For the past several decades, the crisis in Palestine has deepened and the suffering of the people of Palestine has increased without interruption under an ever-escalating series of Israeli military attacks and the never-ending expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. Frustrated by the strictly cosmetic “peace process”, international solidarity activists have sought concrete ways to contribute to a resolution of this crisis.
Modelling their efforts on the international campaign which played an important part in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, these activists have embraced the Palestinian call for a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions in support of Palestinian rights. This call originated in July 2005, when it was issued by more than 150 Palestinian unions, associations, civil-society groups, and refugee-rights organizations.
The call explained the motivation for the campaign, noting that the International Court of Justice’s 2004 advisory opinion had ruled that Israel’s separation wall had been illegally built on occupied Palestinian territory; that Israel continued to construct the wall in total disregard of the court’s decision; that for four decades Israel had continued to expand its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, by building an ever-expanding series of Jewish-only settlements; and that by means of building the separation wall, Israel had unilaterally annexed occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and large parts of the West Bank.
The call went on to explain that the State of Israel had been built mainly on land that had been ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners and that a majority of these people are living today as refugees. Finally, the call pointed out that within Israel, the country’s Palestinian citizens suffer systematic discrimination as a result of the country’s system of laws and regulations, which favour its Jewish citizens.
It is in light of Israel’s persistent violations of international law; the fact that, since 1948, hundreds of UN resolutions have condemned Israel’s colonial and discriminatory policies; that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have failed to convince Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights, and to end its occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people; and that people of conscience in the international community have a moral responsibility to fight injustice, that representatives of Palestinian civil society have asked international civil-society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to initiate boycotts and divestment campaigns focusing on Israel, similar to the campaigns that were mounted against South Africa in the apartheid era.
In addition, they have asked supporters to pressure their respective governments to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. The plan is to pursue these nonviolent measures until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and complies with the precepts of international law.
In light of Israel’s open disdain for international opinion, its disregard for international law, and its unceasing military aggression against its neighbours—most recently seen in its horrific attacks on the civilian populations and infrastructure of Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09, as well as the ongoing siege of Gaza, which has created a humanitarian disaster there—it is increasingly clear that Israel will not change its ways without being compelled to do so by the weight of international pressure.
The growing realization that this is the case is the basis of the dramatic increase in international calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel in recent months. I am proud to say that our organization, Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), recently joined this rising call for justice when it passed a boycott, divestment, and sanctions resolution at our annual general meeting in Ottawa.
Sid Shniad is one of the cochairs of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada).