Restrictions on freedom of movement play a pivotal role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The first part of this article explored the impact of those restrictions on Palestinian national identity. This second part now addresses responses of state and non-state actors to press for rights for Palestinians, including through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). By Tamara Tamimi
Restrictions on freedom of movement perpetrated by the Israeli occupation, outlined in the first part of this article, give rise to a number of concerns and perplexities about international order and concepts. Ultimately, within the wider scope of the policies of the Israeli occupation, one not only wonders about the extent of the right to self determination practiced by the Palestinian people. The significance of democratic processes and elections in such contexts is also highly controversial.
The continued lack of sovereignty of the two Palestinian governments over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip demonstrates the limitations and shortcomings of the concepts of democracy in a colonialist framework. The point is that if Legislative Council and Presidential elections were to happen any time soon, which by itself is doubtful, all the respective parties and candidates will have a very limited scope when it comes to state building, law enforcement, and economic development.
Alternatively, with the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994, significant civil work was shouldered instead by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This also coincided with Palestinian political parties and universities taking a back seat in the struggle towards liberation and state building. Moreover, the complete dependence of Palestinian NGOs on foreign aid and funding dictates their lines and modes of work, subjugating them to the agenda and conditions of donors, which one way or the other eventually returns to and reflects the funding country’s foreign policy.
The need to bring Palestinians together again
Hence, to counter those tendencies, serious work needs to be vested in reinvigorating the struggle for liberation. As part of this, Palestinian civil society activism, which was at its highpoint in the 1970s and 1980s, needs to resurge and political parties warrant rejuvenation. Towards this end, Palestinian NGOs should explore alternative means to institutional fundraising to support the implementation of their programmes. Finally, and most importantly, there is a need for a collective framework to bring Palestinians in all places of existence together.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) up until the 90s played this role, until it was marginalised and sidelined by the PNA, despite the limited scope of representation the PNA possesses. For example, the PNA, unlike the PLO, does not represent Palestinian holders of Israeli citizenship and Palestinian refugees, who are nonetheless an integral and indispensible component of the Palestinian struggle toward liberation.
There was a time when Palestinian political parties, and particularly Fatah, were actually responsive to the people. Up until the beginning of the Oslo process in the early 1990s, political parties were trying to make informed decisions based on public opinion. Yet, in the past 20+ years no one has asked the Palestinian people anymore about what they want, let alone whether they perceive the two-state solution to be still viable or not. Instead, foreign world governments, the international community, international and national NGOs, as well as the PNA dictate their way. They all make propositions to solve “the conflict” and thereby consolidate their own power, without even bothering to take the opinion of the most important actor, that of the Palestinian people.
Gleams of Hope
As opposed to that, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, established by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005, is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice. The movement calls for the cultural, academic, and economic boycott of Israeli institutions and goods, divestment from companies, and imposition of sanctions on Israel until it complies with International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law.
Currently endorsed by more than 170 Palestinian political parties, organisations, and trade unions, the BDS-movement seeks to fulfil three goals. The first is to end the occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and to dismantle the Wall. The second is to recognise the fundamental rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure full equality. The third is to respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The three BDS goals are a reflection of the aspirations of the Palestinian people, going in line with the inalienable expectations that Palestinians find inconceivable to make concessions on, even though they were already severely undermined through many bilateral negotiations over the past years. These include the creation of the state of Palestine, the right of self determination, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Because of the ineptness of the PNA and the inability of the Palestinian civil society to mainstream concepts of equality, let alone social justice and freedom, the BDS-movement has proven indispensable as an effective strategy and is continuously on the rise.
Over the years, the movement has enjoyed significant breakthroughs and successes. This includes the closure of illegal factories in West Bank settlements, the spread of academic boycott throughout the USA and more recently to Europe (including the UK), and the cancelation by European and American singers and artists of concerts and shows in Israel.
A “price tag” on the occupation
Nevertheless, the situation in Palestine continues to deteriorate and Palestinians have increasingly limited access to human rights. As this has in the same time made it possible for the Israeli government to profit economically, the BDS-strategy is getting ever more important. This is because it challenges not only the tools of the occupation, but also makes it costly for the Israeli government. As such, these price tags on the occupation, economic and otherwise, are supposed to pressure the Israeli governments to reconsider its policies and practices.
Slowly yet steadily pushing forward the economic boycott of Israel is, I believe, the strongest tool available at the disposal of the Palestinians and the international community in holding Israel accountable for violations of human and international humanitarian rights committed against Palestinians. Such examples include but are not limited to a 46 percent drop in direct foreign investment in Israel, coupled with successful campaigns to divest from foreign companies profiting from illegal settlements, such as Veolia, SodaStream, and G4S. In light of the current political situation, it is only these types of successes that will push colonialist bodies to rethink their actions and policies.
Together, I hope, the resurgence in Palestinian civil society, namely the rejuvenation of national Palestinian political parties along an increase in grassroots activism, together with political reform will enable the Palestinian people to form a united front in the struggle towards the attainment of freedom. Coupled with the continued success of the BDS, and the shift in the opinion and standing of the international community the movement has contributed to, I see light at the end of the tunnel after all.