By Joe Catron
On a warm, sunny afternoon, I met Eman Sourani and Rana Baker in an airy outdoor café several blocks from the port of Gaza. Both are members of the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI). Sourani, a 22-year-old English literature student at Al-Aqsa University, cofounded the group after Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, while Baker, a 19-year-old blogger and a business administration student at the Islamic University of Gaza, joined it during Israeli Apartheid Week, a global event in March 2011.
PSCABI is the student arm of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), itself part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee. Since its July 2005 founding by Palestinian organizations from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the diaspora, BDS has grown into a formidable global movement with an impressive record of victories.
In the last month alone, the University and College Union (UCU) and the University of London Union (ULU), respectively the largest academic labor union in the United Kingdom and the largest student union in Europe, voted to support it and sever their ties with Israeli institutions; UK Prime Minister David Cameron quietly resigned his post as Honorary Chairman of the Jewish National Fund, implicated in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian lands; students at the United States’ DePaul University voted by a nearly 80% margin (although without reaching the necessary quorum) to remove Sabra hummus, linked to the Israeli military, from their campus; the French-Belgian bank Dexia announced the impending sale of its Israeli subsidiary, “even at a loss;” and musicians Andy McKee and Marc Almond cancelled appearances in Israel.
Although not all acknowledged the role of the campaign in their decisions, each was a target of it. Meanwhile, battles rage against the US pension fund TIAA-CREF; Israeli national institutions like the Histadrut and State of Israel Bonds; the Israeli produce exporter Carmel Agrexco; the French construction firms Alstom and Derail Veolia; the beauty suppliers Ahava, Estee Lauder, L’Oréal, and Seacret Dead Sea; and dozens of other institutions complicit in Israeli crimes, as well as performers like Paul Simon and Jello Biafra, who plan to violate the cultural boycott by playing Tel Aviv.
“Even some South Africans like Desmond Tutu have said that what they did in thirty years, the Palestinians did in three,” Sourani told me over tea. “The boycott is a lesson of the success of the South Africans. And why not? Nothing is imposible. When people hear that Palestinians are doing something like this, that we are taking action, they believe in the idea and the issue much more.”
Baker agreed with her about the importance of South Africa. “We like to address apartheid,” she said. “We like to use this word, because it really emphasizes what is happening. Of course we have the apartheid wall. We have the checkpoints like they had in South Africa. What does an apartheid wall represent but apartheid? What else do checkpoints represent?”
“We think that BDS is a very effective way to resist Israel,” Baker continued. “Why? Because the pillars of BDS represents all Palestinians. The core issues of the Palestinian cause are the right to return, the ending of the occupation, and equality between Palestinians and Jews within the Israeli state or borders. So we think that being a real Palestinian-led movement that represents all Palestinians is very important. And this makes it able to grow, makes it able to expand within each and every cause. It represents every Palestinian in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel, and in the di