Palestinian BDS conference, challenging the ‘normal’
[For some background on the issue of divestment by Palestinian businesses see Wealthier Palestinians prefer to invest in Israel than in PA lands ]
Activists Hold Third Annual Conference on Boycott of Israel in Hebron
By Saed Bannoura, IMEMC News
The Palestinian branch of the international campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel held its third annual conference in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, with several hundred Palestinian and international activists gathering for the event.
The conference was organized by the BDS Movement in an attempt to expand Palestinian civil society’s active implementation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as an effective and popular strategy of civil resistance that is deeply rooted in the Palestinian struggle. The economic campaign to pressure Israel to change its policies began with a call from hundreds of Palestinian non-governmental organizations in 2005, and gained momentum after the massive Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008-9.
According to organizers of the conference, “The conference embodies the unified and determined Palestinian will to secure our legitimate rights, the most important of which are liberation, self-determination and the right of return. It also expresses our gratitude to people of conscience around the world who stand on the side of justice in the face of Israeli occupation and apartheid.”
Among the speakers at Saturday’s conference were the Governor of Hebron, Mr. Kamil Hmaid; Thobile Ntola, Central executive committee member; Congress of South African Trade Unions- COSATU; Adam Horowitz, an American journalist; BDS Student activists, Mukhtar Al-Ja’bary and Fajr Harb; and Haitham Arar & Badera Jaradat representing the Union of Palestinian Women.
They focused on issues like resisting ‘normalization’ efforts, which are events, activities and coalitions which aim to normalize the existing system of segregation and discrimination, often under the banner of ‘peace’ or ‘dialogue’ between Israelis and Palestinians. Speakers also targeted Palestinian businesses and business owners in their critique, challenging a recent report that Palestinian business leaders have over $6 billion invested into Israel, much of it in Israeli settlement activity.
The conference encouraged Palestinian activists to work to implement the boycott according to the criteria adopted by Palestinian civil society, particularly in terms of economic disengagement from Israel; and demanding that international institutions and organizations end their complicity in perpetuating Israeli occupation and apartheid.
On Saturday, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) held its third annual conference in the West Bank city of Hebron. Panelists addressed the challenges and opportunities facing the BDS campaign and the current state of its efforts.
The BDS campaign began in 2005 through a call by over 170 Palestinian civil society groups, a year after the International Court of Justice found Israeli’s barrier wall to be illegal. Since then, BDS has gained international momentum in implementing an economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel. The campaign aims to pressure Israel to adhere to international law and end its colonial measures.
Over 450 people attended the all-day conference, which featured prominent speakers such as BNC representative Omar Barghouti and Hebron Governor Kamil Hmaid. Participants were also able to provide feedback through interactive discussion sessions and workshops. Simultaneous translations were available for non-English or Arabic speakers.
Conference organizers provided shuttles to the event from all major West Bank cities as well as Jerusalem and Haifa. Transportation services–which had also been included in the last two conferences, held in Nablus and Ramallah–were meant to encourage the representation of different Palestinian voices.
The event’s first panel addressed the international successes and challenges of the BDS movement while the second panel tackled local circumstances. Michael Dean, BNC coordinator in Europe, argued that the movement has been a huge success in Europe. “BDS is now the main framework for solidarity” with Palestinians in Europe, said Deas, adding that by keeping up the momentum, ”we are very close to closing the European market to Israel.”
BDS activist in the United States Adam Horowitz gave a bleaker picture of the campaign in the United States. One challenge, he said, is that the United States, unlike Europe, does not have many consumer products from Israel.
But the campaign’s main obstacle in the United States is that it does not have a lot of financial support, especially compared to the pro-Israel organizations working against it. Despite the challenges, Horowitz said that the U.S. campaign has made progress—such as in boycotting Ahava products—and is attracting new members.
The second panel elicited emotive commentary from the audience on the difficulties of boycott, failure of some Palestinian business to adhere to it, and the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) role in encouraging the boycott. Several audience members offered suggestions for how Palestinians can practice the boycott and challenge the current discriminatory system that underlies Palestinian-Israeli economic relations.
Speaker Salah Haniyyeh stressed the BDS campaign’s responsibility in changing the consumer behavior of Palestinians and encouraging them to buy Palestinian products, rather than relying on PA government procedures to do the job.
According to panelist Ibrahim Shikaki, “Economic dependency on Israel is not the disease, but rather a symptom. The disease is the narrative disseminating that Palestinians have closed their chapter of national liberation and are now fighting for a state (one that comprises around 10 percent of historical Palestine and shaped as disconnected ‘bantustans’), and that normal economic relations with Israel must prevail.”
Shikaki, an economist, added, “There is no lack of alternatives…the lack is in political will.”
The event’s last session was a series of workshops that participants had to choose from. The topics covered the student and youth, women organizations, civil society, formal labor, private sector, popular committee against the wall and settlements, and the international BDS campaign. The workshops allowed for further discussion and input by the audience.
According to one of the attendees, Yassmine Saleh, “The most interesting part of the conference was hearing the comments of the audience about their ideal and what BDS should be. The conference is for them to unite and exercise their rights in freedom of expression and engagement.”
By Take Apartheid off the Menu!
A group of Palestinians and campaigners for Palestinian rights delivered rotten fruit and empty water bottles to the UK headquarters of Israeli fruit and vegetable export company Mehadrin in Borehamwood, near London, on Friday in protest at the role the company plays in the colonisation of Palestinian land and resources and the exploitation of Palestinian workers.
The Israeli export company Mehadrin sources produce from growers in illegal settlements exploits Palestinian workers and is deeply involved in the theft of Palestinian water.
“Mehadrin sells goods from stolen Palestinian lands. The residents of Borehamwood should consider whether Mehadrin fits in with the values of their community,” said Palestinian activist Maath Musleh, who is currently studying at City University in London.
“Trade with Mehadrin helps sustain Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people and it must be brought to an end. Ordinary people have the power to contribute to a just peace by boycotting Israeli products and contributing to the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law,” added Maha Rezeq, a Palestinian currently studying at the School of African and Oriental Studies.
After delivering rotten fruit and empty water bottles, to symbolise the role the company plays in the theft of Palestinian water, the dozen campaigners held a rally outside the entrance to the office, and chanted “Stolen goods from stolen lands, Mehadrin should be banned!”
Campaigners also held signs showing messages of solidarity with the Bedouin community of Al Hadidye in the northern Jordan Valley in occupied Palestinian territory, which is denied regular access to water and under immense pressure. Last week, the community was served with nine further demolition orders. In the nearby illegal Israeli settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot, agricultural produce is grown with an abundance of water and exported to UK supermarkets such as Tesco by Mehadrin.
The action took place as part of Take Apartheid off the Menu, a Europe wide wave of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) action against Israeli agricultural produce export companies to highlight their vital role in the maintenance of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people. Actions took place in more than 60 cities across 10 countries. Last week, French campaigners held a similar action outside local Mehadrin premises.