Boycott Divestment Sanctions (Issue No.26, Summer 2005)


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The summer 2005 edition of al-Majdal asks whether Palestinian NGOs can make a difference in a boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign in an article that examines visions and strategies for such a campaign. Several articles look at existing academic and boycott campaigns. The magazine also examines possibilities to pressure Israel to uphold its international legal obligations through the human rights provisions of the EU-Israel Trade Association Agreement. Another article looks at the role of a BDS campaign in the context of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

General articles on Palestinian refugees include a case study on the impact of the separation Wall on the Palestinian village of Wallajeh, analysis of a new amendment to Israel's tort law which closes the door on compensation for human rights violations committed by the Israeli military and public officials against Palestinian civilians in the OPTs, a review of the rights of Palestinian refugee women from a BADIL shadow report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the preservation of paper and film documents held by UNRWA.

A special section focuses on the 2005 Nakba commemorations with articles by a variety of Palestinian and international writers first published in Haq al-Awda, BADIL's Arabic language magazine, on the anniversary of the Nakba. Key documents reprinted in this issue of al-Majdal include a statement by Palestinian refugee organizations on the anniversary of World Refugee Day and the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, sanctions and divestment against Israel until it complies with international law.

Human rights, international law and the United Nations Charter and resolutions provide the only road map for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. This was the message of Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society activists meeting in Paris in July 2005 under the auspices of the UN. The message followed a call by broad sectors of Palestinian civil society for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. 

 A non-violent grassroots strategy

Boycotts, divestment and sanctions provide a non-violent strategy towards a solution of the conflict based on universal principles set down in international law and in the UN Charter and resolutions. The Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel was released on the first anniversary (9 July 2005) of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Israel's construction of a Wall in the occupied West Bank.

In that opinion the Court said the construction of the Wall constitutes breaches by Israel of various of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. It said Israel should tear it down, repeal and render ineffective related legislation, make reparations for damages and return land and immovable property, and where that is materially impossible, pay compensation. Israeli measures to protect the life of its citizens have to conform with applicable international law. While the opinion is advisory in nature – i.e. it was not a judgment – it is nonetheless a declaratory statement of the law in force by the highest international court.

What do the Palestinian people really want? Foreign visitors and partners of Palestinian NGOs often ask this question. The 'Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel' provides the answer. Is the solidarity movement and partners in the northern hemisphere ready to engage?

Visitors and partners of Palestinian NGOs who visit the region say that they often leave with the impression that Palestinian civil society has a multiplicity of agenda. Different and contradictory messages are sent not only by the Palestinian Authority and civil society, but even by civil society organizations themselves.

The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals to join the growing international boycott movement. On April 22 the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) decided to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities because of their “complicity in the racist and colonial” policies of Israel. On May 26 the Zionist lobby in Britain succeeded to reverse the AUT motions on the basis of misleading arguments.

729. These three numbers on product bar-codes identify goods “Made in Israel”. Since the second intifada dozens of boycott campaigns against Israeli products have sprung up around the world to protest violations of international law in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. An increasing number of protagonists, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), famous personalities, universities and even political parties have already called for or participated in cultural, academic, sport and trade boycotts.

Ever since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rendered its advisory opinion on the wall to the General Assembly on 9 July 2004, there have been calls from various quarters for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Some of the questions that have arisen in this context are whether sanctions are legal, whether they will work against Israel, and if not, what alternative means are available to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

This story shares many similarities with every Palestinian story, yet the story of the Wallajeh village seems unrivaled in its absurdity. Encircled by the District Coordinating Office (DCO) checkpoint in Beit Jala, the Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, the Biblical Zoo (which sits on Wallajeh land), Hadassah Ein Karem hospital, and Teddy Kollek football stadium, Wallajeh has nearly been subsumed by "Greater Jerusalem." Indeed, Israel 'unknowingly' annexed almost half of the village of 2000 people to the municipality of Jerusalem 38 years ago.

The youngest among the dead was two-month old Dina Mattar. Eight other children and six adults died that night, 22 July 2002, along with Dina. Around 140 people were left maimed or injured. There was no warning except maybe for the sound of the F-16 flying over their apartment building but who among the dead and injured would have guessed at that time that the F-16 was coming to drop a one-ton bomb in their densely populated neighborhood in Gaza City? The Israeli “operation” to take out one man,

From 5 to 22 July 2005, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will meet with Israeli delegates to discuss Israel's state report. Israel's report to CEDAW is incomplete; it ignores discriminatory laws against internally displaced Palestinian Arab women in Israel, fails to address Israel's human rights' responsibilities towards Palestinian women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and disregards its international obligation to allow the return of Palestinian refugees, of which half are women.

Among its archives, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has thousands of slides, black and white photos with negatives, thousands of feet of 16 mm film dating back to 1948 plus video tapes from more recent times.

Including the language of return in our literature, culture and school curriculum is essential to ending the Nakba. Those who think that any solution will do are either living an illusion, or just ignorant of the ability of Palestinians to resist.

Although my father is an old man, he never tired of wandering around town. He use to spend hours and hours roaming its old roads. He was looking for something he had forgotten when he left town for the last time. My father insisted that I should set my foot on the fields that he knew so well, like he knew our names, his children’s names.

In his book Imagined Communities professor Benedict Anderson discusses the primary role played by three institutions - the population census, the map, and the museum - in articulating national identities in southeast Asia during the previous decades. These institutions became the main centers of power used by the colonial state to create and develop a clear national identity. Based on Anderson's ideas, Israeli historian Hillel Cohen demonstrates in his research about displaced Palestinians inside Israel the reliance of Israel on these same institutions but in a totally reversed manner - to eliminate the "Palestinian case".

History is a question of power in the present, and not of detached reflection upon the past. It can serve to maintain power, or can become a vehicle for empowerment.(1)

In his 'Foreword' to one of the great works of oral history, Blood of Spain, on the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, Roy Fraser wrote: “Major historical works…have charted most of the features of that conflict, and it would be vain to hope to add anything new to the overall map of the period. But within the general and even detailed knowledge, one area has remained unarticulated: the subjective, a spectrum of the lived experiences of people who participated in events.”(2)

Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Palestinians 2003
The Survey provides basic historic and current information on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. The Survey includes 6 chapters covering the historical circumstances of Palestinian displacement, population, legal status, socio-economic profile, international protection and assistance, and durable solutions. Available in English and Arabic. 200 pages. ISSN 1728-1679.

1. No one is Exempt from International Law, Statement by the Palestine Right of Return Coalition on International Refugee Day, 20 June 2005
2. Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel
Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights, 9 July 2005
3. Letter from Israeli NGOs to the UN Secretary General Regarding the Implementation of the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Wall, July 2005