Ancient and modern human history has witnessed many instances and forms of boycott. Oppressed peoples have resorted to it as a form of peaceful popular protest and resistance, and there are many examples that prove the effectiveness of a boycott to weaken and exhaust an opponent. The many forms of mass boycott at home and abroad by opponents of the white minority government in apartheid South Africa is one of the greatest examples of this. Another is the boycott of British goods led by Indian campaigner M K Gandhi, which led eventually to India's independence from Britain. Gandhi urged Indians to spin their own clothes, eat what they produce, wear what they spin and boycott the goods of the enemy.
There is no doubt that Israel's increasing attacks on the productive capabilities of the Palestinian people and its efforts to obliterate Arab identity by any means possible make a boycott of Israel in every sense a necessity. It is a peaceful way for the Palestinians and their supporters to fight back against Israel's daily killings; destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and land; the apartheid wall; and settlement expansion that has changed the landscape of Palestine and isolated the people in small islands surrounded by Israeli colonies.
Since the Palestinian market is the second largest for Israeli products after the United States, the boycott of those goods could have a catastrophic effect on Israel's economy. According to official statistics, the value of Palestinian imports from Israel is nearly $4 billion per annum, which represents 68.7 per cent of Palestine's total annual imports. Experts and businessmen say that intensifying boycott campaigns can contribute to reducing the volume of imports from Israel by 20 to 30 per cent.
History of Palestine's boycott of Israeli goods
Throughout Palestinian history, there have been moments that must be remembered for their official and popular importance; they should be reflected on in order to restore the culture of struggle in the Arab Palestinian experience.
– In 1920, the Muslim-Christian Association held a conference in Nablus. Palestinian elites, farmers and agricultural unions were urged to completely boycott the Jews economically and commercially and refrain from selling land and real estate to them.
– The 1936 Revolution and the state of civil disobedience that resulted from it. There was popular support from some people in neighbouring countries, such as Syria, [Trans]Jordan and Lebanon.
– The official boycott in 1945, when the Arab League Council decided to boycott Jewish products in Palestine on 2 December, as well as open a permanent office and committees in all Arab countries.
– The largest-scale boycott campaign and civil disobedience occurred during the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993). The boycott was the most widespread during the first three years of the uprising and there were calls for popular protection of the national economy by means of self-dependence and Palestinian development.
– Calls for the boycott were renewed during the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2003) but remained limited.
– In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was launched.
– In 2005, more than 170 Palestinian foundations, organisations and unions, both inside Palestine and in the Diaspora, signed a historical appeal calling for popular civil resistance against Israel.
– Boycott campaigns were called for by unofficial youth parties, organisations and committees during any Israeli attack on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
– The popular boycott campaign that was launched on a large scale during Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip in July 2014.
Every time a boycott campaign was launched, it became more widespread and more entrenched in the Palestinian collective awareness, only to fade and diminish quickly after the attack for which it was launched came to an end. There are many reasons for this, including the quality of Palestinian products, the decrease in calls for a boycott, the usefulness of the action and the dependency of the Palestinian economy on that of the Israeli occupier.
As such, the Palestinian boycott of Israeli goods must be done on two levels, official and popular, in order for us to benefit the most from it. However, will the Palestinian Authority be able to brandish this weapon in the face of Israel whenever it wants to?
The PA and the boycott of Israeli goods
The Protocol on Economic Relations, also called the Paris Protocol, established in 1994, is the reference governing Palestinian-Israeli economic and trade relations. In general, it does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people and has not reduced the degree of Palestinian dependence on Israel's economy. Instead, the agreement granted the Israelis huge influence on the growth of the Palestinian economy and lacked any clause giving the Palestinians the right to respond with a boycott or any other punitive means against arbitrary Israeli action or violations of the terms of the agreement. This limited the Palestinian Authority's ability to adopt the concept of a boycott of Israeli products.
Of course, this does not mean that the PA should stand by idly in the face of the Israeli mistreatment. Instead, it must adopt direct and indirect measures and tools.
In terms of direct action, the boycott of settlement goods does not in any way violate or conflict with international laws and resolutions. In addition, we saw the PA managing to boycott six Israeli companies when Israel stopped handing over the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians and there was no opposition to this protest boycott from the international community.
It is worth noting that the official boycott efforts are nothing more than a means to pressure Israel. Once the Israelis hand over the tax money owed to the Palestinians, the official calls to boycott some Israeli companies and products will stop.
As for indirect actions, this may include supporting national Palestinian products, either financially through tax and customs exemptions, or by means of activating the roles of the concerned ministries, especially the Ministry of the Economy, in order to monitor the quality of Palestinian goods, thus creating a good alternative for Israeli products and reinforcing Palestinian-Arab trade relations. The establishment of such relations will provide alternatives for goods that cannot be produced in Palestine, as well as create an investment environment that will attract local and foreign capital and facilitate the licensing and establishment procedures for production projects. This can also provide comprehensive databases through the chambers of commerce and industry, which will make it easier for investors to study the needs of the local market and act accordingly, as well as take firm action against the suppliers of settlement goods to their areas.
Although there are no accurate or precise statistics regarding the volume of Israeli settlement products in Palestinian areas, initial estimates suggest that they account for 25 per cent of the total Israeli products consumed in the Palestinian territories.
"Laundering" Israeli products
In light of the growing Palestinian and international campaigns calling for the boycott of Israeli products, and specifically settlement products, we have recently seen efforts to "launder" Israeli products through Palestinian mediators. For example, we find that Israeli dates from the Palestinian Jordan Valley are packaged partly in Palestinian-owned factories and then labelled as originating from Palestine. The same goes for a number of dates and herbs being sent to EU countries, where the laundering occurs in a third country.
Industrial areas planned (by Palestine and Israel) to be established on some "border" areas and their impact on the boycott
The Palestinian self-government developed and established financial/trade interests and links between private Palestinian capital and individuals in the PA on one hand, and Israeli trade and financial companies on the other. This has allowed the driving force of both beneficiaries to be the continuation of their interests and the reinforcement of their links and personal gains and profits.
It was specifically in this context that the idea of the planned industrial areas to be established in some "border" zones in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was adopted. A Palestinian workforce is to be employed in these areas but the majority of factories and establishments to be built there will be neither Palestinian nor Arab; they will be owned by foreign and Israeli companies. Hence, these establishments will not be a sector of the national Palestinian economy since their products and exports will be circulated separately from the local economy. To make matters worse, as these areas will be considered to be joint Israel-Palestinian areas, they will be used to "launder" goods produced in settlements in the West Bank, thus avoiding the economic boycott in the eyes of local and international public opinion.
Other than the PA's direct benefit from the revenues and taxes that these establishments will be paying, along with some foreign currencies that only a marginal section of Palestinian society will benefit from, these establishments do not embody the developmental or economic needs of the Palestinian areas, or their interests.
The quintessential issue here is not only the fact that the industrial areas will employ hundreds, even thousands of cheap labourers, but also, due to the absence of local or Arab capital in these areas, the accumulating surplus in them will not be re-invested in Palestine to bring about true economic and social development. Instead, most of the money will be taken out of the country to serve the interests of foreign investors.
By means of foreign and Israeli funding, the plan to transform large areas in Marj Ibn Amer, considered one of Palestine's most fertile agricultural area in the West Bank, into a large industrial area of more than 152 acres, is currently being implemented. Dozens of farmers have been lured into selling their land in order to establish this industrial zone. The area will be destroyed even more once the Separation Wall takes over large chunks of land. Due to the arbitrariness of the route of the wall, the city of Jenin currently brings in all of its goods from elsewhere after being an "exporter" of wheat, fruit and vegetables until the mind 1980s.
Palestinian trade relations with the surrounding Arab countries
According to the Paris Protocol, the Palestinians do not have the right to have economic relations with states which do not have diplomatic ties with Israel. This clause thus explicitly prohibits the PA from having economic relations with 48 countries, including Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.
However, Palestine also has weak trade relations with Jordan and Egypt, both of which have relations with Israel. In 2014, the Jordanian and Egyptian exports to the Palestinians only made up 1.8 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively of the total volume of goods imported into the occupied territories. Meanwhile, Palestinian exports to each country only made up 0.8 per cent and 0.2 per cent respectively of their total imports.
Jawad Naji, the Prime Minister's Advisor for Islamic and Arab Funds' Affairs, stated that the total value of Palestine's international trade with Arab countries only amounts to $100 million. He stressed that the country is keen to enhance and develop this by organising exhibitions in Arab and Muslim counties and contributing to raising awareness of Palestinian products.
The Palestinian boycott started to grow and expand after the war on Gaza, but once the Israeli offensive was over, Palestinian consumers went back to purchasing Israeli products, as if nothing had happened. How can the boycott be changed from being a knee-jerk reaction to being a lifestyle choice and way of life for the Palestinians?
The boycott has been and continues to be a peaceful and legitimate means of protest. It is also a weapon to be used in the battle of international wills and so we must master it. It must not be used simply as a temporary reaction. If this weapon is used, then the Palestinians must streamline Palestinian self-consumerism, encourage local produce and commit to consuming local products and choosing alternatives to Israeli goods. Such alternatives could also be imported from countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause or at least from states that are neutral. If this occurs, the officials controlling the local market and importers must not exploit the situation and monopolise prices.
As for the official Palestinian decision to enforce such a boycott, which was hesitant and substandard during the Gaza war, and was unable to turn the act from a popular reaction to Israeli crimes to a resistance lifestyle, the PA put in place a popular national plan for boycotting Israeli goods. This must be based on a programme to resist the occupation, promote perseverance and change the behaviour and shopping habits of Palestinian consumers; it must be constructed within its natural ethical framework. It is not logical for the captive Palestinians to be ranked as Israel's second most important market; it makes no sense for the Palestinians to fund their occupiers and contribute to Israel's survival by paying such a price for the occupation. In addition to this, it is not logical for the international boycott movement to grow and achieve success while the local boycott declines in impact. The boycott cannot be effective without a comprehensive national programme in place and used effectively, so that the idea of boycotting becomes part of the Palestinian resistance culture; it has to become a vital part of the overall struggle.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.