In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the growing boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. Based on the anti-apartheid campaign that helped bring down the racist regime in South Africa, BDS is becoming a catch-cry for freedom in countries whose governments continue to ignore the Palestinians' struggle against another form of apartheid and which Nelson Mandela has described as "the greatest moral issue of our time".
The farce of the climate change summit in Copenhagen affirmed a world war waged by the rich against most of humanity. It also illuminated a resistance growing perhaps as never before: an internationalism linking justice for the planet earth with universal human rights, and criminal justice for those who invade and dispossess with impunity. And the best news comes from Palestine.
Palestinian resistance to the theft of their country reached a critical moment in 2001 when Israel was identified as an apartheid state at a United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. To Nelson Mandela, justice for the Palestinians is “the greatest moral issue of our time”.
The Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS), was issued on 9 July 2005, effectively reconvening the great non-violent movement that swept the world and brought the scaffolding of African apartheid crashing down. “Through decades of occupation and dispossession,” wrote Mustafa Barghouti, a wise voice of Palestinian politics, “90 per cent of the Palestinian struggle has been non-violent... A new generation of Palestinian leaders [now speaks] to the world precisely as Martin Luther King did. The same world that rejects all use of Palestinian violence, even clear self-defence, surely ought not begrudge us the non-violence employed by men such as King and Gandhi."
In the United States and Europe, trade unions, academic associations and mainstream churches have brought back the strategies and tactics that were used against apartheid South African. In a resolution adopted by 431 votes to 62, the US Presbyterian Church voted for “a process of phased selective disinvestment in multinational corporations doing business with Israel”. This followed the opinion of the International Court of Justice that Israel’s wall and its “settler” colonies were illegal. A similar declaration by the court in 1971, denouncing South Africa’s occupation of Namibia, ignited the international boycott.
Like the South Africa campaign, the issue of law is central. No state is allowed to flout international law as wilfully as Israel. In 1990, a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein get out of Kuwait was the same, almost word for word, as that demanding Israel get out of the West Bank. The United States and its allies attacked and drove out Iraq while Israel has been repeatedly rewarded. On 11 December, President Obama announced $2.75 billion “aid” for Israel, a down payment on the $30 billion American taxpayers will gift from their stricken economy during this decade.
The hypocrisy is now well understood in the US, where consumer boycott campaigns are becoming commonplace. A “stolen beauty” campaign pursues Ahava beauty products which are made in illegal West Bank “settlements”, forcing the company to drop its ballyhooed celebrity “ambassador”, Kristin Davis, a star of Sex and the City . In Britain, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are under pressure to identify “settlement” products, whose sale contravenes the human rights clause in the EU trade agreement with Israel.
In Australia, a consortium including the French company Veolia has lost its bid for a billion-dollar desalination plant following a campaign highlighting Veolia’s plan to build a light rail connecting Jerusalem to the “settlements”. In Norway, the government has withdrawn its support for the Israeli hi-tech company Elbit, which helped build the wall across Palestine. This is the first official boycott by a western country. “We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law,” said the Norwegian finance minister.
In 2005, the Association of University Teachers in Britain (AUT) voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. The AUT campaign was forced to retreat when the Israel lobby unleashed a blizzard of character assassination and charges of anti-Semitism. The Palestinian writer and activist Omar Baghouti called this “intellectual terror”: a perversion of morality and logic that says to be against racism towards Palestinians makes one anti-Semitic. However, the Israeli assault on Gaza on 27 December, 2008 changed almost everything. The first US Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was formed, with Desmond Tutu on its board. At its 2009 conference, Britain’s Trade Union Council voted for a consumer boycott. The “Israel taboo” is no more.
Complementing this is the rapid development of international criminal law since the Pinochet case in 1999 when the former Chilean dictator was placed under house arrest in Britain. Israeli warmongers now face similar prosecution in countries which have “universal jurisdiction” laws. In Britain, the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 is fortified by the UN report on Gaza by Judge Richard Goldstone, which in December obliged a London magistrate to issue a warrant for the arrest of Tzini Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister wanted for crimes against humanity. In September, only contrived diplomatic immunity rescued Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister during the assault on Gaza, from arrest by Scotland Yard.
Just over a year ago, 1400 defenceless people in Gaza were murdered by the Israelis. On 29 December, Mohamed Jassier became the 367th Gazan to die because people needing life-saving medical treatment are not allowed out. Keep that in mind when you next watch the BBC “balance” such suffering with the weasel protestations of the oppressors.
There is a clear momentum now. To mark the first anniversary of the Gaza atrocity, a great humanitarian procession from 42 countries – Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, old and young, trade unionists, writers, artists, musicians and those leading convoys of food and medicine – converged on Egypt, and even though the American bribed dictatorship in Cairo prevented most from proceeding to Gaza, the people in that open prison knew they were not alone, and children climbed on walls and raised the Palestinian flag. And this is just a beginning.