The Third Annual BDS Conference opened 17 December at Hebron’s Children’s Happiness Centre, “to expand Palestinian civil society’s active implementation of BDS that is deeply rooted in the Palestinian struggle.” European BNC coordinator Michael Deas affirmed, “BDS is now the main framework for solidarity. We are very close to closing the European market to Israel.”
A boycott bombshell in January was dropped by an 11th-grade American Jewish teenager, Jesse Lieberfeld, who won Dietrich College’s 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr Writing Award for his essay about his moral awakening when he realised his American Jewish culture was unavoidably identified with supporting Israel.
“I once belonged to a wonderful religion,” says young Jesse. “I routinely heard about unexplained mass killings, attacks on medical bases, and other alarmingly violent actions for which I could see no possible reason. ‘Genocide’ almost seemed the more appropriate term… Whenever I brought up the subject, I was always given the answer that there were faults on both sides… I felt horrified at the realisation that I was by nature on the side of the oppressors. I was grouped with the racial supremacists.” Finally, at the synagogue, he asked, “I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?” and was told by the rabbi, “It is a terrible thing, isn’t it? But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.” “I thanked him and walked out shortly afterward. I never went back.” When American youth like Jesse are forced to give up being Jewish because of Israeli crimes, it cannot be long before Israel crumbles under the weight of its accumulated crimes.
2011 witnessed the rise of Internet attacks on Israeli government sites by public-spirited BDSers determined to enforce a kind of “cyber boycott”. While the Saudi government remains aloof from BDS support, an enterprising Saudi hacker disrupted several Israeli websites in January, prompting Israeli hacker Yoni (most likely a spin-off from the Israeli military’s IDF-TEAM, which brought down Saudi and Abu Dhabi financial exchange websites last year) to threaten war, including “mass credit card exposures, and denial-of-service attacks”.
“Yoni” piously told Ynet, “We do not operate against any specific nationality, and any person who operates against the group’s principles will be harmed, regardless of religion, creed or gender. In addition, I wish to note that the group regrets harm done to innocents and tries to avoid it as much as it possible.” Imagine if Israel adhered to such high standards in its relations with its neighbours — it would not need to hack and steal credit card information from anyone.
Another such anti-BDS feint is by the pro-Israeli Internet NGO Monitor, DPWatchDog and Israel’s Reut Institute, which called on Israeli government agencies to “sabotage” and “attack” the Palestine solidarity movement, and has claimed credit for “price tag” attacks on The Electronic Intifada by Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, the Palestine Return Centre, the persecution of the Olympia Food Co-op, the Berkeley Daily Planet and the “Irvine 11”. In “2011: The Year We Punched Back on the Assault on Israel’s legitimacy,” Reut lauds the emergence of “our network” and gives credit to the Israeli government and “the Jewish world’s mobilisation against the political assault on Israel”.
This conflation of “Jewish” and “Israeli” is the Israel-firsters’ trump card, perversely stoking anti-Jewish sentiment where none exists, the so-called “new anti-Semitism”, a directly result of Israeli crimes. “Price tagging” is usually associated with Israeli settler terrorism, vandalism, tree-felling, mosque burnings and murder. A particular zealous advocate, Andrew Adler, suggested in the Atlanta Jewish Times in January that US President Barack Obama could be on the hit list. That the Reut Institute associates itself with such criminal activity is yet another sign of Israel’s drift towards outright pariah status, and fuel for the anger of the Jesse Lieberfelds “regardless of religion, creed or gender”.
Boycott activities are not just confined to Israeli products abroad or visits by Westerners to Israel, but are now taking place regularly on land, at sea and in the air, as activists surround Israel and invent ever new ways to break its siege of the Occupied Territories.
The Global March to Jerusalem held a conference in Beirut in January confirming 30 March, the 36th anniversary of Palestinian Land Day, as the date for their land action: “From all continents we will converge and gather along the Palestinian borders with Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon in a peaceful march towards Palestine.”
Plans for “Sailing for Freedom” by French and other European activists are moving ahead, aiming for a September yachting regatta in the Mediterranean, starting in Marseilles and proceeding to Tunisia, Egypt and Gaza. Other flotilla organisers have been discussing a new strategy of sending isolated vessels from various ports instead of high-profile flotillas, with the intent of actually breaking the siege, as opposed to merely attracting world attention to Israel (and Greek and US) sabotaging of flotillas.
In April 2012 a Flytilla is scheduled to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, to “again challenge the Israeli policy of isolating the West Bank”. “Welcome to Palestine” is a French-Belgian initiative, modeled on the Flytilla last July, when 500 people prepared to fly to Tel Aviv. Despite the nightmare that activists experienced both in European airports and in Ben Gurion Airport, 125 actually arrived, and this year, activists are determined to increase their numbers and continue to poke the Israeli watchdog.
“The Israelis have constructed enormous prisons for Palestinians. But prisoners have a right to visits,” says Adri Nieuwhof. The idea has spread to the UK, where towns are sponsoring people to risk Israeli wrath. European airlines are now more concerned with their image in the West than with Israeli authorities, and organisers predict that there will be less collusion to pre-screen flights arriving in Tel Aviv from Europe.
These particularly plucky activists continue the tradition begun in 2011 of a peaceful blitzkreig of Israel from all sides, risking life and limb, enforcing a kind of physical “citizens boycott” of Israel, complementing the spiritual one by the young Jesses. Their co-activists on the “homefront” are now combining the physical and spiritual by the now annual protest during the Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington DC. This year it is called OCCUPY AIPAC, scheduled for 2-6 March. Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters, declared: “The time has come for the Occupy Movement to demand an end to the Occupation of Palestine.” OCCUPY AIPAC will provide a sneak preview of “Roadmap to Apartheid” narrated by Alice Walker (roadmaptoapartheid.org).
Legal actions against BDSers continue to plague activists. But there are principled judges. Twelve French activists from Boycott 68 were acquitted 15 December on charges of “inciting discrimination and racial hatred” for calling on French shoppers at Carrefour supermarkets to boycott Israeli goods. The court judgment is expected to put the kibosh on further persecution of activists.
UK’s National Union of Students endorsed campaigns targeting divestment in Eden Springs and Veolia on 6 January. Veolia suffered considerably from a robust BDS campaign across Europe last year for its light-rail project in Jerusalem, but is defiant in expanding its activities in Israel without regard to their legality. Subsidiaries of Veolia own and operate Tovlan landfill which processes Israeli waste in the occupied Jordan Valley. To sweeten the tons of garbage it dumps illegally on Palestinian land, Veolia recently offered three containers for free waste collection to Palestinians in Jiftlik. Comments Omar Barghouti, “As Desmond Tutu said, we do not need anyone to polish our chains; we want to break them altogether. This is beyond humiliating; it is racist and criminal. Derail Veolia!”
Sanctions — and their removal, in the case of the Palestinians — require foreign governments to stare down the powerful world Zionist lobby. Few states dare to do this, but there are more and more cracks in the walls that Israel puts up. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniya launched a historic tour of Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Turkey, Qatar and Bahrain in January, welcomed throughout the region as a David to the Israeli Goliath.
Three Hamas politicians also left Gaza via Egypt to attend a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Switzerland in January, the first time since Hamas was democratically elected in 2006. Switzerland does not belong to the European Union, which put Hamas on its list of terrorist organisations to please Israel.
“We also met with the Red Cross in Geneva, the vice-mayor of Geneva and with Islamic organisations in different cantons,” Mushir Al-Masri said. A meeting at the University of Geneva to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in December 2008, was attended by 500. “All persons who were complicit in the war crimes committed in Gaza should be taken to court,” Al-Masri told the packed hall. Socialist MP Carlo Sommaruga told the audience, “I was an activist against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Every person has a responsibility. Everyone can participate in the BDS movement.”