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Why Israel views peaceful activism as a threat

May 14, 2016 at 12:09 pm

World leaders like Barak Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron have all invoked the memory of the greatest peace activist of all – Mohandas K Gandhi – in recent times, as they lecture us about the power of peaceful activism. Gandhi fought courageously for India’s independence from the mighty British Empire while standing up for the rights of the poor. He achieved his goal without firing a single shot.

Logic would dictate, therefore, that anyone who acts in the spirit of Gandhi would draw global admiration by relying on peaceful activism rather than violence, especially if their work is based in the volatile Middle East. However, when it comes to Israel, even peaceful resistance to its military occupation by the persecuted Palestinians is frowned upon or ignored; thus, it is unlikely that the plight of Omar Barghouti will be acted upon by Obama, Cameron, Merkel or any other international leaders. Who is Omar Barghouti? In short, he is a co-founder of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and BDS is quite possibly regarded as the biggest threat to the existence of the Zionist state because of its Gandhi-style resistance technique. It is a stunning tribute to people power, and when the people start to lead, their traditional leaders, elected or otherwise, become increasingly insignificant.

If anyone doubts his power and influence in the region, then consider the fact that the Israeli government has just basically banned Omar Barghouti from leaving occupied Palestine by refusing to renew his travel documents. That a regime with the world’s fourth largest army in terms of the weapons at its disposal is afraid of one man speaks volumes about the power and influence that the BDS movement wields.

Barghouti is married to a Palestinian citizen of Israel and as such has permanent resident status, but despite this he still needs official permission to travel outside the state. Haaretz reported this week that beyond the travel ban, Barghouti’s “residency rights in Israel are also being reconsidered.”

Journalist Glenn Greenwald interviewed Barghouti at length for an article in the Intercept, and it emerged that the travel ban follows months of disturbing public threats directed at him by the Tel Aviv government. In March, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency rights, admitting explicitly that this was in retaliation for his speeches and advocacy. “He is using his resident status to travel all over the world in order to operate against Israel in the most serious manner,” claimed Deri. “He took advantage of our enlightened state to portray us as the most horrible state in the world.”

Israel’s blatant attack on Barghouti’s basic human rights is causing ripples but not headlines, even though it exposes the repressive nature of the Zionist state. Imagine if such a travel ban had been imposed on an international peace activist in Iran, Russia, Myanmar, Zimbabwe or any of the states in South America; I think there would be an international outcry, but for Barghouti, next to nothing.

No doubt Tel Aviv thinks that it will escape censure for this violation of human rights as leading politicians look the other way. The net effect, though, will be to reinforce and strengthen the power and resistance of BDS and its global support network.

In America the influential Jewish Voice for Peace, activists from CodePink and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation have mobilised to exert pressure on US Secretary of State John Kerry to act swiftly to protect the rights of human rights activists. They say that Kerry is in an ideal position to intervene given that US military, diplomatic and economic aid to Israel is granted by his department on behalf of the Obama administration. The peace activists are currently collecting 20,000 signatures on a petition to reinforce their anger over the attack on Barghouti, who is guilty of nothing more than organising a non-violent way of fighting for justice, freedom and equality for the Palestinian people.

“This travel ban is a textbook example of the stranglehold that the Israeli government holds over every aspect of life for Palestinians,” a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace explained, “and it’s just one more facet of their attacks on the right to boycott. Successive Israeli governments have proven they will do all they can to deny and destroy nonviolent tools of protest, even though boycotts have for decades been a vital component of struggles for justice.”

From state legislatures to the US Congress, added the group’s spokesperson, and from college administrators to presidential candidates, the Israeli government and its backers in America are attempting to legislate and intimidate the Palestinian-led movement for equality and freedom. “Their attacks get more vicious as our movement for justice gets stronger.”

The success of the BDS movement is dismissed by Tel Aviv but the social justice movement has won some impressive victories recently, including an end to the involvement of G4S in Israel, disinvestment by the Unitarian Universalist Church in companies benefiting from Israel’s occupation and support from the United Nations.

Human rights group Amnesty International accused Israel recently of deliberately targeting human rights activists like Barghouti using the state’s arbitrary powers of arrest, detention, imprisonment, injury and torture. These actions are openly justified by senior government ministers. At a conference set up to tackle the BDS movement, for example, Israeli Minister Yisrael Katz called on the government to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence agencies, including the murderous Mossad. According to Barghouti himself, Katz used language “that plays on the Hebrew term for ‘targeted assassinations’ intentionally” in his speech.

Another great peace activist who is eulogised and often quoted by Western leaders is Martin Luther King Jr. “Violence never brings permanent peace,” said the US civil rights campaigner. “It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”

According to one of the founders of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Omar Barghouti had been personally invited to visit Scotland. “His concern at the time was that he wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter Palestine after the trip,” said Mick Napier. “Now it seems that he can’t even leave Palestine in the first place.”

Both Gandhi and King have drawn adulation and admiration from the likes of Obama, Cameron and Merkel; it is time for these leaders to stand up to Tel Aviv and slap down a regime that not only regards peaceful activism with such fear and loathing, but also hints that it may respond with further brutality and repression. The time of double standards is drawing to a close; the time for peaceful civil society activism and government action against rogue states like Israel has arrived.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.