One of us braved the Saharan-like weather complete with murky sky and headed off to Nablus in the early morning of Monday. The second annual Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction conference was being held at the Hayat Hall, and since we have upcoming plans tucked up our sleeves concerning BDS at a student level, the conference was more than likely to benefit our sponging minds.
During the 45 minute taxi ride the radio brought the news that the flotilla was attacked and activists were killed dampened the mood, to say in the slightest. How many more reasons do we need in order to popularize BDS even more in this society? We won't generalize here, but it is safe to predict the majority of the reactions of normal Palestinian citizens when they are fronted with the BDS call:
"Boycott? There's a lot of time on your hands."
"What has boycott ever achieved? If we boycott Israeli product, then the occupation will end? Bah!"
"Boycott Israeli products? But they taste so much more better and are of much higher quality than Arab or local products!"
To answer the first comment, we can just simply point to the fact that the BDS call was endorsed by a coalition of over 170 Palestinian civil society groups that represent three elemental parts of the Palestinian people: Palestinians in the diaspora (refugees), Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Ever since the formation of BDS in July 2005 it has grown stronger and elicited support and responses internationally. This brings us to the second comment. What, indeed, has boycott ever achieved? In history, it brought up the end of Apartheid South Africa. In Palestine, there are the boycotts of 1936, 1986, and the boycott that took place during the first Intifada. In 1936, a 6 month industrial strike brought the economy to a halt in order to demand self-determinism. The boycott of 1986 was initiated by Hannah Sinoira, the editor of the East Jerusalem Arabic Daily, who advocated the boycott of Israeli-made cigarettes. This eventually led to an epic widespread boycott of all Israeli products, ranging from soap to clothes to food and water.
But what has BDS achieved? In 2009 alone, galvanized by Israel's assault on Gaza, organizations and groups all over the world heeded the BDS call as a means to end Israel's impunity. The following is just a few examples that are taken from PACBI's (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) 2009 newsletter:
- The second largest Dutch pension fund-PZFW- divested from Africa-Israel, which has been targeted internationally for its investments in companies that support settlement activity.
- The British Trades Union Congress (TUC), representing over 6 million workers, adopted a historic decision supporting a BDS motion put forth by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU).
- The Scottish Trade Union voted overwhelmingly to commit to to boycott, divestment, and sanction against Israel.
- The Boycott Motorola Campaign was launched in New York. Motorola provides equipment to the Israeli military which include bomb fuses and surveillance for the Apartheid Wall and settlements.
- The Church of England divested from Caterpilla, a company whose bulldozers and heavy plant equipment have been used to destroy Palestinian homes by the Israeli military.
- Hampshire College became the first college in the USA to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
- The Norwegian government decided to exclude the Israeli company Elbit Sustems Ltd. from the Government Pension Fund.
That is not forget the Academic boycott as well! There's a big debate on whether or not it is 'right' to boycott Israeli academics, and we have this to say: The Israeli academic institutions fully support the Israeli security forces and policies toward the Palestinians. A report carried out by the Palestine Society at SOAS at University of London have shown how Tel Aviv University's collaboration with the Israeli military provide crucial research and information fo the purpose of furthering the oppression of the Palestinians. Cultural boycotting this year and the last has made artists think twice about performing in Israel, and we applaud the correct choices of Carlos Santana, Gill Scott-Heron, and Elvis Costello. Recently, two major supermarket chains in Italy have decided to boycott all Israeli products from suppliers Carmel-Agrexco. Forza Italia! All over the world, from Norway to Ireland to the rest of Europe and beyond, conscientious people standing in solidarity with Palestinians are pushing for BDS in their communities. This is testament to the awareness of incalculable Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. However, in Palestine itself, boycott has over the last year or two pushed itself to a higher platform, but the implementation, in the general sense, remains to be seen.
The conference itself was enlightening. Various speakers gave their verdict/speeches in two different panels, Boycotting Israel Internationally and Boycotting Israel Nationally. At the end of each panel a 15 minute question and answer series followed. Lunch was provided, and after that workshops were set up until the conference ended. Hugh Lanning, the deputy general secretary for PCS-Palestine Solidarity Campaign-was present and gave a speech in which he asserted that the British trade unions are fully behind the BDS call, and mentioned five examples of how the unions disseminate hundreds of thousands of material and copies of BDS achievements to their members. These unions, FBU, PBS, UNITE, UNISON, and GNB all campaign for a nuclear free Middle East and work to unite and defend universal jurisdiction in Britain so that war criminals like Tzipi Livni are tried when they come to the country. Haidar Ibrahim, secretary general of GUPW reiterated that even though most of the Arab countries have cosy relationships with Israel, not one of the workers unions in those countries have succumbed to normalization nor do they have any plans to do so. The workshops consisted of seven different topics: Grassroots work, Civil Society Organizations, Public Sector, Private Sector, Palestinians in the Diaspora, Students, and International BDS. The turn out was very good, with Palestinians and foreigners (and a few Israeli activists) alike. Simultaneous translation was on the offering, but one translator was doing a pretty poor job. Overall, it was a good experience. Oh, and to answer the third comment, the products that Israel distributes to the Palestinian territories wouldn't even compete with consumer markets in western countries. That's how 'good' of a quality they really are. Another important point is that this nonsense about local products being inferior is all simply a matter of culture and stigma. Palestinians for some reason or another believe that Israeli products are better when that is far from the truth. One of the speakers on the panel gave an example. He worked in a factory for some years, putting pickles in cans. The cans that were distributed to Israel were stamped with Hebrew lettering, while the same cans distributed to the Palestinians were stamped with Arabic lettering. Israel sells the products Palestinians produced back to them, that's how twisted this concept is. One day this man saw another man in the supermarket buying the Hebrew-stamped can of pickles. The man asked him, why don't you just buy the Palestinian can, it's the same thing. The other man shook his head and said, are you crazy? This is Israeli, much better than the Palestinian!
If we have this distorted image of Israeli/Palestinian products, then yeah there's an uphill mountain to climb. But a project has already been working on changing the perception of Palestinian consumers to their local products. Salut Intajuna!
Check out the BDS website, very informative, very important. We hope this will dynamize you to take action. Start small, work your way up. There's support everywhere. And that is what we are doing.