For years, and even decades, it’s seemed like the hapless and bloody Israel-Palestine conflict had spilled over an event-horizon, entering a black hole, crossing that tipping point after which no light can emerge, no negotiations can be settled, no peace can surface.
But over the last little while, there is an increasing, and somewhat mainstream, scorn for Israel's foreign policy and settlements in Gaza. There is a widespread recognition of Israel as a colonial power that routinely violates international law – as a zone of a cruel apartheid. There is a palatable sense that conditions in the Middle-East are boiling over, moving towards a point where something may heave. Now or never.
This week, one of the most intelligent individuals on planet earth, the celebrated and award-winning Cambridge physicist, Stephen Hawking, publicly endorsed a boycott against Israel put forth by Palestinian academics, aligning himself with the burgeoning BDS (Boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement.
The BDS movement is now gathering steam. In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian (a.k.a. human) rights. According to the issued statement, the BDS campaign aims for “non-violent punitive measures” against Israel until it complies with international law by ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194. In response to this call, an international movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging with celebrities, intellectuals and artists from around the world signing in and showing support.
The 71 year old, world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who gained international recognition for his work on black holes, has had motor neuron disease for 50 years, and is a wheelchair-bound genius, and now, activist. Hawking was scheduled to headline a prestigious conference in Israel in June organized by Israeli President Shimon Peres with hundreds of leading world figures in attendances. When he cancelled this week, issuing a statement that he was withdrawing in protesting of the state's ongoing injustice, illegal behavior and cruel occupation of Palestine, the news made the front pages of the Guardian immediately.
Hawking's decision marks yet another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic and cultural institutions. By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh. Universities around the world have expressed solidarity, such as Carlton, York University and University of Toronto & Regina in Canada; and Arizona State University, Columbia, University of California and UPennsylvania in the USA.
Hawking's tactic of non-violent protest may be effective in gaining international support to hold Israel accountable for its record of impunity. While Israeli officials denounce Hawking's decision as outrageous and unwarranted, and otherscall him a lemming, ceding to pressure, and fling accusations of antisemitism at him; several notable Palestinians have spoken out eloquently with gratitude and enthusiasm. Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University in the West Bank, said that Hawking's decision to withdraw from the conference was “fantastic.” Botmeh remarks:
I think it's wonderful that he has acted on moral grounds. That's very ethical and very important for us as Palestinians to know and understand that there are principled colleagues in the world who are willing to take a stand in solidarity with an occupied people.
Omar Barghoutti, a founding member of the BDS movement, spoke out saying that “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking's support for an academic boycott of Israel. We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
For the “smartest man in the world” to take this moral stand is surely significant and may mark a turning point in what has heretofore been perceived as a geopolitical black hole.