Gaza, Occupied Territories (NI) – The images streamed through our TV sets: Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth with the latest military equipment, facing off against groups of Palestinian protesters defending themselves only with stones, flags and anger born from decades of harsh military occupation. I was a university student when the second Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation began in 2000.
Far from the turmoil, my fellow students and I were moved to action. We wanted to make a real, lasting difference. But how could we know what Palestinians needed? What mattered most to a political prisoner in Israeli detention?
And then in 2005, a collection of Palestinian grassroots groups spoke out, inspired by the victories of peoples’ movements across the world. Over 170 Palestinian civil-society organizations called upon people of conscience to build a movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ends its Apartheid policies. The BDS movement was born.
Israel’s oppressive regime is only made possible through international support: from governments and from the many international corporations that profit from the occupation. BDS is our response. It is about internationalizing the resistance to Israeli Apartheid.
The international BDS movement has grown from a small collection of individuals and activist groups to one which has the participation of and support from trade unions, universities, artists, charities and faith groups around the world. Ten years on, the Palestinian BDS call has proven to be a fantastic tool for international solidarity, and has dealt a massive blow to Israel’s belief that it can act with complete disregard for human rights.
Many BDS targets have been chosen, with campaigners working together with Palestinians living directly under Israeli Occupation. After all, who is better placed to determine campaign priorities than the people most directly affected? Take the Stop G4S campaign, focusing on the British security company outsourcing its services and equipment to Israeli prisons. The call to target G4S came from Palestinian prisoner organizations on the eve of a massive hunger strike waged by Palestinian political prisoners, and it was taken up by campaigners in countries around the world. The campaign has cost G4S billions of pounds in lost contracts and even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was forced to divest its stake in G4S under pressure from campaigners.
Perhaps no situation better exemplifies the need for a BDS movement than the Israeli attacks on Gaza last July. While tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of London in protest at the attacks, known as ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, which also owns a factory in Staffordshire, was boasting about its ‘combat proven’ weapons at a British arms fair. Elbit is among Israel’s largest arms companies and the producer of drones and other military technology used in Israeli military assaults on Gaza. It was business as usual when it came to Britain and Israel trading weapons.
That is why we are calling for a two-way arms embargo on Israel, as a part of our BDS campaigning. To mark the 10-year anniversary since the Gaza war, and the 10-year anniversary of BDS, War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and Palestine Solidarity Campaign have released a new report called ‘Arming Apartheid’ documenting British complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. The report calls for BDS to target the arms companies in Britain making weapons used in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.
The BDS movement puts us on the offensive, targeting complicit corporations and governments. Now we frame the debate, refocusing attention on Palestinian rights and the Palestinian social movements struggling for them. After 10 years of experience, we know that BDS works. And we know that it takes persistence, creativity and ingenuity to make a lasting difference. What better way to mark this 10-year anniversary than by stepping up the pressure to end Israeli Apartheid!
Ryvka Barnard is the Senior Campaigns Officer on Militarism and Security at War on Want.
This report was originally published by The New Internationalist.