Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Mohammad Othman, Palestine’s first BDS Prisoner of Conscience!

Dear friends,
Mohammed Othman, Palestinian activist involved in the BDS campaign has been arrested by the Israeli state on his return from a trip to Norway.

Please find details of his arrest and what you can do to assist in the campaign to free him. Please take action where you can.

I have also included a link to a Podcast from the International Middle East Media Centre of an interview with Mohammed.

In solidarity, Kim


Free Mohammad Othman,

Palestine’s first BDS Prisoner of Conscience!

Photo credit: Photos courtesy from Free Mohammad Othman

On Tuesday, September 22, Mohammad Othman (33 years old)—a Palestinian human rights activist and advocate of the non-violent civil society campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)—was arrested by Israeli authorities at the Allenby Crossing, the border terminal between Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory. He was returning from a trip to Norway—where he had been promoting BDS—when he was detained, arrested and then moved to a prison where he is being held for a military hearing scheduled for next Tuesday.

While Mohammad is only one of the approximately 11,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, he has become the first Palestinian to be imprisoned by Israel in response to BDS advocacy activity. With BDS campaigns around the world gaining momentum, Israel has increasingly come under pressure to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights. It is precisely the spectacular rise in the effectiveness of the BDS campaign and its successes in the Western mainstream that seems to have prompted Israel to take such a draconian measure against a prominent and indefatigable BDS activist.

Mohammad has dedicated the last ten years of his life to the defense of Palestinian human rights. His village, Jayyous, in the occupied West Bank, has lost most of its fertile agricultural land to Israel’s illegal Wall and colonial settlements. He has campaigned with the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign against the dispossession of Palestinian farmers and has urged for mechanisms of accountability for Israeli violations of international law and human rights, based on the Palestinian call for BDS, issued on 9 July 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice at the Hague had found Israel’s Wall and colonies illegal.

Demonstration outside Israeli embassy in Norway demanding Mohammad's freedom
Photo credit: Photos courtesy from Free Mohammad Othman

Mohammad’s trips to Norway—during which he met with senior officials including Finance Minister Kristen Halvorsen—reflect the increasing international support for effective mechanisms of upholding international law and Palestinian rights. Norway’s state Pension Fund recently announced that it had divested from Elbit Systems, the Israeli company which provides both Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other military technology for Occupation forces as well as security systems for the Wall and settlements. The decision came after representatives of the fund’s Ethics Council met with Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists, including Mohammad, who accompanied them on a tour of Jayyous and other West Bank villages affected by the Wall.

Since Israel’s illegal war of aggression on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 that killed over 1400 people, predominantly civilians, the BDS movement has grown exponentially and gained wide support among conscientious individuals, unions and international civil society in general, as well as among some governments. In the last two weeks, more countries have followed Norway’s example. The Brazilian Parliament has expressed itself against the ratification of a Free Trade Agreement with Israel until a Palestinian state is established, and the government of Spain denied settlement-based Ariel University College permission to participate in a high profile academic architecture competition. With the BDS movement making significant gains worldwide, human rights defenders like Mohammad are likely to be increasingly targeted by the Israeli government in its efforts to evade accountability for its ongoing violations of international law.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy from Free Mohammad Othman

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) calls on all those who support basic human rights, whether or not they endorse BDS, international solidarity groups and human rights organizations to act urgently to bring attention to this case and apply due pressure to achieve the immediate and unconditional release of Palestinian human rights activist Mohammad Othman.

It is crucial that the international community combat Israeli attempts to criminalize human rights activists adopting BDS or any other popular struggle aimed at ending violations of international law and upholding universal principles of human rights.

Recommended Actions:

* Encourage others to join this campaign through petitions, demonstrations and / or letter writing / phone calling. Please provide them with contact information and details;
* Urge your representatives at consular offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem/Ramallah to demand the immediate release of Mohammad Othman. (For your consular contacts, see:;
* Let the Israeli Embassy in your country know that you are campaigning for Mohammad’s release and for a just and lasting peace based on international law.
* Bring the case of Palestine’s first BDS prisoner of conscience to the attention of local and national media outlets;
* Follow the blog and facebook to free Mohammad Othman to see the latest updates and action alerts.



For more information contact:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Palestine's Peaceful Struggle

Dear friends,
an article by Mohammed Khatib, one of the leaders of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall, and the increased campaign by Israel and its occupation forces to crush the non-violent Palestinian struggle against the wall and occupation.

in solidarity,

Palestine's Peaceful Struggle
By Mohammed Khatib, September 11, 2009
The Nation

A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, dozens of Israeli soldiers with painted faces burst violently into my home. If only they had knocked, I would have opened the door. They arrested me. My wife, Lamia, was left alone with our four children. My youngest, 3-year-old Khaled, woke up to the image of Israeli soldiers with painted faces who were taking his father away. He has not stopped crying since. A few nights ago he woke up in terror, sobbing: "Daddy, why did you let the soldiers take me?" That's the way our children sleep--in a constant state of fear.
Many Americans know that the Obama administration has been pushing the Israeli government to accept a freeze on settlement construction. What is not commonly known is that even as Israel negotiates with the United States, it has been taking steps, including my arrest, to crush the growing Palestinian nonviolent movement opposing Israel's construction of settlements and the wall on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Mohammed Khatib in Montreal

For over five years the residents of Bil'in and other villages have been protesting against Israel's separation wall, which cuts off our village's land for the sake of Israeli settlement expansion. We have even taken the struggle to the courts. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled in July 2004 that the wall, where it has been built inside the West Bank, is illegal under international law, as are all Israeli settlements. In September 2007, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the wall in Bil'in, which separates us from 50 percent of our land, is illegal according to Israeli law. The wall has yet to have moved.

The Israeli army is using more-lethal weapons and greater violence against protesters, and arresting many people, including many protest organizers. In Bil'in alone, twenty-nine residents have been arrested in the past three months. Twelve of them are children. Almost all were arrested during military raids in the middle of the night. Their detention has been extended repeatedly.

But the charges against them are baseless. As one example, I have been charged with stone throwing. I was released on bail with draconian terms only after my lawyers showed the court passport stamps proving that I was abroad at the time of the alleged offense. My friend, Adeeb Abu-Rahme, 37 years old and the father of nine, has been imprisoned for more than six weeks, though the charges against him are just as absurd.

Every Friday in Bil'in, we march to the wall in peaceful protest, along with our Israeli and international partners. Once a year we hold an international conference about the popular nonviolent struggle. Together we learn and gain inspiration. We struggle together to bring down the many walls between people that the occupation is creating. We've repeatedly addressed the Israeli soldiers here, telling them we are not against them as people, but that we oppose their actions as an occupying military force.

Still, nineteen demonstrators have been killed by the Israeli army in these nonviolent demonstrations against the wall. Many have been injured, including Israeli and international activists protesting with us. Here in Bil'in we recently lost our friend Bassem Abu Rahme, who was fatally shot by soldiers in April while he was imploring them to stop shooting at demonstrators.

Bassem Abu Rahme at a non-violent demonstration against the Wall in Bil'in

Bassem Abu Rahme was shot with a high velocity tear gas cannister by the Israeli military and dies shortly after.

Several months ago we were warned by Israel's occupation forces that they intended to crush the popular struggle.

Why has the Israeli government decided now to increase the suppression of demonstrations and to break the spirit of protest leaders? Maybe because they realize that the nonviolent struggle is spreading, that more and more villages have created popular committees that are organizing demonstrations. Perhaps the crackdown is a result of their concern and the growing international movement for the boycott of companies and businessmen such as Lev Leviev who are involved in Israel's land grab. Or maybe they fear that the new American government could learn through our demonstrations that Israel's wall is a means to annex land for the growing settlements, and that nonviolent Palestinian protests are being brutally suppressed.

Israel's actions suggest that it is intimidated by people struggling for their rights in a nonviolent manner. The Israeli government seems to believe that Palestinians who struggle while partnering with Israeli activists endanger Israel's occupation and that tearing down human walls is a dangerous act. Perhaps what the state of Israel fears most of all is the hope that people can live together based on justice and equality for all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Support the Gaza Freedom March!!

Dear friends,
many of you will be aware of the Gaza Freedom March, which is set to take place in January of 2010. It has now been endorsed by Palestinian Civil Society Organisations and they have issued a call for individuals and organisations to endorse and support the March.

Many Palestinian solidarity supporters around the world are planning to join the March in January in person, but many of us may not be able to do so for a range of reasons. If we are not able to join the March in person, solidarity can be show in our home towns and countries by organising solidarity actions to draw attention to the March and the illegal siege of Gaza, demonstrating the world-wide, international support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom and the ending of Israel's illegal and brutal occupation and siege.

Please consider how you or your group can support this very important campaign and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

in solidarity,


Dear supporters of just peace and international law,

We are writing to invite you to endorse the Pledge of the Gaza Freedom March, a creative initiative with historic potential organized by the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza. The March is aimed at mobilizing active and effective support from around the world for ending Israel’s illegal and immoral siege on Gaza, currently the most pressing of all Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian rights. To endorse the Pledge, please click here and enter your name -- or your organization’s name -- in the box provided at the bottom.

Also reproduced at the end of this letter, after the Pledge, is the organizers’ Statement of Context which provides the necessary Palestinian context of the siege, namely Israel’s occupation, its decades-old denial of UN-sanctioned Palestinian rights, and Palestinian civil resistance to that oppression.

The Gaza Freedom March has won the endorsement of a decisive majority in Palestinian civil society. Aside from the Islamic University of Gaza, Al-Aqsa University, and tens of local grassroots organizations, refugee advocacy groups, professional associations and NGOs in Gaza, the March was endorsed by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign National Committee (BNC)*, a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian mass organizations, trade unions, networks and professional associaitions, including all the major trade union federations, the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) and the largest network representing Palestinian refugees. Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, representing the most prominent Palestinian NGOs inside Israel, has also endorsed.

The March, planned for January 2010, to commemorate Israel's illegal war of aggression against the 1.5 million Palestinians in occupied Gaza, is expected to draw many prominent figures and massive activist participation from across the world. The organizers have shown exceptional moral courage and a true sense of solidarity in drafting the Pledge and the Statement of Context. We salute them all for their principled and consistent commitment to applying international law and universal human rights to the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza. We deeply appreciate their solidarity with our struggle for freedom and our inalienable right to self determination.

Anchored solely in international law and universal human rights, the Gaza Freedom March appeals to international organizations and conscientious citizens with diverse political backgrounds on the basis of their common abhorrence of the immense injustice embodied in the atrocious siege of 1.5 million Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees.

With massive participation of internationals, led by prominent leaders, alongside Palestinians in Gaza the world can no longer ignore its moral duty to end this criminal siege, and Israel can no longer count on its current impunity to last long. We strongly urge you to endorse the Pledge and to help secure more endorsements.

Haidar Eid (Gaza)

Omar Barghouti (Jerusalem)

* The BDS National Committee, BNC, consists of: Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (all major political parties); General Union of Palestinian Workers; Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; General Union of Palestinian Women; Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO); Federation of Independent Trade Unions; Palestine Right of Return Coalition; Union of Palestinian Farmers; Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Initiative (OPGAI); Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW); Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI); National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba; Civic Coalition for the Defense of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ); Coalition for Jerusalem; Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations; Palestinian Economic Monitor; Union of Youth Activity Centers-Palestine Refugee Camps; among others …


Endorse the Gaza Freedom March! Sign the Pledge Below!

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law that has led to mass suffering. The U.S., the European Union, and the rest of the international community are complicit.

The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked. Yet, the siege of Gaza continues. It is time for us to take action! On January 1, 2010, we will mark the New Year by marching alongside the Palestinian people of Gaza in a non-violent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade.

Our purpose in this March is lifting the siege on Gaza. We demand that Israel end the blockade. We also call upon Egypt to open Gaza’s Rafah border. Palestinians must have freedom to travel for study, work, and much-needed medical treatment and to receive visitors from abroad.

As an international coalition we are not in a position to advocate a specific political solution to this conflict. Yet our faith in our common humanity leads us to call on all parties to respect and uphold international law and fundamental human rights to bring an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 and pursue a just and lasting peace.

The march can only succeed if it arouses the conscience of humanity.

Please join us.

The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza
For more information, please see the Statement of Context

For a list of endorsers, please click here.


Amnesty International has called the Gaza blockade a "form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel's obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention." Human Rights Watch has called the blockade a "serious violation of international law." The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, condemned Israel’s siege of Gaza as amounting to a “crime against humanity.”

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has said the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza are being treated "like animals," and has called for "ending of the siege of Gaza" that is depriving "one and a half million people of the necessities of life."

One of the world's leading authorities on Gaza, Sara Roy of Harvard University, has said that the consequence of the siege "is undeniably one of mass suffering, created largely by Israel, but with the active complicity of the international community, especially the U.S. and European Union."

The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked.

The Palestinians of Gaza have exhorted the international community to move beyond words of condemnation.

Yet, the siege of Gaza continues.

Upholding International Law

The illegal siege of Gaza is not happening in a vacuum. It is one of the many illegal acts committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories it occupied militarily in 1967.

The Wall and the settlements are illegal, according to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

House demolitions and wanton destruction of farm lands are illegal.

The closures and curfews are illegal.

The roadblocks and checkpoints are illegal.

The detention and torture are illegal.

The occupation itself is illegal.

The truth is that if international law were enforced the occupation would end.

An end to the military occupation that began in 1967 is a major condition for establishing a just and lasting peace. For over six decades, the Palestinian people have been denied freedom and rights to self-determination and equality. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes during Israel’s creation in 1947-48 are still denied the rights granted them by UN Resolution 194.

Sources of Inspiration

The Gaza Freedom March is inspired by decades of nonviolent Palestinian resistance from the mass popular uprising of the first Intifada to the West Bank villagers currently resisting the land grab of Israel's annexationist wall.

It draws inspiration from the Gazans themselves, who formed a human chain from Rafah to Erez, tore down the border barrier separating Gaza from Egypt, and marched to the six checkpoints separating the occupied Gaza Strip from Israel.

The Freedom March also draws inspiration from the international volunteers who have stood by Palestinian farmers harvesting their crops, from the crews on the vessels who have challenged the Gaza blockade by sea, and from the drivers of the convoys who have delivered humanitarian aid to Gaza.

And it is inspired by Nelson Mandela who said: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. ... I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

It heeds the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who called his movement Satyagraha-Hold on to the truth, and holds to the truth that Israel's siege of Gaza is illegal and inhuman.

Gandhi said that the purpose of nonviolent action is to "quicken" the conscience of humankind. Through the Freedom March, humankind will not just deplore Israeli brutality but take action to stop it.

Palestinian civil society has followed in the footsteps of Mandela and Gandhi. Just as those two leaders called on international civil society to boycott the goods and institutions of their oppressors, Palestinian associations, trade unions, and mass movements have since 2005 been calling on all people of conscience to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel fully complies with its obligations under international law.

The Freedom March also draws inspiration from the civil rights movement in the United States.

If Israel devalues Palestinian life then internationals must both interpose their bodies to shield Palestinians from Israeli brutality and bear personal witness to the inhumanity that Palestinians daily confront.

If Israel defies international law then people of conscience must send non-violent marshals from around the world to enforce the law of the international community in Gaza. The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza will dispatch contingents from around the world to Gaza to mark the anniversary of Israel's bloody 22-day assault on Gaza in December 2008 - January 2009.

The Freedom March takes no sides in internal Palestinian politics. It sides only with international law and the primacy of human rights.

The March is yet another link in the chain of non-violent resistance to Israel's flagrant disregard of international law.

Citizens of the world are called upon to join ranks with Palestinians in the January 1st March to lift the inhumane siege of Gaza.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Israel continues to steal Arab land

Direct Action Issue 15: September 2009

By Kim Bullimore

On August 26, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu offered to freeze the building of new Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for nine months. Netanyahu’s announcement has been presented in the Western corporate media as a “victory” for US President Barack Obama, who has been pressing Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to be able to get the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” restarted.

Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, had been pressing for a 12-month freeze on illegal settlement activity in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both illegally occupied by Israel since June 1967. Netanyahu, however, has ruled out any halt to the Israeli takeover of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980 through its “Jerusalem Law”. This declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”. This Israeli law was declared “null and void” and a violation of international law by UN Security Council Resolution 478, approved by 14-0 votes (with the US abstaining) in August 1980. A July 2004 statement of the International Court of Justice expressed the view that all countries are under an obligation not to recognise Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

According to the August 27 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily, Netanyahu’s settlement “freeze” offer excludes some 2500 housing units on which construction has already started and allows the erection of new “public buildings”, mainly schools, in existing settlements. Following the meeting with Mitchell, at which Netanyahu made his phony “freeze” settlement offer, the two issued a joint statement saying that “good progress” had been made in their discussions.

Writing in the August 12 Jordan Times, Hasan Abu Nimah, a former Jordanian ambassador to the UN, observed that “by demanding a temporary freeze [on Israel’s illegal settlements], the US is indirectly accepting what has been built so far, as well as the idea that Israel is entitled at the end of the agreed period to resume construction if its ever-escalating demands are not met”. He went on to argue that the notion of a “temporary freeze” allows Israel to shift the debate “from the illegality, under international law, of Israel’s settlements towards something totally superficial: the pace of construction”.

Israel soldiers on the outskirts of illegal Israeli colony

Jerusalem resident Joharah Baker, a regular writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), made a similar point two months ago. In a June 29 article on the Palestine Chronicle website, she argued that “a ‘temporary’ freeze is just that, temporary, which implies that later down the line Israel will not be obligated to maintain this offer and resume construction”. She correctly noted that the notion of a “temporary freeze” is simply part of Israel’s decades-long policy of trying “to stall a final agreement and permanent solution”, in order to allow the Israeli rulers to create “facts on the ground, which then must be negotiated”. Baker added that “today, instead of talking about a complete dismantlement of illegal settlements and outposts on occupied Palestinian land, we are talking about the minutest of details”, such as a “temporary freeze” of construction of illegal settlements.

Settler poster issued by illegal settlers in Binyamin colony opposing settlement freeze

Racist settler poster denouncing US President, Barak Obama

In 2003, as part of the US president George Bush’s “Road Map” for peace, Israel agreed to freeze settlement construction. However, the August 19 Washington Post noted that since then “the Jewish population in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, has increased from about 224,000 to about 290,000”. There are another estimated 180,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements built in East Jerusalem.

The Obama administration and the corporate media have also sought to play up Netanyahu’s pledge to remove 23 “illegal outposts” in the West Bank. However, very little has been said about the fact that most of these illegal outposts are not populated. As Khaled Amayreh noted in July 23-29 Egyptian Al Ahram weekly, these outposts are “merely used as rallying point[s] for settlers who are bent on preserving the occupation”.

Where illegal outposts are populated, the Israeli government has repeatedly dragged its feet on removing the settlers living there. A point in case is the illegal outpost of Migron, which was built in 2002 on privately owned Palestinian land. Despite Israel’s courts in 2006 recognising that the land is legally owned by Palestinians and that it should be evacuated, the Israel government has petitioned the Israeli courts to not be compelled to remove the illegal settlers until mid 2010. According to Amos Harel, writing in the July 7 Haaretz, when the settlers are removed from Migron, they will simply be transferred to the neighbouring illegal colony of Adam, where Israel is planning to build 50 new homes for the settlers.

Among the new illegal settlements in East Jerusalem that Israel is planning to build is Ma’aleh David, which is to be constructed in the middle of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Rasa al-Amud. According to the August 25 Haaretz, this new Israeli colony will consist of 104 “high-end” housing units, a swimming pool, a country club, library, synagogue, kindergarten and mikveh (a Jewish ritual purification bath). Haaretz noted that the new colony will be connected to the existing illegal colony of Ma’aleh Zeitem, which houses 51 settler families. Currently, Ma’aleh Zeitem is undergoing “natural growth” with another 66 housing units being built. The joint colony blocs will then form the largest Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, with more than 1000 illegal settlers situated in the heart of the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood, home to 14,000 Palestinians.

Israeli settler children being taught how to use automatic weapons

Armed Israeli settlers

While the Netanyahu government has continued to build and expand illegal Israeli colonies on stolen Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it has also continued to carry out, with impunity, other human rights abuses against the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Figures from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reveal that in the 11 weeks since Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo, Israeli occupation forces have carried out at least 217 military incursions into the West Bank (an average of around three per day), plus several incursions into Gaza. In addition, at least 169 Palestinian civilians, including 40 children, were kidnapped by Israel and placed in Israeli detention without charge or trial in this same period, while dozens of hectares of Palestinian land was razed.

During the same period, Israel continued to build its apartheid wall, which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, while also continuing its collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza by carrying out an illegal blockade of the tiny territory. Despite mounting evidence that Israel carried out a range of war crimes both during and after its war on Gaza in December-January, and the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from that war and the continuing siege of Gaza, Obama has continued to defend Israel’s “right” to blockade the Gaza Strip.

Illegal Israel settlers move into a Palestinian home in Sheik Jarreh (East Jerusalem) The Palestinian family was forcible evicted, along with their possessions which now lay on the street.

Campaign by Palestinian community in Sheik Jarreh to oppose illegal Israel settlers taking over Palestinian homes.

Israel’s continuing colonial drive to steal more and more Palestinian land and the unwillingness of both the US administration and other Western governments to do anything to stop it highlights the need for the continued support for and participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign, which was launched by more than 170 Palestinian organisations in 2005, is starting to have an impact, with more and more unions and other organisations around the world signing onto the campaign. This impact has not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government or its supporters. In a May 7 speech, Howard Kohr, executive director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said that the BDS campaign is now part of “ordinary political discourse on our TV and radio talk shows; in the pages of our major newspapers and in countless blogs, in town hall meetings, on campuses and city squares . . . More and more they are invading the mainstream discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel.”

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Boycotts as a Legitimate Means of Resistance: As Determined by the Oppressed People

Dear friends,
an excellent article by Kim Petersen critiquing opposition to BDS, particularly in relation to the "Zionist Left" in Israel. The article also offers a critique of those who nominally support boycott but seeks to redefine the parameters/objectives of the campaign to suit their own political agenda, ignoring the fact that BDS as a campaign is a Palestinian initiated and led (global) movement.

in solidarity, Kim

Dissident Voice header

Boycotts as a Legitimate Means of Resistance
As Determined by the Oppressed People

by Kim Petersen / August 29th, 2009

Kim Petersen

Prejudice does not always come with an ugly face. The same holds for Zionism and racism. It is entirely possible for well-intentioned people to hold a prejudice and, even worse, act on held prejudices.

Uri Avnery opposes the brutality inflicted on Palestinians. He campaigns for peace with Palestinians. But he also has a Zionist past. He is European born and fought for the terrorist Irgun in perpetration of a holocaust (Nakba) against Palestinans. He later renounced Irgun’s tactics. He is antiwar, but he is not anti-the fruits of war. He approves of a two state solution. In other words, Israeli Jews will keep the fruits of their dispossessing others — this while continuing to press for the return of what they were dispossessed.1

Avnery advocates selective use of tactics against Zionism. This is apparent when it comes to an international boycott of Israel. Avnery states that no one is better qualified than South African archbishop Desmond Tutu to answer this question.2

What does Tutu say? He has called on the international community to treat Israel as it treated apartheid South Africa. Tutu supports the divestment campaign against Israel.3

Avnery’s fellow Israeli, Neve Gordon, agrees that it is time for a boycott.4 Avnery laments, “I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.”

Indeed, the apartheids — while in many respects similar — are also different. Gary Zaztman pointed to a key difference:

For all its serious and undoubted evils and the numerous crimes against humanity committed in its name, including physical slaughters, South African white-racist apartheid was not premised on committing genocide. Zionism, on the other hand, has been committed to dissolving the social, cultural, political and economic integrity of the Palestinian people, i.e., genocide, from the outset, at least as early as Theodor Herzl’s injunction in his diaries that the “transfer” of the Palestinian “penniless population” elsewhere be conducted “discreetly and circumspectly.”5

Uri Avnery

Boycotts as a Tactic against Racism

Avnery says Tutu told him: “The boycott was immensely important, much more than the armed struggle.”

But it was the revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, who refused to give up the right to armed struggle, who negotiated the dismantling of South African apartheid.6

Tutu also told Avnery, “The importance of the boycott was not only economic but also moral.”

Avnery writes, “It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.”

So what is Avnery saying? First he states that Tutu is best qualified person to speak to the effectiveness of boycotting as a tool in the fight against racism, then he says Tutu has it wrong. So is Avnery saying, then, that he is best qualified to speak on the effectiveness of boycotts against racism?

Avnery fears that Israeli Jews will feel “the whole world is against us.”

However, isn’t that, in a sense, what the purpose is: to show that the whole world is against Jewish racism against Palestinians? It must be emphasized that the world is not against Jews, as Israeli propaganda would choose to portray it. Although he doesn’t specifically state it, Avnery is using a version of the anti-Semitism smear: if you are against anything Israel does, then you are against Israelis. Hence, you are anti-Semitic. This grotesque perversion of morality and logic holds that to be against racism toward Palestinians makes one anti-Semitic.

Avnery admits, “In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling [sic] it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the ‘anti-Semitic world’. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)

Avnery merely states what is the current status quo. Israel is already hunkered down in an extreme right fortress mentality. The boycott is not the cause. Avnery fixates on the population dynamics. What is the relevance of majority and minority in Avnery’s reasoning? It would seem that Palestinians being in the minority – and the fact that the Palestinians support the boycott – to be even greater reason for international support of the boycott. Who and what is Avnery supporting: Palestinians from racism or Israeli Jews from the economic effects and moral stigma of an international boycott?

As for the aim of the boycott campaign: “to deny Israel the financial means to continue to kill Palestinians and occupy the lands.”7

Avnery raises “the Holocaust” arguing that Jewish suffering has imprinted itself deeply on the Jewish soul. That the Nazis rounded up Jews in concentration was a moral outrage. But what is the lesson of World War II? That suffering imposed on any identifiable group of people is evil and wrong, or that one group can appropriate a holocaust, make it their own, and use past suffering as a shield to inflict a holocaust on another people? Avnery argues that boycotting Jews will remind them of Nazism, but when Jews use Nazi-type techniques what should they be reminded of?

Avnery says it is okay to boycott of the product of the “settlements.” He draws a distinction between “settlers” (i.e., “colonisers”) and other Israeli Jews. How then does Avnery rationalize the fact that the “settlers” are in the West Bank?

BDS poster

Avnery asserts, “Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.” Indeed, despair is life for many Palestinians under occupation or in refugee camps.

Avnery states that an international boycott would be difficult to achieve, and the US would not be behind it. It was not easy to achieve against the apartheid regimes in South Africa either. Is that a reason not to try? Did not the US oppose a boycott of South Africa? Yes, it might take a long time. But times do change. The US (and its western allies’s) recalcitrance was steam rolled in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and elsewhere. Empires have risen and fallen throughout history.

Avnery finds that the tactic of boycotting is “an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.”

Avnery continues, “In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.”

Seems there is some faulty analysis going on. “Whites did not want partition”? How can Avnery state something so factually inaccurate? What were Venda, Lebowa, the Bantustans, if not sections of South Africa partitioned off by the White government? Furthermore, that Zionism is now no longer dependent on Palestinian labor does not mask that it at one time was dependent on such labor; Avnery is cherry picking in his argument. Denying Palestinians the right to work in historical Palestine is a tactic that evolved from Zionism.

Also, how is it that Avnery can argue against an international boycott of Israel when Israel maintains a crushing illegal embargo against Palestinians – a war crime? As long as Israel uses such a tactic, then resistance through boycott, certainly, is legitimate.

Avnery says Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common. However, this same lack of commonality was true between White and Black South Africans as well. Nonetheless, I take exception with the thrust of such argumentation. It prepares the ground for racism. Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Black and White South Africans are all humans. They all eat, work, sleep, have dreams, have families. This should be reason enough to act humanely toward each other: love of humanity. It is entirely possible to embrace our shared humanity and respect diversity.

Avnery concludes, “In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.”

This is logically flawed reasoning, much like the logical and moral flaw that being a victim of a genocide minimizes one’s own culpability in a subsequent genocide. One suspects that Avnery may well be the victim of a pained conscience and cognitive dissonance. I submit that the two “conflicts”8 are fundamentally similar. Fundamentally, colonial Israel and colonial South Africa share these hallmarks: a racially, culturally, spiritually, linguistically different group of outsiders through preponderant violence dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their homeland, and set up an apartheid system which humiliates the Indigenous peoples and privileges the occupiers.

Avnery focuses on certain “fundamentals” — which I submit are not fundamentals but nuances — that he considers different.

Avnery’s solution lies with “a comprehensive and detailed peace plan” from US president Barack Obama and “the full persuasive power of the United States” to lead to “a path of peace with Palestine.”

Avnery remembers well previous US-backed peace plans, like Oslo and the Roadmap. Why, then, does he cast his audacious hope on AIPAC appeaser Obama? Avnery hopes that Israeli Jews will realize that peace with Palestinians is the way? The peace activist touts a solution that has failed and been rejected many times. He rejects a solution that worked in South African because of the sensibilities of the oppressors.

But let us examine Avnery’s logic that fundamentally different “conflicts” demand different struggles.

Oppression is overthrown by struggle. Fundamentally different “conflicts” can succeed through similar struggles. As one example, revolutionaries overthrew an American-backed dictatorship in Cuba through armed struggle and Cuban revoluntionaries defeated South African forces in Angola through armed struggle.9

In his article’s finale, seemingly assured of his own argumentation over the person he deems the best qualified authority on boycotts as a tool to overcome apartheid, Avnery points to a prayer of Tutu’s – a prayer that would serve all of us well:

“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”

Hopefully, Avnery abides by such humbleness when he sees the error of his ways as well.

1. See Dinah Spritzer, “Last chance for Holocaust restitution?” JTA, 30 June 2009. [↩]
2. Uri Avnery, “Tutu’s Prayer,” Gush Shalom, 29 August 2009. [↩]
3. Desmond Tutu, “Israel: Time to Divest,” New Internationalist magazine, January/February 2003. Available online at Third World Traveler. [↩]
4. Neve Gordon, “Boycott Israel,” Los Angeles Times, 20 August 2009. [↩]
5. Gary Zatzman, “The Notion of the ‘Jewish State’ as an ‘Apartheid Regime’ is a Liberal-Zionist One,” Dissident Voice, 21 November 2005. [↩]
6. See Bill Keller, Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela (Boston: Kingfisher, 2008). Mandela wanted to pursue a peaceful, non-violent settlement, but when faced with the violence of state power he felt compelled to use violence as a method of struggle. Mandela did emphasize that this violence was not terrorism: 98. [↩]
7. ”Aim of the boycott campaign,” Boycott Israel Now. [↩]
8. The word “conflict” minimizes the atrocities wreaked on Palestinians and South Africans by their oppressors. [↩]
9. Isaac Saney contends that the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was the “turning point in the struggle against apartheid. ”Isaac Saney, “The Story of How Cuba Helped to Free Africa,” Morning Star, 4 November 2005. Available at Embajada de Cuba en Egipto. [↩]

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Kim, or visit Kim's website.