A new dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is emerging as an effective means of peaceful protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land: boycotting Israel.
Some four years ago, a loosely connected group of Palestinian activists and civil organisations launched an international appeal calling on citizens and corporations to join the boycott Israelcampaign to protest the occupation.
The Israeli war in Lebanon in 2006 and the brutalities of the Israeli war on the people of Gaza galvanised opposition to Israel and its continued occupation and colony construction. It also brought the boycott movement to prominence.
The Boycott, Divestment And Sanctions campaign quickly became a global movement, effectively protesting against Israeli violations of international law. It has been driven by ordinary concerned citizens distributing pamphlets in the streets of European and North American cities, and television and film stars withdrawing their films from film festivals. Jane Fonda, famous for her opposition to the Vietnam War, and who once actively defended the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, has reportedly joined the campaign.
Activists have written letters denouncing companies and institutions that contribute directly or indirectly to support the occupation.
The movement is gaining momentum. Recently, the vast Norwegian global pension-fund portfolio decided to divest from the Israeli arms company Elbit.
Meanwhile, the French conglomerate Veolia, which has been involved in the building of the light rail system to connect Occupied West Jerusalem to Israeli colonies in the West Bank, has suffered setbacks as a result of negative publicity from the boycott campaign.
Trade union pressure in Ireland, where Veolia runs Dublin's light rail system, has forced the company to cancel a deal to train drivers and engineers for Israel's light rail. Earlier this year, the English Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council decided to exclude Veolia's bid for its ‘Waste Improvement Plan' contract, worth $1.6 billion (Dh5.8 billion) over 20 years.
Britain's trade unions have voted to support a mass boycott movement and a negotiated and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South African and Irish trade unions have passed similar resolutions.
Boycott activists have devoted particular attention to Uzbekistan-born diamond mogul Lev Leviev and to his company, Africa-Israel, and have relentlessly denounced his contributions to Israeli West Bank colonies. Several major shareholders of the company have divested their holdings in Africa-Israel, and both Unicef and Oxfam stated that they would not accept contributions from Leviev because of his financial contributions to Israeli colonies on Palestinian land.
Western critics of the boycott movement argue that it is not likely to be effective, partly because unconditional American support for Israel guarantees that American taxpayers will continue to bankroll the Israeli economy, including the construction of Israeli colonies.
Firstly, while the above-mentioned examples may not bring the Israeli economy to its knees, they illustrate unprecedented and growing public awareness of the injustice and illegality of the occupation and of Israeli colonies. They also demonstrate a popular resolve to act to promote international law in the face of the impotence of the international system.
In a recent message to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, president of the UN General Assembly, illustrated that point:
"With governments and the United Nations standing … unable to provide … protection to the people of Gaza … we would do well to follow [the boycott movement's] example in bringing international pressure to bear on the Occupying Power … to bring about an end to the violations of international humanitarian law".
Secondly, cracks have started to appear in the unconditional American support for Israel. This is clear from the Obama administration's insistence that all colony construction must stop, and from polls indicating American public support for their president's approach to the conflict.
Blaming the victim
All violations of international law should be condemned regardless of who is committing them, but the enormity and persistence of the violations in the case of the Israeli occupation and the continued dispossession and collective punishment of a whole people for over 42 years set this case apart. But what makes it a really special case is the ability of Israeli apologists in the West to blame the victim.
Take for example the siege Israel has imposed on the people of Gaza, which the UN's Goldstone Report said might amount to crimes against humanity, and which is a brutal form of sanctions and boycott. The West has implicitly accepted the Israeli argument that the people of Gaza should be punished for democratically electing Hamas.
No other violators of international law enjoy that degree of influence in the corridors of power in Washington and European capitals.
In a sense, the boycott movement represents a global grass-roots response to this unique ability to justify the occupation, the dispossession, and collective punishment by blaming the victim.
It is also challenging individuals and corporations to act ethically by dissociating themselves from violations of international law that perpetuate oppression and injustice.
These are compelling reasons to support the boycott movement.
- Adel Safty is distinguished professor adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration in Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky.