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The Boycott Century

Decolonization might begin with promoting Palestinian products over Israeli ones.
The Boycott Century
Sipa Photos

“An underdeveloped people must prove, by its fighting power, its ability to set itself up as a nation, and by the purity of every one of its acts, that it is, even to the smallest detail, the most lucid, the most self-controlled people.” –Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism.


There is an echoing sentiment here in Ramallah that Israeli milk is more “tasteful” and “nutritious” than Palestinian milk. The same goes for wine, apples, dates, juice and just about everything else … except for maybe olives. In fact, Palestinian shopkeepers even stock Israeli-made milk at the front of their store while Palestinian milk sits in a crate collecting dust in the corner.

Palestinians do this for two reasons: one, they truly believe their senses, the other – possibly more understandable than the first – is because selling Israeli products yield a much higher profit.

A recent study by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, an organization that aims to promote Palestinian products, found that Palestinians within the higher socioeconomic strata tend to buy more Israeli goods than those in the lower strata.

Appropriating the colonialist brand seems to imply prestige (a product, perhaps, of the inferiority complex) but if you push this aside as a psychological result of colonialism and consider the economic dependency Palestinians are forced to live with, one way to overcome the subjugation of the colonialist-settler (thus racist and discriminatory) policies would be to boycott Israeli products. Besides forcing Palestinians to consume their own products, it would promote and develop a domestic industry and manufactured goods. The Palestinians must ascertain that they can have a functioning society without being indebted to Israel.

This is, essentially, what the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is about. Using Apartheid South Africa as a model, a coalition of Palestinian groups felt compelled to combat Israel’s economic power over Palestine and created the BDS in 2005.

Besides placing political pressure on corporations to divest from Israel, BDS focuses strongly on its consumer boycott efforts. According to the BDS website, this serves to put “pressure on companies whose exports are linked to some of the most evident aspects of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

One of BDS’s many campaigns is to target stores that sell Israeli products and persuade them to stop stocking them. While much of the campaign is based on Israel’s exports to the West, activists here in the West Bank also try to deter Palestinian shopkeepers from selling produce that is grown in Israeli settlements. (Again, these yield more profit for Palestinians.) It is highly unlikely, though, that Palestinians will collectively and instantaneously dump their Israeli products for Palestinian manufactured goods and produce because an activist tells them so. They want to know if there is proof of sustainability.

A BDS Victory: Enter the story of Veolia and the light rail.

In 1902 Theodore Herzl wrote in Altneuland that the future of Jerusalem would be made of “modern neighborhoods with electric lines, tree-lined boulevards” and that Jerusalem would become “a metropolis of the 20th century.” A century later his vision is materializing with the Jerusalem Light Rail project (JLR). When (and if) completed, the light rail will conveniently accommodate Jewish-Israelis, connecting West Jerusalem to Jewish settlements. The light rail travels through Palestinian neighborhoods but makes no stops in them. Also, as one Israeli blogger put it, “… all the windows have been reinforced to be resistant to stones and Molotov cocktails.”

But officials are now facing a major setback. In June Ha’aretz reported that Veolia, a French transportation company that was to operate the light rail post-construction, abandoned the project because of the “political pressure” it was facing: a direct implication of the BDS “Derail Veolia and Alstom Campaign.”

Founding BDS member Omar Barghouti said, “Veolia’s reported intention to withdraw from the illegal JLR project gives the BDS movement an important victory: success in applying concerted, intensive pressure on a company that is complicit in the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, enough to compel it to withdraw from an illegal project. This may well usher in a new era of corporate accountability, whereby companies that are profiting from Israel’s illegal colonial and racist regime over the indigenous people of Palestine will start to pay a real price in profits and image for their collusion.”

The pressure from human rights activists and lawyers throughout Europe battered Veolia, costing it multiple contracts – a loss that amounted to more than seven billion dollars. From Stockholm to Bordeaux, companies dumped Veolia on account of its stake in a project that violates international law. Association France-Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) took Veolia, along with Alstom – the engineering enterprise behind the light rail – to a French court. AFPS filed the complaint against Alstom and Veolia in 2007, arguing that the 8.3-mile project violates international law since East Jerusalem is not sovereign Israeli territory. “Our main argument is that the light rail project is intended to serve illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and thus it’s part of illegal settlement infrastructure and by being involved in project, the French companies are violating international law,” says Azem Bishara, an attorney with the Negotiation Support Unit in Ramallah.

When the Arab League organized a boycott of Israel after its colonization of Palestine in 1948, Arab countries refused to deal with Israel by boycotting their products, services and even refusing to allow Israelis into their country. Lebanon and Syria are the only countries that allegedly adhere to the boycott today, as they have yet to sign trade agreements with Israel. The Israeli Chamber of Commerce reported Israel was losing an average of 10 percent in export revenue per year when the boycott was in its prime. This spearheaded the fight by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to pressure Congress to pass an anti-boycott legislation. In 1977 then-President Jimmy Carter, who now advocates the window-dressing of Palestinian national independence, signed a law that would impose a fine on American companies that cooperated with the boycott.

It seems safe to assume that this legislative effort by AJC indicated that it, at least, believed the Arab League boycott was having some effect.

American and European companies used similar calculations and campaigning to pull out of South Africa over 20 years ago, but how do we know anti-boycott Israeli investors won’t target companies like Veolia? Whether or not Veolia goes through with its withdrawal, the question remains: is it really a victory? And how can an effective boycott promote economic independence so that Palestinian milk will no longer end up in stores’ dustbins? These are questions the boycott campaign has to confront.

Sousan Hammad is a Palestinian-American writer based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

80 comments on the article “The Boycott Century”

Displaying 71 - 80 of 80

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Anonymous

If Israel is systematically massacring Palestinians, why are their numbers in Israel exploding? From 731,000 in July 1994 to 1,325,000 in 2004 in Gaza. Doesn't look like extermination to me. Israel stole nothing. The UN (dozens of nations, mind you) signed off to give them the land of Palestine (which has NEVER been ruled by Palestinians) because the international community felt sorry for them after WWII. There are 3700 years of recorded history to prove that nothing was stolen. There are hundreds of Palestinian high schools in Israel now, compared to a handful in 1948. Palestinians vote in Israeli elections and run. They are elected to office... in Israel. Jordan, on the other hand, just passed a law saying that Palestinians may not own homes in the country of Jordan and if they do currently, they may not pass them to their children as inheritance. Looks like somebody needs to get their facts straight.

Anonymous

If Israel is systematically massacring Palestinians, why are their numbers in Israel exploding? From 731,000 in July 1994 to 1,325,000 in 2004 in Gaza. Doesn't look like extermination to me. Israel stole nothing. The UN (dozens of nations, mind you) signed off to give them the land of Palestine (which has NEVER been ruled by Palestinians) because the international community felt sorry for them after WWII. There are 3700 years of recorded history to prove that nothing was stolen. There are hundreds of Palestinian high schools in Israel now, compared to a handful in 1948. Palestinians vote in Israeli elections and run. They are elected to office... in Israel. Jordan, on the other hand, just passed a law saying that Palestinians may not own homes in the country of Jordan and if they do currently, they may not pass them to their children as inheritance. Looks like somebody needs to get their facts straight.

Anonymous

Read this whole article before you try to comment on any "facts" - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/06/southafrica.israel And now let's cut the bovine scatalogy. You are promulgating the politics of death and not peace. Israel got what it wanted because the U.S. sat on the Security Council with its veto. It's been since I was born. When I was 14 years old my first summer job was for the U.S. State Department. I carried a check to the Israeli Embassy in an amount so large that my hand started shaking when they gave it to me. I am now 60. I am tired of subsidizing Israeli defense - it is a dry well. The solution for peace in the Middle East is as easy as kindergarten. Simply ask yourself what will be a real benefit to ALL the children? Ask it again. What actions must urgently be taken to be of benefit to ALL THE CHILDREN. Once that is your premise (and you include Palestinian children in the equation) you will see clearly that cease and desist on the settlements is a must or there is no hope of peace until the establishment of a non-landlocked Palestinian state with uncompromised water rights. Land must be returned to those whose lands were cut off by the "wall". Compensation must be made for olive trees (& other crops) destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force & others. A deadline date must be set for the establishment of the Palestinian State. Before I die I want to see ALL of these children have the real benefits of peace: Life without fear of reprisals against them or a family member, a safe place to play, an education not filled with the propaganda of hate, and a hope for a bright future. All the same things I want for my own family. It's not about Jewishness anymore. It's about justice. Shalom

Anonymous

Read this whole article before you try to comment on any "facts" - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/06/southafrica.israel And now let's cut the bovine scatalogy. You are promulgating the politics of death and not peace. Israel got what it wanted because the U.S. sat on the Security Council with its veto. It's been since I was born. When I was 14 years old my first summer job was for the U.S. State Department. I carried a check to the Israeli Embassy in an amount so large that my hand started shaking when they gave it to me. I am now 60. I am tired of subsidizing Israeli defense - it is a dry well. The solution for peace in the Middle East is as easy as kindergarten. Simply ask yourself what will be a real benefit to ALL the children? Ask it again. What actions must urgently be taken to be of benefit to ALL THE CHILDREN. Once that is your premise (and you include Palestinian children in the equation) you will see clearly that cease and desist on the settlements is a must or there is no hope of peace until the establishment of a non-landlocked Palestinian state with uncompromised water rights. Land must be returned to those whose lands were cut off by the "wall". Compensation must be made for olive trees (& other crops) destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force & others. A deadline date must be set for the establishment of the Palestinian State. Before I die I want to see ALL of these children have the real benefits of peace: Life without fear of reprisals against them or a family member, a safe place to play, an education not filled with the propaganda of hate, and a hope for a bright future. All the same things I want for my own family. It's not about Jewishness anymore. It's about justice. Shalom

Anonymous

Why is it when discussing anything to do with Isreal/Palestine, the raw primal remarks start to show up? It begins, as always, with one or two adding point to think on, and then delves into a bashing in of all religions and name calling, a large part of the reason that people have not fully come together to solve this issue after much too long a wait and far too many lives lost, is because there is always the ignorant fool who just wants a fight. Using Adbusters as your way of relieving some issue you have in your daily life, just isn't cool, this is a good site, with good topics and debates, so take it elsewhere. We like to be challenged intellectually, not to have to scroll down many perverse and pointless comments to find the diamond in the rough.

Anonymous

Why is it when discussing anything to do with Isreal/Palestine, the raw primal remarks start to show up? It begins, as always, with one or two adding point to think on, and then delves into a bashing in of all religions and name calling, a large part of the reason that people have not fully come together to solve this issue after much too long a wait and far too many lives lost, is because there is always the ignorant fool who just wants a fight. Using Adbusters as your way of relieving some issue you have in your daily life, just isn't cool, this is a good site, with good topics and debates, so take it elsewhere. We like to be challenged intellectually, not to have to scroll down many perverse and pointless comments to find the diamond in the rough.

Anonymous

Let's boycott China, a far worse human-right abuser, while we're at it. And we can stop buying anything that may have been transported with Sudanese or Saudi Arabian or Oil Sands Alberta oil, including this magazine or these computers. And let's boycott the US, and the hypocritical Europeans, too. Who do you think sold Israel all those weapons? In the meantime, let's make to sure to support the openly one-party, religious, anti-semitic Hezbollah government. And we can't forget that we should buy some good from Nkunda (or his sucessor)-controlled territory in the Congo, as they are also claiming to defend a minority. Never mind the child soliders. While we're at it, we should never forget the poor, opporessed people of Iran. Let's buy as many Iranian goods as we can, using the funds saved from boycotting Israel. Because we all know that rhetoric like this does not, by any means, strengthen the rightist sentiment in the only regional democracy. In fact, we should isolate Israel as much as possible, making them feel the most hated and vulnerable as we can, because they lack the cultural memory of what it is to face hatred and destruction and would quickly cave in to our demands. It's not like they have the survivors of war crimes as grandparents and a very efficient, aggressive and organised military machine that relies on a doctrine of pre-emption against greater numbers of enemies. Yes, let us boycott Israel. I'm sure it would be a meaningful and productive exercises. Five major wars in the past forty years surely could never have prepared hard-liners for the fury of a grass-roots economic campaign!

Anonymous

Let's boycott China, a far worse human-right abuser, while we're at it. And we can stop buying anything that may have been transported with Sudanese or Saudi Arabian or Oil Sands Alberta oil, including this magazine or these computers. And let's boycott the US, and the hypocritical Europeans, too. Who do you think sold Israel all those weapons? In the meantime, let's make to sure to support the openly one-party, religious, anti-semitic Hezbollah government. And we can't forget that we should buy some good from Nkunda (or his sucessor)-controlled territory in the Congo, as they are also claiming to defend a minority. Never mind the child soliders. While we're at it, we should never forget the poor, opporessed people of Iran. Let's buy as many Iranian goods as we can, using the funds saved from boycotting Israel. Because we all know that rhetoric like this does not, by any means, strengthen the rightist sentiment in the only regional democracy. In fact, we should isolate Israel as much as possible, making them feel the most hated and vulnerable as we can, because they lack the cultural memory of what it is to face hatred and destruction and would quickly cave in to our demands. It's not like they have the survivors of war crimes as grandparents and a very efficient, aggressive and organised military machine that relies on a doctrine of pre-emption against greater numbers of enemies. Yes, let us boycott Israel. I'm sure it would be a meaningful and productive exercises. Five major wars in the past forty years surely could never have prepared hard-liners for the fury of a grass-roots economic campaign!

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