Palestinian Ramadan Boycott campaign
In 2005 the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli apartheid, occupation and colonialism started with a call by Palestinian civil society. The initiative is based on the understanding that once the profits Israeli economy reaps from the occupation, a new process of resistance and of change will have started. The Palestinian National Boycott, divestment and Sanction Committee (BNC), a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian organisations, trade unions, networks and NGOs, is the national and international reference body for the global BDS movement that has developed over the last decade. Its board is made of 32 members, which represent the different grassroots movement, associations and NGO network.
The call for BDS is in the first place a call for global solidarity action but as well the Palestinian people under occupation are engaging in ever more effective BDS and anti-normalization campaigns. In fact, boycotts have been since the beginning of the Zionist efforts to colonize Palestine until today a constant part of Palestinian popular resistance. For the Ramadan period in 2016, starting on June 6, the BNC has been working to launch a unified boycott campaign in the occupied Palestinian territories. Stop the Wall has interviewed Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the BNC to know more about the campaign.
Mahmoud, what kind of campaign have you prepared for Ramadan and why is it important to have one in this moment?
The boycott campaign that we are launching for Ramadan has been prepared over a year in meetings with local groups and national organizations. It has been officially launched on the first day of Ramadan, June 6. It is a big chance to involve more people and enlarge our outreach, stressing how unifying the Palestinian People regardless of their parties’ affiliation on the basis of a joint struggle for justice, freedom and equality is at the heart of the BDS movement. With this campaign we are targeting those products that are commonly bought specifically during Ramadan, which differ from those we normally consume. The campaign is intended at raising awareness among the people that buying Palestinian products rather than Israeli ones can have a political impact and encourages the Palestinian public to make a conscious choice of popular resistance during their Ramadan shoppings. Israel since time has realized that it can profit from the Palestinian Ramadan celebrations by offering the relevant products.
Palestinian living in the OPT buy every year Israeli products worth 14 billion shekels. Israel is working hard to ensure we are living in a captive market and are forced to depend on many Israeli products but a good part of them do actually have alternatives. We have worked on studies that have shown that out of these products, there are alternatives available for sales worth 7 billion shekels. This means with an effective boycott campaign Israel would lose 50% of its exports to the OPT. At the same time this would create 140 thousand job for Palestinians.
We want people to stop buying products of four specific companies: Tnuva, Yafoora, Osem and Strauss. Only the Israeli dairy company Tnuva sells products worth 18 million NIS every year to the Palestinian market. While in the West Bank we have still alternatives, Israeli military aggressions and demolitions have helped to ensure that in Gaza Tnuva has an almost complete monopoly of sales. In 2009/2010, the Israeli occupation destroyed the Palestinian Dalloul factory that was providing milk and cheese on a daily basis at cheaper prices than Tnuva was able to do. Today, Tnuva has no local competitor anymore and, in contrast to outside companies, it faces much less difficulties to ensure its products enter Gaza.
Osem, another Israeli company that profits from the Palestinian captive market, has factories on the lands of Palestinian destroyed villages, such as the town of Najd, Tantura or Iraq Mansheya. These companies are all actively support the Israeli military with parts of their profits.
This year, we want to ensure that Muslim Palestinians when they break their fast every evening during Ramadan, will as well contribute to breaking their ties with the occupation.
How are you going to convince people not to buy Israeli products?
The campaign strategy is multifaceted. We have divided the West Bank according to its ten districts. Each district is in charge of a specific campaign and a specific target. Considering the activities, they are all aimed at raising awareness among people on how they can support the Palestinian popluar resistance by embracing BDS. We are working to ensure a strong media coverage, from TV to radio programmes, we are holding workshops, targeting trade unions, teachers’ unions and women’s coalitions. We are organising demonstrations against the companies I mentioned before on a weekly basis.
During Ramadan we will work on many different levels. In order to launch the campaign, we held three demonstrations, in Bethlehem and Beit Jala, where the two Palestinian Company hosting Tnuva, and Ya’fura. The next phase is to galvanize campaigns in the various West Bank districts. Supported by the media campaign, we will launch the campaign in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tulkarem.
We are going to be present in all those public spaces where people gather, pass by or do their shopping, such as supermarkets, markets, schools and hospitals. We give much importance to speaking with the people and making them aware of how there is a direct connection between buying Israeli products and supporting Israeli violations of our human rights and how stopping to buy a specific product means fighting against the occupation. People in fact do not tend to relate products to human rights violations and that choosing not to buy Israeli products means supporting the resistance.
This point is very interesting. The fact that you are working on creating awareness among people that there is a direct relation between economy and resistance, and between economy and human rights violations, is an issue that can potentially be an overall strategy to advocate and take action for human rights uniting people around the world.
Yes, I do think this is one of our main challenges and one of the most effective ways in which we can affect Israeli apartheid and occupation and force them to reconsider their policies. In the last 10 years, BDS has achieved significant results. The movement has a strong international outreach, and I think it has been so successful because it is very easy to act accordingly. The hardest part though, as I mentioned, is creating the cognitive relation between the product and the human rights violations. Even Palestinians themselves often don’t link the two issues, unless major events take place.
During the war on Gaza for example, a lot of Palestinians instinctively stopped buying certain Israeli products. The problem of such episodes though is that those are not linked to a fully fledged, effective strategy, but rather a reaction to particularly brutal Israeli attacks. It is important instead to stop being reactive, but to be proactive. We have to develop strategies that allow us to keep on resisting the occupation while continuing our lives and even during times of ‘ordinary occupation and repression’.
People should not surrender to a life under occupation and apartheid. This is not a normal life. Their limitation to movement, discrimination, queues at checkpoints are not normal. Is just that we are used to it. You have to bear in mind that Israel works not only to colonise our land but as well our minds and culture and that this colonisation has been going on now for almost 70 years. Colonisation does not only limit our daily life, but also occupies your mind. One aspect is that you get used to live a life where your dignity is daily undermined. It means as well that you develop a sense of inferiority towards the one who exercises violence against you and dominates you and you start believing that they can produce better products and be better than you. This, of course, is one of the major Israeli propaganda tools since the birth of their state. It is the colonial ideology that considers ‘Arabs’ as an inferior culture, incapable of modernisation and of the technologies of Western culture. Israel depicts itself as the only western, and hence superior, culture in the Middle East. This is reflected in their marketing strategies, which present their products as better, tastier and more convenient. Most of the times this is not true. Of course, the Israeli industry supported by the state that colonizes us in certain aspects is able to make better offers than our companies, but generally Israeli products are more expensive and due to the industrialised mass production in their food industry, Israeli products are normally less tasty and healthy than the Palestinian ones.
Nevertheless, there is a continuous effort developed by the occupation to push our people to keep on buying their products, considering those as better. Our challenge during Ramadan is to convince the people of how effective their commitment to BDS will be and how strongly it would impact Israel, by impacting their economy. The local BDS campaigns also counteract the colonisation of our culture and of our minds, reminding people that we can choose and we can choose justice, hope and self-determination, especially when our capacity of action is so widely constrained.