime, civil society in the UK acted decisively against a regime defined by racism. Many South African anti-apartheid heroes, such as Desmond Tutu, have visited Palestine responding that Israel’s subjugation and denial of self-determination of the Palestinians is worse than that endured by blacks in South Africa. Tutu once said, “Silence in the face of oppression is to take the side of the oppressor. There is no room for neutrality.”1 Israel is the last remaining colonial, race-based regime to receive extensive western political, diplomatic and economic support.
Success in the UK
So far the UK has seen many successes which proved global support in reach. Yet, there is still work to be done. A number of companies have already ended their involvement in the occupied territories like Veolia last week when it sold its bus services through Israeli settlements.Many prominent UK musicians have refused to perform in Israel such as Massive Attack, Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Roger Waters, and Faithless. Others in the arts include writers John Berger and the late Iain Banks, as well as directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Most recently Stephen Hawking joined the boycotts and violinist Nigel Kennedy denounced Israel as an apartheid regime during his performance at the Proms.Companies supporting Israel such as G4S have lost billion dollar contracts after campaigns in the UK. British trade unions have supported the boycotts of Israel until they end their human rights violations and abide by international law – the criteria at the heart of BDS. On May 2nd, the University of Sheffield Palestine Society announced it was “delighted that Accommodation and Commercial Services have decided not to renew their waste management contract with Veolia Environmental Services… as part of the Students’ Union’s BDS campaign against perpetrators of war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The hope is now that other student bodies… will gain inspiration and draw encouragement from this fantastic news.”
Barghouthi in his book “The Case for Sanctions Against Israel Paperback” stated, “in July 2011, Israel passed legislation outlawing the public support of boycott activities against the state, corporations, and settlements, adding a crackdown on free speech to its continuing blockade of Gaza and the expansion of illegal settlements.” Israel has made it illegal for its citizens to call for boycott as a positive.
Tzipni Livi, the Israeli current Minister of Justice, talked about boycott in her election campaign, showing that it has become a mainstream issue within Israeli society.2 There is a real fear within Israel that it’s becoming a pariah state like South Africa once was as BDS carries on and grows in strength in many countries including the UK. Other methods of persuasion have not worked; wars in Gaza and Lebanon and continued expansion of settlements into the West Bank and Jerusalem (even against US wishes) demonstrates that Israel is unwilling to listen to international law. The relatively small size of Israel and its dependence on trade and tourism leave economic sanctions as potentially highly effective – BDS could work (which is why it would be less effective to call for boycotts. If the UK were to announce a boycott of Israel it would massively change the discourse and put Israel (and other EU nations) under huge pressure.
Written By Malaka Mohammed, edited by Hannah Finney