The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was launched in July 2005 by the Palestinian BDS National Committee and is endorsed by over 170 Palestinian organizations from the occupied Palestinian Territories, from Palestinian citizens of Israel and from the vast diaspora of Palestinian emigrants and refugees. The campaign calls upon “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
In June 2007 the committee outlined a detailed plan for action when it published the “Unified Palestinian Call for BDS,” a call for a massive boycott of Israeli projects and products. It asked universities, cultural institutions, sporting franchises and consumers to break their ties with Israel. It urged personal, institutional and corporate divestment from Israeli companies and from multinational corporations complicit with occupation and apartheid. It demanded widespread sanctions to isolate Israel both politically and militarily. The call for BDS has gained support from around the world and is endorsed by international Jewish peace groups, labor unions, student groups, faith-based organizations and an increasing number of European, African, Latin American and Middle Eastern political parties.
The fact that this campaign has inspired such prolific international support indicates that, for the first time in the history of the conflict, the world is listening to Palestinian calls for action. The BDS campaign is an effective nonviolent tool against a small trade-dependent nation like Israel. It is a tool of resistance, one that allows us to act politically without wading into the mire of corruption, scandal and infighting that mars Palestinian party politics. And rather than imposing sanctions that punish the lowest strata of the population, the campaign targets those financial and political institutions that profit most from the occupation. A similar strategy proved highly effective in South Africa when grassroots activism effectively shutdown the apartheid economy and overpowered Western support for a racist regime.
BDS has logged a string of successes in drawing attention to the complicity of companies like Caterpillar, Nokia and Indigo Books and Music. Its power lies in naming names – in speaking the truth about who is shamelessly profiteering at the expense of an occupied people. As the fight wages on, international courts are proving to be important battlegrounds. When threatened with action from the courts, the French company Veolia Transport, which was contracted to build an illegal light rail line connecting occupied East Jerusalem with Jewish colonies in the West Bank, announced it was pulling out of the project. Lawyers for the West Bank village of Bil’in brought charges against Canadian-based Green Park International and Green Mount International in a Quebec court for building settlements in the territories. Though the courts eventually refused to hear the case, the increased internationalization of legal action has proved a powerful tool and a promising new avenue for action.
Hitting Israel where it hurts – its economy – is the best chance we have for breaking down the wall of Israeli intransigence. Diplomatic relations have failed, and the violence promoted by certain Palestinian factions is not the answer. In BDS we have the potential to build a truly international coalition through completely legal and ethical action – a nonviolent means to strike against a system of asymmetric power and high-tech violence. And the beauty of the strategy is that it’s a multipronged attack: It’s not only though large-scale institutional divestment and international litigation that we can bring real pressure to bear on Israel – we push back every day simply by paying attention to the products we consume and the companies we support. BDS has worked before, and it will work again. The key is inspiring people and showing them that through solidarity and perseverance, we can end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.