The Case For Boycott, Divestment And Sanctions (BDS) Against Israel

By Omar Ali*

It must be emphasized that disagreeing with our government’s position on the Middle East, should be considered as a sincere effort to correct a policy, which has proved unworkable and brought untold sufferings to the Palestinians, and to certain extent to the Israelis, as well as the region as a whole.

Palestinian Bedouins surviving harsh conditions following a winter storm in Gaza.
Palestinian Bedouins surviving harsh conditions following a winter storm in Gaza.

Immediately after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, an Arab Ambassador went to the State Department to bid farewell. Although his departure was not related to the war, he said that he had conveyed to the head of the Middle East desk that “After this open United States’ support for Israel, no one in the Arab world could defend the friendship with the United States.” The American diplomat told him that “Those who care about the friendship of the United States should defend it.” Due to the support of the United States, and to certain extent Britain, it took the United Nations Security Council five months to issue an ambiguous resolution, which Israel has been using to abort any genuine effort to allow the Palestinian people to exercise its right to self determination. Since then the United States, with exception of few episodes, has been trying to force the Arab side to accept the position of Israel, and has not been an impartial interlocutor between the two sides. On several occasions, the United States alone used its veto power to prevent the United Nations Security Council from adopting any resolution to provide guidelines to end the stalemate.

Therefore, this conflict will continue for a long time until the United States changes its one-sided pro-Israel policy, or the Palestinians, with the support of the international community including United States’ public opinion, are capable of emulating the South African liberation struggle model.

The failure of the United Nations and particularly its Security Council to achieve peace and justice in the Holy Land has not only kept the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for forty-eight years, but has caused tremendous sufferings to the Palestinians living under occupation, led to further wars and conflicts, and impacted the image of the United States in the Middle East, and the world.

While the United Nations has achieved progress in dealing with many international questions since the end of the Cold War, it has failed to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The situation of the Palestinians is similar to that of South Africans under the apartheid regime. This fact was confirmed by many South Africans including the late Nelson Mandela, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. However, there were important differences between the two cases not relating to the sufferings of the two peoples, but to the unlimited support provided by the West in general and the United States in particular to Israel, and their disregard to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. Furthermore, African Americans and liberals in the West overwhelming supported the struggle against apartheid. Arab Americans as well as the entire Arab states including the League of Arab States have not been able to exert any influence on the Administration and Congress to bring about a just and peaceful solution to this conflict. Many were hoping that President Barack Obama would be able to implement the ideas he had delivered in his statement in Cairo soon after his first term election, but he abandoned those ideas later. There are reports indicating that the Administration’s priority now is the Iranian nuclear program, and does not want any other distraction in the Middle East particularly since Israel enjoys wide support on this issue in Congress. In the meantime many experts believe that whether there will be a deal with Iran or not, that will not change the negative positions of the Administration and Congress on the plight of the Palestinians. However, there is no need for despair; there is a growing realization in Europe and to certain extent in the United States of the continuing sufferings of the Palestinians due to the Israeli occupation. The tremendous influence of pro-Israeli groups will prevent Congress and the Administration from taking any position that will lead to resolving this dispute on the basis of peace and justice. However, the growing BDS movement will bring about changes in the world, and even in the position of the Israeli government. It may be recalled that President Ronald Reagan was opposed to the sanctions and other forms of pressure against South Africa. Nevertheless the anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe succeeded in convincing Congress and European parliaments respectively to adopt the Anti Apartheid Act of 1986 as well as European legislations against apartheid. The popular support for sanctions against South Africa convinced Congress to override the presidential veto on that legislation. Only then the South African government became interested in negotiating an end to apartheid. It is doubtful that either the Obama Administration or Congress will be in a position to impose any form of sanctions against Israel. In the meantime public boycott of corporations and companies doing business in the West Bank (Palestine) is a legitimate action by people supporting human rights. Even if, as reported, Congress might pass legislation penalizing companies abiding by BDS, it could be challenged in the Supreme Court because such legislation will be contrary to the first amendment of the Constitution.

The Obama Administration could avoid all the hurdle of sanctions by calling for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution stipulating the steps to be taken by Israel, the Palestinians, and all concerned parties to conclude an ultimate treaty to end this conflict on the basis of peace and justice. In order to clarify the terms peace and justice, the final treaty should include the total withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 including Arab East Jerusalem, ending the strangulation of the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, an agreement between Israel and the Palestine on modalities to implement the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, renunciation of violence, and commitment as well as practical measures agreed upon by both sides with guarantees from the United Nations Security Council to protect the peace and security of all the states in the region, and ensure the establishment of peaceful and normal relations between all the states in the region. While discussing these issues at different forums here, a question is asked about what would Israel gain from all these arrangements? It should be remembered that all previous administrations had stated that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories were contrary to peace. Furthermore, Israel will have normal relations with the Arab world. A state implementing United Nations resolutions will ensure the respect of the international community, and not be subject to sanctions and condemnation. Finally, BDS have already brought about new thinking in Israel. Recently there have been wide discussions in Israel on BDS, which reflected an awareness of the growing concern in the international community that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the strangulation of Palestinian lives must end. Furthermore, an American academician documenting BDS on South Africa during apartheid has conveyed that the Israelis are very much concerned about this question because of the similarities between the situations of the South Africans under apartheid, and the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

*Omar Ali is the pen name of a long time scholar and activist who has received death threats for his writings advocating justice in Palestine.

This was first published at The Daily Censored.