[News] Palestine - The most reliable path to freedom

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 9 12:20:43 EDT 2008

The most reliable path to freedom

Omar Barghouti, The Electronic Intifada, 9 June 2008

"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them 
die of hunger," said Dov Weissglas, Sharon's closest advisor, a few 
years ago. Today, Israel is slowly choking occupied Gaza, indeed 
bringing its civilian population to the brink of starvation and a 
planned humanitarian catastrophe.

If the US government is an obvious accomplice in financing, 
justifying and covering up Israel's occupation and other forms of 
oppression, the European Union, Israel's largest trade partner in the 
world, is not any less complicit in perpetuating Israel's colonial 
oppression and special form of apartheid. At a time when Israel is 
cruelly besieging Gaza, collectively punishing 1.5 million 
Palestinian civilians, condemning them to devastation, and visiting 
imminent death upon hundreds of patients, prematurely born babies, 
and others, the EU is extending an invitation to Israel to open 
negotiations to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and 
Development, instead of ending the EU-Israel association agreement 
due to Israel's grave violation of its human rights clause. The US 
and European governments are not only providing Israel with massive 
economic aid and open markets, they are supplying it with weapons, 
diplomatic immunity and unlimited political support, and upgrading 
their relations with it specifically at a time when it is committing 
acts of genocide.

By frequently freezing fuel and electric power supplies to Gaza for 
long periods, Israel, the occupying power, is essentially 
guaranteeing that "clean" water is not being pumped out and properly 
distributed to homes and institutions; hospitals are no longer able 
to function adequately, leading to the death of many, particularly 
the most vulnerable -- already more than 180 patients, mainly 
children and senior citizens have died in Gaza as a direct result of 
the latest siege; whatever factories that are still working despite 
the blockade will soon be forced to close, pushing the already 
extremely high unemployment rate even higher; sewage treatment is 
grinding to a halt, further polluting Gaza's precious little water 
supply; academic institutions and schools are largely unable to 
provide their usual services; and lives of all civilians is severely 
disrupted, if not irreversibly damaged.

In short, Israel is condemning a whole future generation of 
Palestinians in Gaza to chronic disease, abject poverty and 
long-lasting developmental limitations. UN Special Rapporteur for 
Human Rights, international law expert Prof. Richard Falk, considered 
Israel's siege a "prelude to genocide," even before this latest crime 
of altogether cutting off energy supplies. Now, Israel's crimes in 
Gaza can accurately be categorized as acts of genocide, albeit slow.

In parallel, Israel is slowly transforming the occupied West Bank, 
including East Jerusalem, into unlivable reservations that make the 
term Bantustan sound desirable, in comparison. Israel is 
systematically causing the slow disintegration of Palestinian society 
under occupation through its colonial wall, its policy of 
fragmentation and ghettoization, its denial of the most basic 
Palestinian rights, and its obstruction of human development. Israel 
is slowly, steadily and systematically turning the lives of average 
Palestinian farmers, workers, students, academics, artists and 
professionals into a living hell, designed to force them to leave. 
The fundamental objective of the mainstream of political Zionism, to 
ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population to make 
room for Jewish settlers and them alone, has undergone only one 
significant change in more than a hundred years since the beginning 
of the Zionist settler-colonial conquest: it has simply grown slower.

Ever since the Nakba, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 
through the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 indigenous 
Palestinians from their homeland and the ruin of Palestinian society, 
many "peace plans" have been put forth to resolve the "conflict." 
Virtually all these plans have had one factor in common: they have 
sought to impose a settlement based on "facts on the ground," or the 
existing vast asymmetry in power that leave one side -- the 
Palestinians -- humiliated, excluded and unequal. They have been 
unjust; hence they have failed.

The path to justice and peace must take into account the 
particularities of Israel's colonial reality. At its core, Israel's 
oppression of the people of Palestine encompasses three major 
dimensions: denial of Palestinian refugee rights, including their 
right to return to their homes; military occupation of Gaza and the 
West Bank (including East Jerusalem), with massive colonization of 
the latter; and a system of racial discrimination against Palestinian 
citizens of Israel, partially resembling South African apartheid. A 
just peace would have to ethically and practically redress all three 
injustices as a minimal requirement of relative justice.

The latest political developments in Israel -- particularly the last 
parliamentary elections, which brought to power a government with 
openly fascist tendencies and led to the criminal war on Lebanon and, 
most recently, the slow genocide against Gaza -- have unequivocally 
exposed that an overwhelming majority in Israel stands fervently 
behind the state's racist and colonial policies and its persistent 
breach of international law. A solid majority, for instance, supports 
the daily war crimes committed by the army in Gaza, including cutting 
off energy supplies; the illegal apartheid wall; the extra-judicial 
executions of Palestinian activists; the denial of Palestinian 
refugee rights; the preservation of the apartheid system against the 
indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the control over large 
parts of the occupied West Bank, particularly around Jerusalem, as 
well as Palestinian water aquifers. If this is the peace that most 
Israelis want, it clearly falls short of the minimal requirements of 
international law and fundamental human rights.

As a result of the failure of the international community in holding 
Israel to account, many people of conscience around the world started 
considering Palestinian civil society's call for nonviolent 
resistance against Israel until it ends its three-tiered oppression 
of the Palestinian people. From the prominent Israeli historian, Ilan 
Pappe, to the Jewish minister in the South African government, Ronnie 
Kasrils, to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an increasing number of 
influential international figures have drawn parallels between 
Israeli apartheid and its South African predecessor and, 
consequently, have advocated a South African-style treatment.

It is quite significant that former US President Jimmy Carter and the 
former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied 
Palestinian territory, Prof. John Dugard, while not endorsing boycott 
yet, have both accused Israel of practicing apartheid against the 
Palestinians. Given the time-honored UN resolutions designed to 
counter the crimes of apartheid, Dugard's position should not be 
taken lightly. It may well be the first step -- in a very long march 
-- towards engaging the UN in identifying Israel as an apartheid 
state and adopting appropriate sanctions as a result.

As far back as 2001, in Durban, South Africa, despite the official 
West's unwillingness to hold Israel to account, the non-governmental 
organization forum of the UN World Conference Against Racism widely 
adopted the view that Israel's special form of apartheid must be met 
with the same tools that brought down its South African predecessor. 
Many hope that "Durban 2" will build on this momentous achievement.

Soon after Durban, campaigns calling for divestment from companies 
supporting Israel's occupation spread across American campuses. 
Across the Atlantic, particularly in the United Kingdom, calls for 
various forms of boycott against Israel started to be heard among 
intellectuals and trade unionists. These efforts intensified with the 
massive Israeli military reoccupation of Palestinian cities in the 
spring of 2002, with all the destruction and casualties it left 
behind, particularly in the atrocities against the Jenin refugee camp.

In 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice's ruling 
against Israel's colonies and apartheid wall, 
<http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/486.shtml>Palestinian civil 
society issued its call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, or 
BDS. More than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations and 
unions, including the main political parties, endorsed this call to 
make Israel comply with international law. Twelve years after the 
dismal failure of the so-called "peace process" that was launched in 
1993, Palestinian civil society started to reclaim the initiative, 
articulating Palestinian demands as part of the international 
struggle for justice long obscured by deceptive and entirely 
visionless "negotiations." In a noteworthy precedent, the BDS call 
was issued by representatives of the three segments of the 
Palestinian people -- the refugees, the Palestinian citizens of 
Israel and those under occupation. It also directly addressed 
conscientious Jewish-Israelis, inviting them to support its demands.

For more than a century, civil resistance has always been an 
authentic component of the Palestinian struggle against Zionism. 
Throughout modern Palestinian history, resistance to Zionist 
settler-colonialism mostly took nonviolent forms: mass 
demonstrations; grassroots mobilizations; labor strikes; boycotts of 
Zionist projects; and the often-ignored cultural resistance, in 
poetry, literature, music, theater and dance. The first Palestinian 
intifada (1987-1993) was a uniquely rich laboratory of civil 
resistance, whereby activists organized at the neighborhood level, 
promoting self-reliance and boycott, to various degrees, of Israeli 
goods as well as of the military authorities. In Beit Sahour, for 
instance, a famed tax revolt presented the Israeli occupation with 
one of its toughest challenges during the period. BDS must therefore 
be seen as rooted in a genuinely Palestinian culture of civil 
struggle, while its main inspiration today comes from the South 
African anti-apartheid struggle. It is this rich heritage that 
inspires the current pioneering grassroots resistance in Bil'in 
against the wall.

In the last few years, many mainstream groups and institutions around 
the world have heeded Palestinian boycott calls and started to 
consider or actually apply diverse forms of effective pressure on 
Israel. These include the two largest British trade unions, UNISON 
and the Transport and General Workers Union; the British University 
and College Union, which recently reaffirmed its pro-boycott stance; 
Aosdana, the Irish state-sponsored academy of artists; the Church of 
England; the Presbyterian Church USA; top British architects; the 
National Union of Journalists in the UK; the Congress of South 
African Trade Unions; the World Council of Churches; the South 
African Council of Churches; the Canadian Union of Public Employees 
in Ontario and, more recently, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers 
as well as ASSE, the largest student association in Quebec; and 
dozens of celebrated authors, artists and intellectuals led by John 
Berger, among many others. Many European academics and cultural 
figures are shunning events held in Israel, practicing a "silent 
boycott." Most recently, Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic filmmaker, 
cancelled his planned participation in a film festival in Tel Aviv 
after Palestinians had appealed to him. Before him, Bjork, Bono, the 
remaining Beatles, the Rolling Stones, among others, all opted not to 
perform in Israel, effectively boycotting the "Israel at 60" celebrations.

In November 2007, hundreds of Palestinian boycott activists, trade 
unionists, representatives of all major political parties, women's 
unions, farmers' associations, student groups and almost every sector 
of Palestinian civil society convened at the first BDS conference in 
the occupied Palestinian territory. A direct result of this effort 
was the recent establishment of the BDS National Committee, or BNC, 
to raise awareness about the boycott and lead its local 
manifestations as well as act as a unified reference for 
international BDS campaigns.

For cynics who still consider the above too little progress for the 
given timeframe, I can only reiterate what a South African comrade 
once told us: "The [African National Congress] issued its academic 
boycott call in the 1950s; the international community started to 
heed it almost three decades later! So you guys are doing much better than us."

Today, in the face of intensifying Israeli war crimes, impunity, and 
total disregard of international law, international civil society is 
called upon to initiate or support whatever BDS campaigns that are 
deemed appropriate in every particular context and specific political 
circumstances to support Palestinian civil resistance. This is the 
most effective, the most morally and politically sound, form of 
solidarity with the Palestinians. In these exceptional circumstances 
of slow genocide, exceptional, ethically coherent measures are called 
for. This is the most reliable path to freedom, justice, equality and 
peace in Palestine and the entire region.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political and cultural 
analyst and a founding member of the <http://pacbi.org/>Palestinian 
Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). He 
presented this paper at the Bil'in Third International Conference on 
Grassroots Resistance, on 4 June 2008.

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