By Abbas Naqvi
The recent attacks by Israel on the humanitarian Flotilla is yet another signal for us, as citizens of the United States, to hold the Israeli regime accountable for its reckless and illegal behavior. Israel has consistently prevented aid from entering the Gaza Strip, including medical supplies, cement and food. Consequently, the three-year old blockade has turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison, with an entire population starved and deprived of basic necessities.
The simple but tragic truth is that Israel acts with such audacity because the international community fails to hold it responsible for the ongoing occupation and apartheid system against the Palestinian people. However, this is slowly changing as people around the globe have begun to question Israel’s policies, with an increasing number and visibility.
As people of conscious, it is our obligation to join the global cry for justice. When we ask ourselves questions like the type of role we play in this mess, and the extent of responsibility that we bear as citizens of a country that heavily finances Israel– we are actually undertaking a personal struggle that will hopefully transform us into more conscientious individuals. It is normal to feel helpless and incapable of contributing anything substantial to the struggle against the illegal Israeli occupation. Understandably, we become overwhelmed with the atrocity. It’s difficult to ascertain where we can start and what we can do, and furthermore, we also have careers and families to be concerned about. Unfortunately, many of us cannot directly challenge the Apartheid State due to the distances and various circumstances. However, one major and effective way to help confront a rogue state is by joining the growing global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Since the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from Palestinian civil society, activists have worked to build an organized BDS movement. The strategy has been modeled after the struggle against Apartheid South Africa and has been promoted by both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In the last two years, there has been a major spike in BDS campaigns that have implemented practical and accessible campaigns all of us can implement in our own lives and that of our communities.
Some of the targets of the campaign include boycotting Israeli and international corporations that are directly involved in the occupation. This would include those who participate in the construction of Israeli colonies in the occupied territories, the settlements’ economy, building walls and checkpoints, and the supply of specific equipment used to control and repress the civilian population under occupation. For example, American-made Caterpillar’s D-9 bulldozers have been responsible for destroying farmland, homes, buildings, and human life in the occupied territories. The consumer boycott is another tactic implemented around the world. BDS activists ask their fellow consumers to stop buying Israeli products, and work to generate negative publicity for the offender, which is done in multiple ways from writing letters to merchants to protesting outside these establishments.
Since our government has failed to heed our call to divest from Israeli apartheid, a growing number of US-based groups and organizations have joined the call for BDS in their communities. Successes have become increasingly apparent and widespread across the country. It is now even more evident that the BDS campaign is a threat to the Zionist establishment with the announcement from Hasbara, a propaganda tool for Tel-Aviv, that a 6-million dollar budget will be allocated to fight against the BDS movement. One example of a community taking action is a new coalition in Philadelphia, called Philly BDS. With multiple organizations coming together to support a single cause, Philly BDS launched into the global BDS movement, as of October 23rd, 2010. Philly BDS is a consensus-based group that consists of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others and their first campaign is a consumer boycott that targets Sabra and Tribe Hummus. Sabra and Tribe products directly subsidize Israeli human rights abuses through their support of the Israeli Defense Forces and occupation infrastructure of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Sabra and Tribe are companies intricately tied to subsidizing the Israeli government’s abusive policies against Palestinians. Both companies are subsidiaries of large Israeli corporations: Sabra is owned by the Strauss Group and PepsiCo, and Tribe is owned by Osem. Both the Strauss Group and Osem have ties to the Israeli government and military. The Strauss Group provides political support and food to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), in particular to the Golani Brigade that is responsible for numerous human rights abuses according to various UN reports. Tribe’s owner, Osem, is linked to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which contributes to building settlement infrastructure in the West Bank and confiscates land to build from Bedouin villages to make Jewish-only neighborhoods in the Negev desert.
With the launch of the campaign, Philly BDS performed a flash dance in a neighborhood grocery store to put pressure on them to remove Sabra and Tribe hummus from their shelves. Approximately twenty neighborhood residents, dressed in black and wearing sequined red accessories, danced in unison and sang an adaptation of a popular song by Lady Gaga to deliver their request that the store and its customers stop selling and purchasing Sabra and Tribe hummus products. A member of the group stated that “As a customer and as a Jew, I’m hoping that Fresh Grocer will pay attention to the concerns of its community and stop carrying Sabra and Tribe hummus. Not only would it be a significant step in support of justice and peace in Palestine and Israel, but it would also help educate our own community about the power of our consumer choices.”
The overall reaction to the performance was amazing. Within a few days of the action-video being posted on YouTube, there were over 13,000 hits with comments of praise and support from around the world, including Israel and Palestine. Immediately, the next day, the Northwest Greens, a Philadelphia-based neighborhood organization with 450 members, sent a letter of endorsement and participation in the Philly BDS boycott of Sabra and Tribe Hummus. Other groups, representing a wide-spectrum of diversity, have given similar statements of approval and endorsement.
Dancing in a store is one creative way to get communities energized and there are countless ways to get involved. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are doing our part to end the occupation. Are we silent because we don’t want to jeopardize our career or social standing? Have we forgotten what our true role models endured in the struggle for justice? Are we going to betray them so that we can live a life of convenience while completely disregarding the oppression in front of our eyes? Justice is inevitable, but we must honestly ask ourselves if we will be on the right side of history.
– This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.