MSc student Dariha Choudhry reflects on our 7 November 2017 event on Palestinian Rights, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement and Transnational Solidarity. Listen to the event podcast.
The dominant narrative in the Middle East and a few other countries with reference to the Palestinian struggle for their homeland is directed at the colonisation and oppression of the Palestinians by Israel. However, the narrative in the West is the polar opposite – it refers to the Israeli struggle, Palestinian lack of cooperation and the world order being disrupted through citizens in the Gaza Strip and West Bank pelting stones and directing (rather outdated) ammunition at Israel. As a result, I was not sure of what to expect when entering the theatre to attend the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) panel talk on Tuesday 7 November. However, the talk was impactful and informative. It evoked emotions, stated facts and addressed a struggle which is faced with oppression due to Israel’s military and economic prowess.
The BDS movement calls upon “international civil society organisations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” The movement’s appeal is directed towards citizens pressurising their respective countries to boycott, sanction and divest against Israel. The fundamentals of the movement are based on three aspects:
- Ending Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
- Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194
During the talk, Omar Barghouti, one of the founding members of the BDS movement, addressed the three fundamentals of the BDS movement, and stressed upon the cause being an appeal for solidarity and not a charity. I believe this is very integral as it calls for action and conscientiousness but not pity, often a sentiment the developed world or onlookers of violence extend towards the affected.
Rafeef Ziadah, Lecturer Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS, addressed the Palestinian struggle through a relatable analogy of her experience while playing basketball. The lesson she drew was that “planting your feet” is essential. This can be extrapolated to the Palestinians as they are a third generation of refugees who are struggling for the world to recognise their struggle and take corrective action. Moreover, global silence with respect to Israel’s actions have led to the sentiment that some lives are dispensable. This was a sentiment reinforced and stressed upon by Professor Ziadeh herself as well. A concept which is now regularly debated amongst citizens of Palestine, Kashmir, Pakistan, Rohingya Muslims and many other communities that have faced violence and oppression.
While the South African struggle through apartheid was supported by academic institutions boycotting South African institutes in order to isolate and register a protest, in the case of Israel many countries do not support the cause under the banner of freedom of speech.
However, the movement is not against a person or community, it is against the oppression by Israel of Palestinian basic rights. Academic freedom of Palestinians has been limited by Israel through its colonisation of not just the land but also the minds. Russel A. Berman recognises that “Zionists denounce those who would disrespect the “free flow of ideas within the international scholarly community,” but refuse to recognise that, in Palestine, ideas (not to mention people) face severe restrictions.” This itself is evident of the hypocritical approach undertaken by Israel.
The Palestinian civil society calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel as global discussion of Israel has little or no reference to ending 50 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or “dismantling the wall.” It is a call for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel who live under dozens of discriminatory laws. BDS calls for “The right of return for Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed when Israel was founded on their land, and who are not allowed by Israel to return to their homes and properties solely because they are not Jews”.
Analysing Israel without talking about these three fundamental realities is equivalent to examining the climate change occurring in the artic without recognizing the scientific reality of rising temperatures. I believe that the internal colonisation undertaken by Israel which has instilled a sense of inferiority and dependency amongst the Palestinians is a matter of grave importance and requires global action. Historically, the power of the civil society has led to the huge success of movements around the world, including Martin Luther King’s struggle for black lives, the South African Apartheid amongst many others. The unrecognised generations of Palestinians oppressed within and beyond their homeland need civil action to support their cause and highlight the atrocities faced by them. This is the aim of the Palestinian struggle for BDS.
To conclude, while each one of us cannot actively take part in pelting stones at an oppressor (the Palestinians do not have access to weapons that can equate the military might of Israel), we all have a tool in the form of BDS to put a halt to oppression and denial of basic human rights to the Palestinians. It is a non-violent yet effective movement that can lead to a positive impact. It can help Palestinians “plant their feet”. The struggles of the colonised continue while the rest of the world spectates silently unless we as the civil community make a conscientious decision to support movements like the BDS. This is the appeal of the Palestinian civil community through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
Dariha Choudhry is currently pursuing her Masters in Political Science and Political Economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Previously, she has received her BSc (Hon) in Political Science and Economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Her research interests lie in the electoral process, developmental projects and their subsequent policies, and the role of geo-strategic location in defining international relations.
Note: this article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.