Five years since the BDS Call – building hope for change, promoting Israel’s accountability, asserting Palestinian rights
Six years ago, on 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared illegal the Wall under construction in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and ruled that Israel was to dismantle it and make reparations to its Palestinians victims. The ICJ, in this landmark ruling, further stated:
„As regards the legal consequences for other States, the Court finds that all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. The Court further finds that it is for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, in the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self‑determination is brought to an end. In addition, all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are under an obligation, while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.“
The resounding failure of world governments to uphold their said obligations was the direct trigger for launching the BDS movement as a civil society response to official international collusion with Israel’s persistent denial of Palestinian rights and its ongoing disregard of international law. Inspired by the struggles that unite people from around the world by the virtue of their common humanity, especially the struggle against South African apartheid in the past, the 2005 BDS call has sought to galvanize mass citizen action as pressure and counterforce to states. Western states, in particular, which provide unconditional political, economic, academic and military support to Israel, have nourished and sustained its colonial and racist violence against the Palestinian people, setting back any hope for a just and comprehensive peace.
Undeterred by the far-reaching conclusions of the ICJ opinion and, more recently, the UN Goldstone Report which found serious evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, and emboldened by Western complicity, Israel has continued, with full impunity, its construction of the Wall and colonies in occupied Palestinian territory; its fatal siege of Gaza; its ethnic cleansing of entire Palestinian communities in occupied Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev) desert; and its denial of the Palestinian right to free movement, education, access to health services and water resources, among other rights. In short, Israel has entrenched its regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid, and no action has been taken by the UN and the hegemonic powers to stop this.
Following a long tradition of Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and human dignity a wide coalition of Palestinian civil society issued the BDS Call to assert the primacy of the right to self-determination. As stated in the BDS Call, this consists of the fundamental rights of the three main components of the Palestinian people: to live free from Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; to end Israel’s system of racial discrimination, or apartheid; and for the refugees, the great majority of the Palestinian people, to exercise their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes of origin.
The BDS movement has presented the best hope yet to effectively and morally counter Israel’s frantic attempts to sideline these basic Palestinian rights. Based on progressive, anti-racist principles, it has tapped into the creative energies of dedicated people of conscience the world over, in their diversity and variance of contexts. Major trade union federations, from South Africa to Brazil, Ireland and the UK, as well as many trade unions in major Western countries have endorsed boycott measures against Israel. Campaigns against free trade and other agreements with Israel span from Argentina, Chile and Brazil to the EU.
Academic boycott campaigns have sprung in several countries, including Britain, the US, France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Norway. More international cultural figures of the weight of Ken Loach, John Berger, Naomi Klein, Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana are heeding the call for a cultural boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions.
Divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation and violation of Palestinian rights are spreading across tens of campuses in the US and Canada, with Hampshire College being the first to actually pass motions to divest, and with the student senate at the University of California at Berkeley coming as close as a vote of 80% for divestment, only to be undemocratically vetoed by the senate’s president. Five Nobel laureates and many prominent public intellectuals have issued statements supporting the Berkeley divestment campaign, raising public awareness about the complicity of Western corporations and institutions in Israel’s infringement of Palestinian rights. Campaigns to divest from Lev Leviev Diamonds and to boycott other Israeli and international companies implicated in Israel’s human rights violations are developing apace.
At the official level, the European Parliament endorsed the Goldstone report and its recommendations, which called for investigation and prosecution of those responsible for Israel’s crimes in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip. Several suspected Israeli war criminals came close to facing legal charges in Belgium, Britain, Spain, the United States and elsewhere. Sanctions by Spain against an Israeli academic team from the illegal colony-college of Ariel, and by the Norwegian and Swedish national pension funds against Israel’s major weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems, have also ushered in a new phase in the growth of the BDS movement into the Western mainstream. Another key indicator of this changes was the recent European Court of Justice ruling that Israel’s colonial settlement products cannot enjoy tax breaks under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which itself is being intensely challenged by main political forces and human rights groups across Europe. South Africa’s foreign ministry now regularly defines Israeli policies as “reminiscent of apartheid,” while Venezuela and Bolivia have entirely cut diplomatic relations with Israel.
Support for BDS has also grown among progressive, anti-colonialist Israeli civil society; so has endorsement of the movement by a growing number of Jewish groups in the West. The Palestinian voice, after decades of being shunned, muzzled or considered irrelevant, is back in the lead and Palestinian wishes are respected. We salute those standing with us in this struggle for justice, freedom and dignity.
As BDS continues to chart spectacular victories at the grassroots level, powerful states have continued to appease Israel and whitewash its crimes. Most recently, member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) decided to admit Israel in blatant violation of their own obligations under international law and in contravention of the Organization’s own charter. Moreover, the US, EU, UN and Russia – representatives of which form the self-appointed „Quartet“ that dictates the terms of the „peace process” – are hatching yet another plan aimed at creating what they label a “state,” which will in fact be a formalization of the current Palestinian ghettos, or Bantustans, undermining basic Palestinian rights.
On the 5th anniversary of the BDS call, it is therefore crucial to reaffirm that any political solution must guarantee the basic Palestinian rights laid out in the 2005 BDS Call for: ending Israel’s occupation and colonization, ending apartheid, and implementing the right of return for the refugees.
Let’s make 9 July a special media-focused day to celebrate 5 years of the BDS struggle and to reach out to a wider audience!