In eight years since its establishment in July, 2005, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) civil movement has managed to reach out to other countries with its non-violent campaign against the Israeli occupation, while maintaining a unity of its ranks — long absent among Palestinians. The BDS is a grassroots alliance of more than 170 Palestinian parties, unions, refugee networks and NGOs. The movement has launched campaigns urging international civil society organisations around the world and people of conscience — including the adherents of the Jewish faith — “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era”.
While pursuing its goals, the BDS made a distinct achievement with maintaining the unity of its groups by relying on the Palestinian identity/citizenship uniting all Palestinians instead of faction or party affiliations that have led to the current divisions among them. This state of disunity has helped Israel to prolong its colonial occupation seeking to carry through the Judaisation of all of Historical Palestine including occupied Jerusalem.
The BDS places Palestinian national interest above any self-interest, attaining unprecedented victories against the Zionist propaganda machine that used to reign supreme all over the world. With dedicated and selfless efforts of its members, the movement has become a serious threat to the colonial/apartheid Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Nowadays, their call is being heeded in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. BDS has modelled itself in a similar fashion as the civil movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King, which, respectively, liberated India from British rule and gave the Americans of African descent their civil and equal rights.
Recently, the BDS call was heard and heeded in South Africa. In February 2013, for the first time, a South African company announced it had taken “the legally, as well as ethically, correct decision not to trade with Israeli companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine”. Karsten Farms of South Africa indeed set a precedent for other South African businesses and companies to follow. Another example is the French transnational Veolia Company that faced a storm created against it by BDS for its role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In a recent presentation, Norwegian financial expert Hege Sjo (the director of BankTrack which is a global network that monitors contracts around the world) said that “disasters are expensive for companies involved in infrastructure projects in the Occupied Territories”. Sjo underpinned her argument by mentioning Veolia’s alleged loss of $4.6 billion (Dh16.91 billion) Swedish metro contracts in January 2009 because of the BDS campaign. The same conclusion was reached also by the Financial Bank Track in 2010, that monitors the operations of investors, pension funds, insurance companies and commercial banks around the world.
BDS activities even covered the field of sports and entertainment. The famous American musician/singer Stevie Wonder cancelled his performance for the Friends of Israel Defence Forces. Palestinians, Israelis, Artists against Apartheid, US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice were among the many who reached out to Stevie Wonder with petitions that garnered more than 10,000 signatures. In the sports arena, European footballers declared support for Palestine and issued on November 29, 2012, a statement condemning the Israeli military actions in Gaza when the Israeli army bombed the sports stadium in the city, killing four young Palestinians playing football.
Not long ago, a British organisation ended its relationship with a charity supporting Israeli colonies in response to a BDS call. CFOIC Heartland is a Christian Zionist charity that supports projects in the illegal Israeli colonies in the Occupied Territories. It used to receive money from UK donors via World Action Ministries (WAM), a UK-based charity. In December 2012, WAM issued a statement in which they severed connection with CFOIC, stating that “the trustees of WAM have taken steps to cease any contact or involvement with CFOIC. No financial or other transactions have taken place on behalf of CFOIC since that time neither be in the future”. Moreover, in a letter to the Chief of EU Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton, 23 members of the European Parliament called for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The letter stated that “the Agreement is based on mutual respect for human rights and democratic principles, as explicitly stated in Article 2 of the Agreement. The ongoing authorisation for settlement [colonies] activity of the Israeli government, as well as several human rights abuses that have been extensively documented by United Nations and international human rights organisations, are in breach of Israel’s commitments under Article 2 of the Agreement”.
One of the founders of BDS, Omar Barghouti, recently addressed a panel held in Brooklyn College in the US on the movement in which he answered the relentless vilification and unfounded allegations against BDS launched by the Zionist propaganda machine in America. Barghouti compared the BDS movement to the South African anti-Apartheid and the US civil rights movements. He said: “The BDS calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced.” He pointed out that “BDS advocates equal rights for all and consistently opposes all forms of racism including anti-Semitism”. Barghouti called upon all Jews not to be branded by the colonial/apartheid rule of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories, which are in effect in direct contrast to Jewish spiritual values.
This is why BDS has become an important force in a broad movement, threatening the very legitimacy of the Zionist state. Its campaign addresses the conscience of all civil societies around the world and that is why it has attained a global reach.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.