The Palestine Chronicle conducted an interview with Palestinian intellectual, Dr. Haider Eid on his views on the global impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Below is the full text of the interview in English. Visit Chronique de Palestine for the French interview.
Palestine Chronicle: Can you introduce yourself and the BDS movement of which you are an activist.
Haider Eid: Let me begin by clarifying that all the views I express here are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the wider BDS movement or any other organization.
I am an Associate Professor of literature and cultural studies at the Gaza-based Al-Aqsa University, Al-Shabaka (the Palestinian Policy Network) policy adviser, co-founder of the One Democratic State Group, and a BDS activist. It might be relevant to say that I spent some years in South Africa where I got my PhD from the University of Johannesburg, the first international academic institution to end its ties with an Israeli University.
As for the BDS movement, it is a global, albeit Palestinian-led, movement for freedom, justice, and equality. Israel has been violating international law by occupying and colonizing Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, since 1967; denying millions of Palestinian refugees their right of return to their villages and cities from which they were ethnically cleansed in1948; and discriminating against its Palestinian citizens. The BDS movement, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement of the last century, aims to exert pressure on Israel to put an end to its multi-tiered system of oppression, namely, occupation, colonization, and apartheid, in order to enable the Palestinian people to express their right to self-determination.
In the absence of any significant step by the official bodies of the international community – and I must add here that we are fed-up with the empty rhetoric that is leading us nowhere, while Israel is expanding and building more settlements, rendering the fictional two-state solution impossible – Palestinian Civil Society decided, in 2005, to address unions, syndicates, churches, schools, academic and cultural institutions and grassroots movements across the world calling on them to treat Israel the same way it did Apartheid South Africa, until it complies with International Law. And I must say that it is working; BDS is having a very serious impact on Israel and the international support it is getting from its allies.
Palestine Chronicle: The BDS movement, at the international level, now seems to stir up strong reactions from the Israeli government and pro-Israeli lobbies worldwide. How do you explain this particularly peculiar expression? Is it the expression that ‘the power relationship has changed’?
Haidar Eid: Let me make this clear: when we, Palestinian Civil Society, issued our 2015 BDS call, we were counting on people of conscience, rather than governments and complicit corporations. Most of us argued that we needed to address ordinary people buying goods in supermarkets, artists, cultural figures, academics, sportsmen etc. That is to say, our “International Community” consisted of civil society, churches, pension funds, municipalities, clubs, music bands, universities and the like. These are the engine of liberal, representative democracy nowadays. This is one of the major lessons we’ve learned from the anti-apartheid movement.
It took the international community more than 30 years to heed the call made by the representatives for oppressed South Africans. In our case, it is only 11 years and the outcome is more than what we anticipated back in 2005. I think pro-Israeli lobbies have realized that we are heading towards, what we call, our South African moment. I would say that BDS movement has definitely empowered the Palestinian people and proved to them that “Yes, we can!”
Palestine Chronicle: Considering radicalization from both perspectives, can we say that the Israeli government currently peaked in its policy of repression and dispossession of the Palestinian people?
Haidar Eid: Of course, it depends on how you define radicalization. Radicalizing the oppressed is, in fact, necessary in the sense that it shows them the importance of decolonizing their minds. And this is part of the pedagogy of the oppressed, to use Paulo Ferreira’s term.
But, on the other hand, the oppressor, Israeli Zionists in this context, has been “radicalized” in the fascist sense of the word. More than 92% of Israeli Jews supported the war on Gaza in 2014, and more than 52% of them support discrimination against Palestinians. The current Israeli government is the most fascist, right-wing government in the history of the country. But it is important to recall that the majority of white South Africans in the mid-80s voted for the racist quasi-fascist National Party. This could be the darkest hour before the dawn. And don’t forget that I am responding to these questions from besieged Gaza, the largest concentration camp on earth where Israel has been implementing a policy of, what the brave Israeli activist Ilan Pappe calls, “incremental genocide”
Palestine Chronicle: Outside Palestine, the movement is increasingly relaying in academia and labor, but also through institutional churches, cultural organizations, and municipalities to name a few. But what would you see as the primary tasks of international solidarity movement concerning the BDS movement?
Haidar Eid: First of all, we are very clear about context sensitivity. It is up to our partners to decide about their priorities taking into consideration the sensitivity of their environment. This is precisely why we spent a long time working on the definition of normalization and boycott guidelines in a very democratic way.
Having said this, let me state that us and our partners, and, ironically, the ruling establishment in Israel, have come to the conclusion that BDS is the most important and strategic form of support for our struggle for self-determination, which means an end of Israel’s oppression of our people. At the moment, with the unprecedented forms of oppression we are exposed to, and again Gaza is on my mind while I am answering your questions, we want the world to isolate Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid and have sanctions imposed on it.
Israel would not have carried out three massive, genocidal wars using F16s, F35s, Phosphorous bombs, Dimes, manufactured in the West, by Western hands, had it not been for the financial and military support it is getting from complicit Western countries. In addition to all the impressive boycott campaigns targeting Israeli products and academic and cultural institutions benefiting from its oppression of the Palestinian people, our allies and partners need to work harder on imposing a military embargo on Israel. We know that this needs more campaigning.
Palestine Chronicle: Could the BDS movement end up jeapordizing the Zionist state economically? Is that one of its objectives?
Haidar Eid: Actually it has already started doing that. And this is what the UN and the World Bank, among other experts are saying. It is a well-known fact that the Israeli economy is largely dependent on international trade and investment. So, if you target foreign companies that benefit from Israel’s violations of international law, the same way BDS activists target foreign companies investing in apartheid, you would understand why international companies such as the Irish Building Material Corporation, CRH, and Violia, Orange, among others, have lost billions of dollars and decided to pull out of Israel as a result of strong divestment campaigns targeting them.
The UN World Investment Report states that the war on Gaza and BDS are to blame for the sharp decrease in foreign direct investment by 46% in 2014 compared to 2013.
And another World Bank report mentions a 24% drop in Palestinian imports from Israel die to the boycott. Not to mention reports by the Israeli government and the Rand Corporation which have predicted that BDS could cost the Israeli economy billions of dollars.
Moreover, some major Israeli companies have entered a state of liquidation as a direct result of boycott campaigns targeting them.
Palestine Chronicle: Do you think this movement, born from a Palestinian initiative, is now sufficiently rooted in Palestinian society itself?
Haidar Eid: This is a very tricky question! Notice that the BDS movement is a global campaign led by Palestinians; it is the best show of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people whether in the 1967 occupied lands, or in Palestinian citizens of Israel, or in refugees. We, in occupied Palestine, are coerced to deal with the oppressor. Not a single item can enter or leave Gaza and the West Bank without Israel’s consent!
But the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society sectors, including political forces, are represented on the Secretariat of the Boycott National Committee. This means there is almost a consensus on the necessity of boycotting Israel. As an academic, I can confirm that almost all Palestinian universities, with one exception, abide by the BDS guidelines, knowing very well the complicit role played by all Israeli academic institutions in maintaining Israel’s system of occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism.
But, like in the South Africa of last century, you get those who insist on normalizing with the oppressor. We exert moral pressure on them and try to expose their normalization projects.
Palestine Chronicle: BDS seems to have a dynamic itself which seems impossible, in the long term, if it can be contained. But does this not create a risk, considering that this is a kind of “miracle solution”, of forgetting other battlegrounds, such as support for Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, or lifting the siege on Gaza, to name but a few?
Haidar Eid: It is impossible to separate BDS from other popular resistance strategies. Like the South Africans, the Palestinian struggle has four pillars, including international support in the form of BDS. The other forms of popular struggle complement BDS which mainly aims to isolate apartheid Israel. We, in the movement, have combined our local struggle with international solidarity.
As I am answering these questions, our BDS female activists are recording a video welcoming the Women’s Boat to Gaza which aims to break the siege. I, myself, was on the international steering committee of the Gaza Freedom March of 2009. And we usually make it absolutely clear that breaking the siege cannot be separated from endorsing our BDS call.
We also got the support of all political prisoners whose leaders sent messages of support to the BDS National Conference held in Ramallah.
Palestine Chronicle: Now back to the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Is the proliferation in recent years of collective and individual hunger strikes which have been extremely long and each time endangered the lives of the protesters, a reflection of a turning point in the movement of prisoners?
Haidar Eid: There were hunger strikes before, but not as strong and determined as we are witnessing lately. Of course, you would expose your life to danger when you embark on such a mission. Didn’t Mandela sacrifice 27 years of his life to achieve a noble goal. Didn’t Bobby Sands pay a very heavy price in his fight for his own freedom and that of the Irish people? The way our prisoners look at it, and notice that almost all those who went on hunger strike are administrative detainees with no charge or trials, is either freedom or dignified death. This is becoming part of a collective discourse in Palestine and I would say that it is a turning point in the prisoners’ fight for dignity and freedom.
Palestine Chronicle: How does Palestinian society living within the 1948 borders, as well as in the diaspora, support today this movement today?
Haidar Eid: One of the pitfalls of the Oslo Accords is that it temporarily and relatively managed to redefine the Palestinian people to those who only live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, ignoring two thirds of the Palestinian people 69% of whom are refugees entitled to their right of return. Another component is the 1948 Palestinians who are treated as third-class citizens and exposed to a discriminatory system of apartheid.
In fact, there are more than 50 basic laws in Israel that define the state as an ethno-religious apartheid entity.
This is why BDS, as a rights-based movement, has practically – away from empty rhetoric – redefined the Palestinian people to include the diaspora and 48 Palestinians. Both groups are playing a major role in leading BDS campaigns and connecting them to local struggles. Almost all 48 political parties support BDS and try to abide by the ‘48 Boycott guidelines by not offering a fig leaf to Israel’s crimes against the entire Palestine people. And the diaspora Palestinians, after being left out by the Oslo politics, have found, what one of my BDS comrades called, a “home.”
One of the questions as to why we, in the BDS movement, do not endorse a “political solution” is because we are a rights-based-movement that seeks to activate our right to self-determination. This right includes RoR and equality, in addition to freedom. Notice that these are a combination of the goals of the struggles of Palestinian people in its three, inseparable components. Based on this understanding, ‘48 and diaspora Palestinians have become very active in the movement.
-Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator, analyst and academic from the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestine. He is a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel as well as Policy Advisor at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.