Palestinians have been fighting for their freedom for many decades but so far they have failed to defeat the Israeli military on the field of battle, and the diplomatic efforts to gather recognition for an independent Palestinian state have been blocked by the US, which is likely to veto the Palestinian statehood bid in September.
A third form of struggle has emerged: non-violent popular resistance. The determination of the popular committees in West Bank villages, of Palestinian families in Gaza who march to the buffer zone to protest the siege and of growing protest among Palestinian citizens of Israel are a greater challenge to the Israeli authorities than rockets or tanks.
The organisers of the popular resistance realise that international solidarity is an essential component in a non-violent struggle. Only the threat of international sanctions can stay the finger of Israeli soldiers on the trigger, to keep them from massacring defenceless protesters. This protection is sorely needed in view of the killing of unarmed protesters trying to cross the border on Al Nakba Day. The campaign calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel was launched by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005. In the past six years, the call has inspired activists around the world (and even a few in Israel) to organise campaigns to boycott Israeli goods and to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions. Dozens of artists have cancelled performances in Israel.
The BDS campaign has caught the attention of the Israeli public. Middle-class Israelis were distraught when their favourite artists cancelled planned shows in Tel Aviv. Israeli academics who arrogantly consider themselves as the sophisticated and ‘moderate' voice of Israel were shocked to discover that they are losing career opportunities because of the crimes committed by their universities (such as stealing Palestinian land or discriminating against Palestinian students). The Israeli business community is in a state of panic, some already in the process of moving their headquarters outside Israel.
Israeli politicians are trapped. On the one hand, they realise that BDS and non-violent resistance could undermine Israel's diplomatic strength, economic stability and academic prestige but any concession to put pressure would be seen as weakness that will be punished by Israeli voters. Israelis have a tendency to vote for strong, jingoistic leaders. Netanyahu's hardline government has no plan on how to deal with the pressure, except to preserve an appearance of strength. The Knesset recently approved a bill criminalising the call for boycott. Now Israeli citizens (such as myself) can be sued by any Israeli company for expressing a positive opinion about the boycott even if the company cannot prove that the call for boycott caused it any damage.
Israel has a very powerful army, unflinching support from the US and can cow European countries into supporting its every move by threatening anyone who criticises Israel by calling them anti-Semitic. However, every colonial power in history has reached a point in which corrupt and overconfident leaders, drunk on power, begin to make irrational decisions. When the consequences of these decisions begin to become apparent, panic sets in and these leaders try to defend their mistakes with further irrational actions.
In the past three years, the Israeli government has reached that point, and irrational decisions have become more and more frequent. Here are four examples:
- Invasion of Gaza in December 2008 (Operation Cast Lead),,which resulted in the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians, led to the Goldstone report accusing Israel of crimes against humanity.
- Appointing Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister compounded matters as Lieberman's racist remarks and ultra-nationalist agenda pushed away Israel's few remaining allies (such as Turkey).
- The killing of nine activists on the Freedom Flotilla shocked people around the world (and the more recent deportation of hundreds of activists who flew to Israel in order to visit the West Bank proves that the government learnt nothing).
- The anti-boycott bill approved recently proves that Israel does not allow freedom of speech, and makes even selective boycott campaigns against the products from Israel's illegal colonies in the West Bank illegal. It prevents international companies from offering their services in Israel but not in the West Bank. Now every international company which wishes to operate in Israel is forced to choose between violating international law or being punished by the Israeli government.
All of these actions by Israel have one thing in common — they bolster the BDS movement which grows rapidly with every additional act of cruelty committed by Israel's government and military. As an Israeli citizen myself, this is one ray of hope amid the despair — through Palestinian commitment to the struggle and with international solidarity, apartheid in Israel will eventually go the way of apartheid in South Africa.
Shir Hever is an economist with the Alternative Information Centre, a joint Palestinian-Israeli non-governmental organisation.