The Palestinian lead non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement can no longer be ignored or denied. On February 11th, the US Senate passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which includes several clauses that name BDS and a direct response to the US BDS campaign.
mai abdul rahman February 2016
While the Senate’s veto proof vote displays Israel’s political weight, it also demonstrates BDS’s influence and viability in shaping a balanced political landscape in the US. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a non-violent peaceful movement. Moreover, with Israel’s help a whole lot of Americans were made aware of the breadth and strength of the global BDS campaign, its potential and promise.
For several years, Israel’s political establishment has recognized BDS’s wide international appeal, but its rapid spread in the US has caught them by surprise. Average Americans have quietly worked to implement some or all of the BDS call in their local communities. The US BDS movement has benefited by strategically focusing on building grass root support at the local level where its constituents play an important role in shaping their local BDS campaigns that fits the perspective and aspiration of their communities, and leveraging its broad network of supporters nationally. As a result, the US BDS campaign is built on a well-founded organic national grass root movement.
While the BDS’s inherent promise and sensible approach has fueled its spread globally, the US BDS reliance on a slow and steady strategy, and focus on building strong grass root support for BDS has proved to be prudent and effective. Above all, the success of the US BDS campaign rests on the belief that a lasting just peace is achievable.
The US BDS movement is made up of Americans that represent America’s diverse political, ethnic, racial, faith and non faith communities. For example, in a span of two years, American Jewish groups, churches, interfaith communities, unions, academic associations, Jewish and non Jewish student organizations, political and human rights activists have endorsed the BDS call. Distinctively, the US BDS movement has attracted a diverse community of supporters that include Jewish and non-Jewish Americans committed for the long haul to advance a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Alarmed of the spread of BDS in the US, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his US supporters have urged American legislators to slow its momentum. This month, the US Senate granted Israel’s prime minister far more than he had asked for, or probably dreamed. Seventy-five US senators voted in favor of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015. The sweeping legislation attempts to shield US companies profiting from Israel’s illegal settlements from being pressured by US BDS’ers to move their operations into Israel proper (pre-1967 borders). The 2015 Senate Act also nullifies the longstanding US policy of supporting the two states solution (along the Green Line), and requires US agencies to monitor the activities of the global BDS movement, report and identify foreign companies that participate in BDS.
According to AIPAC: “This measure builds on the important work of Congress … passing into law firm anti-BDS negotiating objectives for American trade negotiators.” The intent of the legislation is to expand commercial relations between American companies and Israeli companies operating in Israel’s illegal settlements. The measure also attempts to provide US companies profiting from Israel’s illegal settlements (Palestinian territories) some legal protection from liability under international law and the International Court of Justice. Nevertheless, within the folds of this legislation is a direct response to the US BDS campaign, which has focused its efforts on targeting US companies profiting form Israel’s illegal settlement enterprises.
The reluctance of US legislatures to exert the smallest political gesture to curtail Israel’s illegal settlements or ease its military policies has facilitated the adoption of BDS in the US. While Congress annually dedicates massive sums of US taxpayers’ precious resources to fund Israel’s military occupation and its illegal settlements, Americans are denied federal aid to support the homeless and poor, emotionally challenged students, or crumbling roads. As a result, US BDS’ers have waged public campaigns to educate Americans on the tremendous cost of funding Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. They argue that at the very least, the US could mandate guidelines for the $billions it grants to ensure these monies are spent on activities that exclude subsidizing Israel’s illegal settlements.
By far, the Israeli political establishment is most concerned about one specific BDS demand that reasserts the relevance of the Charter of Nuremberg. During the Hitler regime Germany’s legislators passed national laws and decrees that sanctioned the indiscriminate displacement of German Jews. These laws denied Jewish citizens their rights and legally authorized their transfer, where millions perished in concentration camps. Accordingly, the Charter of Nuremberg declared that forced deportation and uprooting of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity. This is an opinion adopted by the world community following World War II to protect future communities from displacement and to avert a recurrence of the German Jewish experience.
While these international covenants are universally agreed upon within the context of the displaced German and European Jewish communities, the Israeli political establishment considers these protected rights highly objectionable when applied to Palestinians. For more than six decades, Palestinian refugees have remained stateless and homeless living in clusters of overcrowded camps. Despite Israel’s diplomatic efforts to thwart any mention of the Palestinian refugees, countless of UN resolutions assert the rights of the displaced Palestinians. Regardless, BDS invokes the Charter of Nuremberg and calls on Israel to recognize the rights of the Palestinian refugees.
Generations of Palestinian refugees have lived in temporary makeshift shelters without political rights or protections. Palestinians contend that the stateless status and appalling conditions of the Palestinian refugees is the consequence of Israel’s 1948 deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The Syrian war demonstrates the critical importance of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem. Their hellish plight has again exposed the urgent need to meaningfully address and rectify the hardships they have endured. While Israel has so far refused to recognize their role in creating the Palestinian refugee crisis, their difficult and brutal conditions merit their serious attention.
Since 2011, Palestinians living in Syria’s refugee camps are again victimized by a ruthless war. They are victims of a horrendous crime and a colossal human tragedy. While the plight of the Syrians has awakened the conscience of many and activated the world’s civil community, the Palestinians living in their midst have no one to call attention to their horrific circumstances. At minimum, Israel and its supporters should be willing to recognize the considerable hardships Syria’s Palestinian refugees are facing. Dismissing to acknowledge the perplexing nature of the Palestinian refugee crisis will not absolve Israel of its responsibilities to address this contentious problem, but compassionate understanding of their dire conditions will heal both societies.
BDS is guilty of gaining momentum in the US. It is challenging Israel’s continual military, economic, and political control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. BDS questions Israel’s perpetual need to dominate Palestinians’ daily life, their natural resources (air, water, land, and sea), and institutions (religious, health, education, cultural, and social). Fundamentally, the spread of the US BDS movement disputes the accepted Israeli narrative, which for so long has been unchallenged in the US.
Those who are waging the anti-BDS campaign in the US are blindly whitewashing Israel’s actions regardless of the merit. Their objective is to maintain the status quo and the continuation of Israel’s policies regardless of the human cost. They prefer to keep Israelis and Palestinians living in a permanent state of fear and anxiety, willing to indefinitely arrest the opportunity for a just peace in the region. While, their objectives and motives are clear, the outcome of their strategies is a quandary that defies logic.
For the time being, US legislators have surrendered the responsibility for fostering peace among Palestinians and Israelis to ordinary Americans. The Senate’s veto proof vote is an open admission that US politicians are unwilling to pay the political price for pressuring the Israeli political establishment and its US allies to choose peace. Thankfully, the US Constitution bars US politicians from banning Americans from adopting BDS. Americans who believe that peace is achievable will continue to exercise their right to observe BDS by refusing to reward companies that profit from the occupation, and support BDS in their churches, unions, and campuses. They choose BDS because it is effective.