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Israel-boycott movement gains traction on Gulf campuses

Campaign hopes to raise awareness over importance of boycotting Israel-based companies by targeting Qatari youth

  • There were loud cheers and an outpouring of passion for thePalestinian cause at the end of a documentary scrImage Credit: Hafsa Adil
  • The event, organised by students supporting the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the PaImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Doha: There were loud cheers, applause and an outpouring of passion for the Palestinian cause at the end of a documentary screening and discussion with Jordanian author Ebrahim Nasrallah as the fourth successive International Apartheid Week’s (IAW) Qatari programme drew to a close in Doha last week.

The awareness-raising campaign was spread over six days with a large number of students attending film screenings and engaging in discussions with humanitarian workers in Palestine as well as activists and Palestinians living in Israel. The event, which was organised by a group of student activists supporting the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Palestine club at Qatar Foundation (QF), was held in parts at Qatar University and Katara Cultural Village.

According to the group’s founder, Esraa Al Muftah, the need for creating such a body arose from the fears that Qatar’s normalisation with Israel might become a convenient arrangement in the future.

“One of the videos in Qatar’s bid for the 2022 Fifa World Cup depicted an Israeli boy’s hopes of cheering his team on alongside an Arab child should Qatar win the rights to host the event. It made me realise that the 2022 World Cup might come at the expense of many values that Qataris hold close to their hearts, especially their strong commitment to the Palestinian cause,” Al Muftah, a Qatari student activist, told Gulf News.

She began her work by launching a blog where she aimed to “capture such instances of normalisation and try to counter it” and, as its reach grew, so did a number of like-minded activists.

At its core, the group aims to create awareness about the Palestinian cause among Qatari youth and actively engage them in boycotting the normalisation and expansion of “international companies operating in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory”..

“We are trying to highlight how these companies are failing in regions such as Europe and Australia,” says Shabeb Al Rumaihi, who has been another core member of the group.

“We want our societies to know that these companies should not be allowed to operate here,” he said. While the group has found it difficult to get recognised and registered as a civil society organisation, they have worked their way around the roadblocks by essentially working on a social level and relying on personal and professional networks to further their cause.

“A small number of people work on writing letters, and through our own networks, we meet and explain to decision makers why it is important to exclude companies complicit in Israeli crimes and exclude them from tenders,” explains Al Muftah.

“We have campaigned on social media and published the letters to put more pressure on the organising bodies. The second group of people collaborate with student clubs to organise talks and educational events,” she added.

One such body is the Palestine Club at Qatar Foundation, whose president, Maysa’a Abu Hilal, has been working on spreading awareness in her own role at QF.

A Palestinian who moved to Qatar three years ago to study, Abu Hilal is optimistic.“Qataris need to be engaged in the cause and promote it in their own society. Qataris talking to Qataris is more powerful and efficient than having a Palestinian talking about Palestine because when you have people from inside the community engaged, they will have a bigger impact,” she explains.

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