By Ruth Tenne
Western governments have so far refused to recognize the Palestinian Hamas government democratically elected in January 2006. Economic aid to the Palestinian government was curtailed and Israel is unlawfully withholding tax and customs revenue due to the PA (£35 million per month).
Likewise, foreign bank accounts and financial transactions by the Palestinian Authority have been frozen, and frequent blockades of border crossings between Egypt, Jordan and Israel are causing Palestinian trade to collapse, leaving the Palestinians without basic food and medicines. Between 60-70% of Palestinians are currently living below the poverty line and the official unemployment rate is above 40%, which may rise further if economic sanctions continue. (World Bank report April 2006). In addition, nearly 165,000 PA’s employees have not received their salaries since March 2006 and their families (800,000 people) are made to suffer as a result.
A recent report by John Dugard -the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights – concludes its disturbing findings about the current state of affairs by stating: "In these circumstances, the Special Rapporteur can only appeal to the wider international community to concern itself with the plight of the Palestinian people" ( September 2006).
The lack of action by the international community is spurring a global grassroots reaction aimed at forcing Israel to comply with international law and UN resolutions. In line with those aims, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) launched a non-violent campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
Individual boycotting of Israeli products enables consumers to act ethically on both national and global levels. The EU is the largest market for Israeli products, with Britain the main importer of Israeli vegetables. The website of the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign (BIG) offers information to customers about produce originating in Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. Conscientious consumers in the UK frequently hold local protests directed against stores which sell Israeli goods. Such actions appear to have considerable success, with customers increasingly turning away from Israeli products, especially those coming from the illegal settlements.
The economic hardship caused by the occupation seriously affects the academic and cultural life of the Palestinians. The expanding "segregation wall", along with the intimidating checkpoints and their ID permit system virtually stifle academic freedom. Students from Gaza are now prohibited from studying at universities in the West Bank and arbitrary curfews and closures prevent students from attending regularly classes and exams. In response to an appeal from Palestinian universities, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) launched a campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. The stated aims are to:
(a) Put pressure on the EU and the UK Government for the exclusion of Israel from the European Research Area;
(b) Develop a policy which will encourage individual academics to break their professional links with Israeli universities.
Last year, the National Association for Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) voted for a boycott resolution. This motion will have to be voted on again in 2007 as NATFHE has now merged with the Association of University Teachers to form the Universities and Colleges Union.(UCU). Trade Unions and associations from South Africa, Canada, Greece and Ireland have responded positively to the boycott campaign while academics, lawyers, writers and musicians continue to curtail their links with Israel. (See Steven and Hilary Rose – Palestine News, autumn 2006).
The BDS campaign encourages an ethical divestment from companies which profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. In particular, Caterpillar Inc. has been singled out as its armored bulldozers are one of Israel’s most notorious weapon of destruction – responsible for the demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of olive trees, and the construction of Israel’s illegal segregation wall. The Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a motion calling for divestment from companies which are not engaged in "peaceful pursuits" as pertaining to the Occupied Territories and Gaza (June 2006). Likewise, the Church of England’s General Synod voted for divestment from Caterpillar Inc., though their Ethical Advisory Group has rejected this decision. Yet, the campaign for divestment is gathering momentum and the Church of England is holding a lively debate on the issues involved. (See Sue Plater’s article in Palestine News, autumn 2006).
Economic and trade sanctions require global action which has to be developed in stages. The House of Commons’ International Development Committee recognized the need for economic sanctions stating that the "EU should not be deterred from imposing them". Europe is Israel’s largest export market, and Israel is granted substantial tax benefits by the European Trade Agreement (November 1995). Article 2 of the revised Association Agreement (2000) states that Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights
The Agreement empowers member states to take appropriate measures, including sanctions, if Israel fails to fulfill its treaty obligations. In the wake of the deteriorating situation in the West bank and Gaza, several members of the European Parliament are actively pressing for action by requesting the suspension of the EU trade agreement with Israel. A number of MEPs publicly stated the need for the imposition of economic sanctions. Caroline Lucas of the British Green Party recently proclaimed that "until the Israeli government shows it is serious about complying with international law and joining the international community of law-abiding nations, the EU must apply economic pressure for it to do so."
As an Israeli-born citizen I may not be considered as an apparent supporter for imposing sanctions against my own country. Yet , I believe that the lack of any consorted action by Western governments calls for exercising genuine pressure on the Israeli state as expressed movingly by Dr Jeff Halper – the co-founder of Israeli Committee Against House demolitions – "sanctions, divestment and boycotting are absolutely legitimate means at everyone disposal for effectively opposing injustice ….they are directed at ending a situation of intolerable conflict ,suffering and moral wrong-doing…When injustice ends, the sanction ends."
In this spirit, a number of Israeli and Jewish activists in London have recently launched a group affiliated to the BIG campaign which "calls upon fellow Jews to rethink their unconditional support for the State of Israel and calls upon every ethical consumer to refuse to support the Israeli economy as long as the illegal occupation of Palestine persists". The group (of which I am a member ) hopes to link up with similar Jewish groups in Israel and Britain in order to establish a network which will confront Israel as from within the Jewish community – thus defying the charge of anti-Semitism which is often hurled at those who dare criticizing Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.