Boycott Israel? What you need to know about a global movement for peace.

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In May this year, renewed airstrikes between Israel and Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories killed almost 250 people, including 67 children. The latest violence has spurred renewed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement as a non-violent alternative to military pressure. Here’s what you need to know about a growing, global movement for peace.

Cousins Hamada al-Emour and Ammar al-Emour had gone out to get the traditional Palestinian pre-Ramadan haircut at their local barbershop when Israeli airstrikes hammered into the city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. The 13- and 10-year olds never made it home. They were just two of the 67 children killed in May 2021 in the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas. 65 were killed in civilian areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Two, in Israel.

A ceasefire is now in place and Palestinians in Gaza can mourn, adjust, and return to a semblance of their daily lives – albeit under the eye of Israeli military rule. However, the violence has spurred again worldwide support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement – which seeks a peaceful resolution.

The BDS movement’s ultimate objective, through international economic sanctions, consumer boycotts, and divestment in Israeli assets, is Israel complying with international law – namely “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall (in the West Bank), recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194". Where Hamas is using rockets, BDS is instead applying political and economic pressure.

It’s an approach based on the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, and one that is becoming increasingly supported among activists, students, companies, and organisations globally. And it’s a fitting approach. A recent report by Human Rights Watch categorically states that Israel’s methodical discrimination against Palestinians through laws and policy aimed at maintaining majority Jewish Israeli control now amounts to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

And with the huge civilian casualties, and the burden of conflict borne particularly by Palestinian children, a peaceful solution to the sporadic, heart-wrenching violence is desperately needed.

But can it work? As Omar Barghouti, BDS co-founder, writes in an emotive plea for support in The Guardian “the movement has shattered the apathy of those who do not care and the inaction of those who insufficiently care. BDS has drastically redefined solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, as an ethical obligation to end complicity, above everything else. In the face of flagrant oppression anywhere, apathy and inaction are immoral, when one has the ability to act without suffering significantly.”

BDS opens a path for people all over the world to stand up in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to act in a tangible way to help end the violence. 

But, international support for Israel – particularly from the US – is strong. Israel was originally established in 1948 after the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as the rightful homeland of the Jews, an international response to the severe persecution faced by the Jewish race throughout history. The need to protect this homeland is highly emotive and powerful among the global Jewish diaspora. Through its actions BDS has faced allegations of anti-Semitism; that it is not simply pushing for equality and protection of Palestinians but instead is aiming to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. That granting “full equality for Arab citizens of Israel would require overturning or amending Israeli laws that grant Jews automatic citizenship and define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”. 

Ultimately, when the Balfour Declaration was first published, Palestine – then under British rule - was home to a small Jewish minority. Now it is Palestinians who are fighting for their rights to remain, live freely, and govern their homeland. For the sake of everyone in the region – Palestinian and Israeli – the violence needs to end. Children in Gaza and the West Bank, and in bordering Israeli communities, have a right to play, go to school, and live free from fear. We can all play a part in ending the persecution of Palestinians – BDS explains the options for consumer boycotts on their website – but ultimately, as academic Kenan Malik says “Each side in this bitter conflict needs to recognise the other’s fears and aspirations” to be able to forge a shared future together. 

He sums up the conundrum facing the region – and the challenges facing the Boycott Israel movement - nicely: 

“The tragedy today is that on one side in the Israel/Palestine conflict, “escaping oppression” has come to mean rebuilding a Jewish state in Palestine and conquering Jerusalem. And, for too many on the other side, freeing Palestine has come to mean freeing it of Jews and of denying Jews the right to escape oppression.” 

Written by Sarah Faith

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