I was asked to speak last night at an event organized by the Arab Student Association entitled “Gaza: Humanity’s Failure”. I was very happy to do it because it is essential to connect the ongoing cycle of violence in Palestine to western complicity and support for Israeli war crimes, and understand as students and citizens of Israeli-allied nations how our support for Palestinian rights can help alter the current power imbalance, improve the negotiating position of the Palestinians, and help them regain their rights. In the interest of reaching as many as possible, I have here posted behind the cut my rough notes of the talk.
This recent set of war crimes committed in Gaza is, sadly, basically normal given the fact that Palestinians remain committed to their basic rights and unwilling to be defeated, but do not have the political or military power to force Israel to grant them their rights.
The problem is not Hamas, or Fatah, or any of the bickering amongst the movements. All of these movements find themselves in essentially the same paradoxical political situation where the Palestinian people continue to be committed to and demand the rights, but none of the parties can offer a line to victory within the current situation. In all the major parties you will find people still committed to basic Palestinian rights, and also people willing to compromise and “be pragmatic” to maintain their power and even gain Israeli support, usually not by renouncing Palestinian rights but by deferring them – in Hamas this is done by talking about a long term truce based on the 67 borders, and in Fatah this is done by separating the right of return from the political struggle by saying that it is a personal right and can not be negotiated away, all the while offering to negotiate it away in actual negotiations (this is now known for sure thanks to the Palestine Papers).
The solution that Israel wants is Palestinian defeat, for Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of their expulsion, to relinquish the right of return, and to live inside a Palestinian statelet without sovereignty, without the arms to defend themselves, and with Israeli security co-ordination to prevent any resistance. They are trying to achieve this solution by continuing to punish any Palestinian movement that tolerates resistance with its huge military power, aimed not only against the resistance but the Palestinian civilian population because they know that it is only by inflicting sustained losses for a long period of time that will drive Palestinians to acquiesce to the compromisers, the “pragmatists”, who are willing to co-operate with Israel and become subcontractors of the occupation in exchange for Israeli support. There is nothing new about this technique of attempting to force the Palestinians to accept their dispossession and oppression as normal by using collective punishment, mass imprisonment and other crimes against humanity – many of the techniques such as home demolitions were not even invented by the Israelis but by the British during the colonial rule and British support for the Zionist project during the mandate period.
The alternative to the Israeli solution is the achievement of Palestinian rights. As students standing in solidarity with Palestinians, it is not up to us to tell them which rights they should relinquish to make peace, instead we should support the BDS movement which stands for all of their rights. Regardless of the outcome, supporting BDS improves the Palestinian negotiating situation for all of the factions in relation to the basic demands: right of return, end of occupation, and equal rights for Palestinians in the state of Israel.
So what is BDS? BDS is a call form Palestinian civil society to
” impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
” pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel.”
We are asked to take these actions up until the point when Israel
1) ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the wall
2)Recognizes the fundamental right of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
3) Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
BDS is an effective tool for changing the power imbalance in the status quo. If economic pressure and sanctions didn’t’ work, the Americans and Israelis wouldn’t use them, but they do. I attended Dennis Ross’ lecture last night on the Arab Spring and how Israel and America can continue to protect their interests against the danger of Arab democracy. Basically his talk was completely about using BDS – economic investments and divestments – to force Egypt and Iran to act against both what the leaders see as their interests and what is popular. In Egypt, economic pressure has convinced the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise on their principles concerning Usury with the recent IMF loan, and the sanctions on Iran are creating a situation where the head of the revolutionary guard is criticizing the head of the central bank. The fact that economic pressure and sanctions can impact Egyptian policy and potentially force Iran to give into the US proves that BDS could force Israel to recognize Palestinian rights even when most Israelis don’t agree.
Another argument for BDS is that it worked in South Africa, despite very strong support from the US administration for apartheid. By combining education and action the BDS campaign against south african apartheid was able to effectively isolate South Africa despite support from the US administration, and a highly ideologically mobilized domestic white afrikaner population.
The BDS call asks people acting in solidarity to adhere firmly to the principles of basic Palestinian rights, but asks groups to make their own decisions about what boycotts are effective for creating pressure and for gaining local support and educating their communities about the Palestinian issue. Accordingly, Students Against Israeli Apartheid’s divestment campaign focuses on the way that we as students are, just by paying tuition, already complicit in Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinians. U of T (and York university as well) is invested in BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which are all military firms that supply the Israeli military including the jets and bombs that have been raining down on Gaza in the last weeks. U of T is also invested in Hewlett Packard, which sells Israel the hardware to run its checkpoint system which is an apartheid regime of restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians. We are asking U of T to divest from these companies, as well as all companies involved in violation of international law. We are also asking U of T to not invest in companies that
a) Provide products or services that contribute to the maintenance of the Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights;
b) Provide products or services that contribute to the maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories;
c) Establish facilities or operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories;
d) Provide products or services that contribute to the maintenance and construction of the Wall
e) Provide products or services that contribute to violent acts that target either Israeli or Palestinian civilians
SAIA asks all U of T students to endorse our campaign and help us to pressure U of T to comply by our demands. We also call on student groups to endorse our boycott, our events, and organize with us to help build a mass student movement.