Sustaining global solidarity after Gaza

March 2, 2009

Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, February 28th, 2009 -- The Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza, which has now claimed more than 1,400 lives, generated serious popular backlash the world over.


Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, February 28th, 2009 -- The Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza, which has now claimed more
than 1,400 lives, generated serious popular backlash the world over.


The overwhelmingly weak official positions and statements, especially
in the Arab world, stood in stark contrast to the outpouring of rage
that was witnessed in the streets of capitals, cities and towns across
the globe. This recent wave of protests has a particular quality,
however, that differentiates it from past mobilizations: The initial
flare up of energy is being channeled into effective grassroots
political action, primarily in the form of an ongoing campaign of
boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). The tangible victories and
rise of BDS activism immediately following Gaza are a direct result of
the many years of often little-acknowledged organizing, building, and
mobilizing that was undertaken following the 2005 call from Palestinian
civil society. It is important to look at these last four years in
order to make sure that we continue to build on these victories. We
have moved beyond questioning the efficacy of BDS and must now work to
incorporate the growing numbers of people who, while outraged at the
events in Gaza, are not yet connected to the BDS movement. We also must
expand the actors and struggles involved in BDS by linking the
Palestinian cause to other similar fights for social, economic and
political justice.

A number of commentators have already noted the mass mobilizations that
occurred in response to Gaza. Demonstrations and protests were
undertaken on every inhabited continent involving millions of people
across hundreds of cities. In the Middle East, Southeast Asia and
Western Europe, where pro-Palestine demonstrations are typically
strong, the numbers of participants and scale of actions were

In the Middle East, particularly in Jordan and Egypt, the disconnect
between the stance of US-backed regimes’ and their people vis-à-vis
Israel was laid bare. In Egypt, the regime’s army of riot police was
often unable to suppress demonstrations, which on many occasions
numbered well into the tens of thousands. Similar scenes took place in
Jordan, where thousands of protestors in Amman hurled stones at state
police who blocked the street to the Israeli embassy.

Latin America, on the other hand, is the only region wherein popular
anger was more or less reflected in official discourse and action. It
is no coincidence that Bolivia and Venezuela, the two countries in the
region that cut diplomatic ties with Israel, are also the two states
whose governments operate, both in principle and in practice, according
to the needs of the majority.

Palestine has developed into a global litmus test for democracy. While
more progressive states in Latin America stood up for Palestine and
BDS, repressive Middle Eastern regimes did their best to crush popular
mobilization. The EU governments stood somewhere in the middle, giving
further proof of their special form of 'democracy' wherein people are
allowed to express their opinions but not influence government

Regardless of governmental political leanings, the mobilizations
evidence a considerable and growing popular support for the Palestinian
people. Yet, these protests, while encouraging, do not guarantee
longer-term political gains. The most recent and sobering example of
this were the record numbers of people who turned out to protest the
most recent invasion of Iraq and the subsequent problems that have
plagued the creation of an effective anti-war movement.

Instead, we should look to the concrete BDS victories that followed
Gaza as evidence of lasting political change. The actions of South
African workers and Latin American social movements, to mention only a
few examples, represent not only anger over Gaza, but also its
effective channeling into an organized movement that far predates this
most recent atrocity. They indicate that we have managed to build, in a
short period of time, an effective focal point for uniting
international solidarity and support for the Palestinian cause.

Immediately following Gaza, South African trade unions took action
against Israel. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union
(SATAWU), part of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
declared that they would no longer handle Israeli ships. Things came to
a head when the Johanna Russ, a ship operated by Zim Israel Navigation
Company, attempted to dock in the Durban port. Despite pressure and
threats, SATAWU workers refused to handle the cargo or to allow scab
labor to unload the ship.

This victory can be traced back to the early work of the Palestine
Solidarity Committee, which, since its founding at the beginning of
this Intifada, has been active in promoting a South African boycott of
Israel. The 2005 call from Palestinian civil society bolstered the
movement, and, over the past four years, organizers have built up
considerable support for BDS within South African trade unions,
movements, churches and institutions. In a 2006 speech in the UK to the
Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s trade union conference, Willy Madisha
of COSATU endorsed the BDS call and stated that, 'the trade union
movement must move beyond resolutions, otherwise history will look back
on us and spit on our graves.' The movement has continued to move
forward, and in 2008, COSATU promised to take “drastic action to
disrupt” a government deal with Israeli firm Orsus Solutions Israel
Ltd., which had been awarded a $5 million contract to upgrade the South
African transportation system. With the Johanna Russ, the union took
their first concrete action. Furthermore, COSATU has scored successes
in gaining influence within the governing ANC party over the past
several years. These kind of overall political dynamics have so far not
stopped South Africa's trade with Israel from growing yearly, but have
laid the groundwork for a possible turnaround in national politics that
would place moral responsibility for the implementation of BDS at the
diplomatic level.

In South America, serious pressure is building against the Israel –
Mercosur Free Trade Agreement (FTA), threatening to derail it entirely.
South American social movements, who have years of experience fighting
against free trade, have integrated Palestine solidarity into their
general work. Following the 2009 World Social Forum in Brazil, key
organizations in the country, including the MST, CUT and other smaller
social movements are organizing actions on the popular level against
the agreement. Further, a number of members of the ruling party are
supportive of these efforts, and are working on the official level to
promote the rejection of the FTA.

This campaign is also based on the call from Palestinian civil society.
In 2006, when the agreement was first placed on the agenda of the
Mercosur, the outrage created by the Israeli destruction of Lebanon
pushed the social movements into action. They raised the issue at the
Mercosur counter summit, and officials silently dropped the agreement
from the agenda. Later, taking advantage of a lull in mobilization, the
FTA was silently pressed through but is still undergoing the
ratification process. In Brazil, social movements, unions, Arab
organizations, and Palestine solidarity organized in a broad Palestine
coalition and escalated their campaign against the Israel – Mercosur
FTA This coalition has done work on several levels, mobilizing popular
resistance, while simultaneously working and meeting with elected

These successes provide us with a framework with which to ensure the
sustainability of the expanding Palestine solidarity. This solidarity,
which in many cases is not new, became more visible and vocal during
Gaza and must be integrated into the global BDS movement.

One way to incorporate this expanding support is through the focus on
common struggles and on mutual solidarity and interest. We can look to
South Africa and Brazil for inspiration, where activists have been keen
on tying BDS with local struggles and histories. Fights against racism,
colonialism and economic exploitation as well as more specific
campaigns for housing, land, water and educational rights are critical
across the global south as well as in marginalized communities in the
global north. Links can also be established on a more specific level,
for instance, against individual firms that benefit from perpetuating
apartheid and occupation in Palestine and are involved in similar
practices abroad. One such company is the Israeli Elbit Systems, which
supplies the Israeli military and is key in constructing the Wall while
abroad is responsible for supplying drones to British and American
occupation forces and erecting the wall on the US – Mexico border. This
approach has already seen some exciting developments, for example
activists fighting against racism in the US have drawn interesting
parallels between the violence and racism as experienced in Oakland and
Gaza as well as in New Orleans.

In places where comparable shared experiences or histories may not
exist, activists have found other ways to link the Palestinian cause to
the broader community. University activism, for instance, effectively
uses the situation of Palestinian students and universities to connect
with the student community and build support for BDS. Students’ calls
for divestment from Israel and academic boycott are clearly linked with
the call for more involvement in the universities' decision making
processes and financial transparency. The work over the last few years
has set the stage for the various actions that we have witnessed in the
universities, including the wave of direct action that took place in
the UK, divestment at Hampshire, and growing interest in the academic
boycott in both continents.

Israel has lost this most recent war on all fronts. In addition to
failing to crush the resistance within Gaza, it was unable to control
dissent in any of the territories under its military control. This
defeat was mirrored on the international level; despite a massive PR
effort coupled with an attempt to control the flow of images and
information coming out of Gaza, Israel was unable to shape public
understanding and discourse. A growing majority has openly condemned
the operation for what it was - a massacre – and joined the BDS
movement. The most recent victories of the movement have shown that the
global struggle for genuine democracy and justice is not only a common
ground on which the support for Palestinian rights is based, but a
crucial precondition for effective solidarity. Our task now is to
channel popular outrage into a coordinated, collective action.


March 2, 2009


Stay updated!

Sign-up for news, campaign updates, action alerts and fundraisers from the BDS movement.

Subscribe Now