2015 will be remembered as the year that Palestinian popular resistance spread across historic Palestine and saw tens of thousands of Palestinians take to the streets to resist and confront Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. Ten years since the launch of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), 2015 also signalled a landmark year for the protest movement. A number of campaigns run by BDS ended in huge success for the movement, which is now on track to becoming more widespread, branching into countries where it’s existance is barely known.
Omar Barghouti, co-founding member of BDS says that the movement was launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to call for the basic rights of Palestinian people as stipulated in international law; namely ending the Israeli occupation and system of apartheid as well as enabling the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
“The Palestinian people are made up of three main segments, those in the occupied territories of the West Bank, including Gaza and east Jerusalem, Palestinians living in present day Israel and also Palestinians living in exile,” Barghouti explains.
“68 percent of the Palestinian people are refugees so that makes the right of return the most important right that BDS has called for.”
Barghouti is a Palestinian that was born in Qatar, grew up in Egypt and later moved to Jaffa in Israel as an adult. He has lobbied worldwide for the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.
BDS calls for an end to Israel’s 1967 occupation of Arab lands, including East Jerusalem; an end to what even the US Department of State has criticized as Israel’s system of “institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens, and an end to its denial of the Palestinian refugees’ UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin from which they were forcible displaced.
Barghouti says the BDS movement was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. In an article published by Mondoweiss, he added that BDS is also succeeding in exposing the toxicity of the “brand” Israel. The impact of the nonviolent, Palestinian-led, global BDS movement has grown steadily since BDS was launched in 2005. But in the last two years it has accelerated for various reasons.
“In the last couple of years Israel started treating the Palestinian lead global BDS movement as “a strategic threat” that can develop into an existential threat, and Israel takes the movement seriously because it has moved from a symbolic impact to an economic impact. Furthermore, the academic and cultural boycotts have all helped to grow the economic boycott,” Barghouti went further.
“We have seen several indicators of the economic impact on Israel; for example in 2015 Israel’s exports have dropped by 7 percent and a UN report showed that in 2014 foreign direct investment in the state of Israel has dropped by 46 percent.”
A conservative American think tank predicts that if BDS continues at its current pace, the movement and its campaigns may cost Israel between 56 and 60 billion dollars over the next 10 years.
“There are many indicators that show that Israel is being affected; major corporations that are complicit in Israel’s human rights violations have started to feel the heat and accordingly abandoned Israeli markets,” Barghouti continued.
In April, French multinational Veolia completed the sale of its water, waste, and energy activities in Israel, following a global campaign against the company’s role in illegal Israeli settlements.
This was a huge achievement for BDS internationally as the French corporate giant (Veolia) sold off all of its businesses in Israel. BDS says that this was a direct result of their seven year campaign against its role in infrastructure projects for illegal Israeli settlements, which cost it more than $20 billion in lost tenders and contracts.
“Another company that will leave (Israel) soon is Orange, the telecommunications giant that is involved with an Israeli company called Partner Communications that has business in the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” Barghouti continued.
Barghouti says that after campaigns in France and elsewhere, Orange decided to break its contract with Partner telecommunications.
When asked why BDS has received the type of support it has, Barghouti mentioned that BDS is a morally consistent and a morally compelling movement.
“It rejects all forms of racism, including Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism, and it is inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and various groups.”
“All human rights activists around the world can appreciate the universal message of the BDS movement which calls for freedom, justice and equality,” says Barghouti.
Within Palestine there is a neo-consensus amongst the Palestinians to support BDS. Political parties, trade unions; women’s and student groups as well as academics and farmers have shown support towards the movement.
“This is a mainstream Palestinian movement that has worked towards support and has adopted a moderate, morally consistent strategy that has allowed us to build a massive network of familiarity,” Barghouti expressed.
APARTHEID AND OPPRESSION
“Our movement connects with a long heritage of struggle around the world and is leading to an increased isolation and exposure of Israel’s true face of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”
However, while the movement may have gained momentum in a few countries over the years, Barghouti says one mistake it made was to overlook the impact BDS could make in the Arab world.
“We are not aware of any major mistakes except that we should have given more attention to the Arab world earlier on; in the first few years of BDS we focused almost exclusively on the west and for a good reason, Israel extracts most of its power, be it academic, economic, military and diplomatic power from the west, especially from the United states, Germany, Britain and France.”
While BDS is popular in South Africa and Britain, the movement is slowly growing in Latin America, but does not exist in India or China.
“Currently BDS is present in Latin America and it took some time to enter Latin America; we have not yet been able to establish a strong movement in India and there is no existence of a BDS movement in China, two major countries that are rising economically and we need to work in those countries in a more effective way,” Barghouti added.
Barghouti now sees the main challenge to BDS as the fact that Israel is taking it war against BDS to the next level. Instead of propaganda, which was the main response to BDS in its early years, Israel has shifted responsibility for fighting BDS from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of strategic affairs. In this light, Israel considers BDS to be a strategic threat.
“It has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the movement and it is increasing espionage against BDS activists; most alarmingly it is perusing a very vicious campaign of law fare trying to delegitimize the time honoured practice of boycotts, divestments and sanctions,” Barghouti mentioned.
Barghouti says in 2016 they plan to push for a military embargo against Israel.
“We have officially asked the south African government to impose a military embargo on Israel,” Barghouti stated.
“There isn’t much in the military trade between Israel and South Africa to start with so it mostly be a symbolic gesture, but extremely important for Palestinians that the south African government imposes a military embargo on the Israeli regime just as the world imposed a military embargo on the apartheid regime.”
“We hope that other governments will follow through if South Africa takes the lead on this.”
Other campaigns that BDS is going to focus on for the year includes those against G4S, one of the world’s leading security companies, as well as campaigns against Israeli banks that Barghouti says finances the ongoing occupation and oppression of Palestine and its people. VOC (Umarah Hartley)