Omar Barghouti is a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and so he is in a perfect position to write a book charting the growth and success of the BDS movement 5 years after its inception. Whether you are new to the Palestinian cause or a long-time supporter and seasoned activist, this book is the perfect way to come up to speed with every aspect of the BDS movement.
Barghouti starts with an explanation of the “nightmarish conditions facing the Palestinian people”i and why the need for a global BDS campaign is so urgent. He sets the scene describing how the “grim reality on the ground in occupied Palestine makes a comprehensive boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions not only a moral obligation but also an urgent political necessity”ii to prevent, for one thing, the “genocide” of the Palestinian people. He refers to the siege on Gaza; the Israeli contamination of Gazan water sources; the chronic medical conditions afflicting Gazan babies and children as a result of Israel’s use of dangerous unconventional weapons; the deliberate targeted killing of Palestinian civilians; and most significantly the international community’s collective failure to do anything about these and countless other dire issues. He argues that the time for change is now, “Palestinians cannot wait. Israel is no longer “just” guilty of occupation, colonization, and apartheid against the people of Palestine… it has embarked on what seems to be its final effort to literally disappear the “Palestinian problem”, and it is doing so with utter impunity. The world cannot continue to watch. Thus BDS. Thus now.”iii
Barghouti posits BDS as the duty of every morally conscious individual in an effort to fill the void that our political institutions have left vacant. He explains the principles and ideas behind the campaign and he makes a very convincing case as to why we all have a moral duty to get involved.
He describes the inauguration of the Palestinian BDS movement and describes how, in July 2005, Palestinian civil society banded together and launched a new phase in the struggle for Palestinian freedom. The BDS movement, which is Palestinian led, was thus born in its most coherent and cohesive form to date. Over 170 Palestinian civil rights groups, NGOs, political parties, trade unions and other organisations collectively issued a joint global call to people of conscience everywhere to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”iv
This call is peaceful, legal and just. The official BDS campaign has three key minimum demands:
1. “For Israel to end its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands [occupied in 1967] and dismantling the wall;
2. Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
3. Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”v
The boycott does not just refer to a boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements or even general goods from Israel – although that is a large part of it – but it also includes a cultural and academic boycott of all Israeli institutions. Barghouti addresses some of the standard criticisms of such a widespread boycott and deflects them easily. For instance, to those who say that the boycott unjustly targets Israeli individuals he clarifies the BDS position by explaining that “the Palestinian BDS was never a blanket boycott against individual Israelis. It is consistently institutional in nature, targeting all Israeli academic, cultural, economic, and political institutions, specifically because they are complicit in maintaining the occupation and other forms of racist and colonial oppression against indigenous Palestinians.”vi
To those who say that a boycott restricts dialogue and that talking is the path to peace he points to the failure of what he calls the “peace industry” and the failure of all attempts to talk our way to peace. As he points out, any talks at this stage would not be between two equal parties, and “dialogue between oppressor and oppressed cannot work when it is devoid of agreement on the basis for justice – it has not worked in reality and cannot work in principle. Boycotts, on the other hand, work in reality and in principle, as was shown in the South African Apartheid. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot work in our case too.”vii Furthermore, in response to the claim that BDS undermines the peace movement, he responds “What peace movement? There is no such creature.”viii
Barghouti does not just expertly deflect criticisms of the BDS movement but he also issues his own criticisms too. He points, for example, to the hypocrisy of the UN in its differential treatment between South Africa and Israel. In 1971 when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was illegal it triggered the issuing of sanctions , and yet a similar ruling passed by the ICJ in 2004 stating that Israel’s illegal apartheid wall and the occupation itself violated international law was followed by a hushed silence from the UN and its institutions. Furthermore no punitive measures have ever been launched against Israel for its breach of UN resolutions. On the contrary UN institutions continue to work with and support Israeli projects, such as The Israel-Palestinian Science Organisation (IPSO). As author points out, “UNESCO ought to immediately withdraw its support for IPSO and any other similar effort that assists, cooperates with or otherwise promotes Israeli scientific or cultural institutions until Israel desists from violating Palestinian human rights and fully complies with the pertinent precepts of international law. Failing to do so would be further proof of UNESCO’s double standards.”x
His chapter entitled “Our South African Moment has Arrived” offers an excellent synopsis of the stranglehold Israel has placed Gaza in. He refers to the soaring levels of unemployment; the chronic health problems children are suffering from including malnutrition, stunted growth and cancer as well as severe psychological problems largely caused by trauma. He talks about the shocking 80% dependency on international humanitarian assistance; the problems with the healthcare system, the education system and so on, all as a direct result of the siege.
This book could make for very depressing reading if it were not for the simple fact that as you close it you are left with something positive and practical you can do to help ease the suffering being inflicted on the people of Palestine: Join the BDS movement, boycott Israeli goods and stop all support for the apartheid state of Israel. Barghouti’s book is an invaluable resource for all who want to know more about BDS and a must have on the bookshelf of all campaigners for a free and liberated Palestine.
viP147 Italics are my own