Human rights defender Omar Barghouti is urging people around the world to increase boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns as the best way to show support for him – and for the Palestinian people – as he faces escalating repression by the Israeli government.
Barghouti wrote in an email to supporters on Saturday:
Finally, I was allowed to access my email account after 12 days of being banned from doing so during the most intense phase of the ongoing interrogation I am subjected to by the Israeli authorities
In what is his first public statement since his interrogation began in mid-March, Barghouti condemned Israel's "McCarthyite witch hunt" against him and the BDS movement.
"Due to a gag order, I am not allowed to delve into any facts about the case," Barghouti added. "I am thus denied the ability to even refute the vicious lies published by Israel's regime against me. I am in no hurry to do so, though, as their main objective – attempting to tarnish my reputation and, by extension, hurting the BDS movement – has clearly failed."
Barghouti says that a statement issued last week by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) "accurately sums up this latest chapter in the Israeli regime's war on the BDS movement."
Israeli media have reported that Barghouti, who lives in the coastal city of Akka in present-day Israel, is suspected of tax evasion. The BNC, the civil society coalition that guides the BDS movement, has accused the Israeli government of "fabricating a case" against Barghouti.
Barghouti was due to travel to the US this month to receive the Gandhi Peace Award. But by preventing him from doing so, "Israel's regime has inadvertently increased the publicity around this award," Barghouti asserted.
Israel's strategic affairs ministry last year created a "tarnishing unit" to assist its efforts to thwart the growth of Palestine solidarity around the world.
This devious unit's key function is summed up in 'digging up dirt' against human rights defenders and networks associated with the BDS movement and, if no dirt is found, in fabricating it
Barghouti thanked well-wishers for messages of solidarity. He added: "Many of you have asked how best you can support me to face this latest persecution. My answer is, without hesitation … more BDS!"
Barghouti stated: "We need to expand, mainstream and build on our many inspiring BDS campaigns, academic, cultural and economic, as the most effective way to respond to the new McCarthyism designed by Israel's regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid and exported to states where its lobby groups enjoy massive influence."
In the past year, Barghouti has been subjected to a travel ban and open threats by Israel's top ministers.
During a "Stop the Boycott" conference held in Jerusalem last year, Gilad Erdan, Israel's public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that BDS activists "will know they will pay a price for it."
Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for spearheading Israel's assault on the global BDS movement, added, "We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti."
During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel's intelligence minister Yisrael Katz called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for "targeted killing," or extrajudicial execution.
Israel's interior minister Aryeh Deri told conference attendees that he was considering revoking Barghouti's residency permit.
In response, Amnesty International expressed its concern for the "safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other boycott, divestment and sanctions activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers."
Barghouti's message indicates that the barrage of threats and actual repression has done nothing to temper his determination.
As humans, we need permission from no one to pursue our inherent rights," he said. "As human rights defenders, no degree of intimidation and bullying can deter us in our passionate, nonviolent resistance to injustice, inequality and colonial slavery.
This article was first published by the Electronic Intifada.