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Editorial: The Palestinian BDS Campaign

Canadian PoliticsMiddle East

An important legacy of the Nazi Holocaust is the perpetrator’s defense “I didn’t know” at the Nuremberg tribunal hearings. More recently law challenges this “ostrich defense” by both perpetrators and bystanders, implying that there is an obligation to know. With regard to Israel/Palestine, there is little reason not to know about the horrific realities, for despite massive pro-Israeli advocacy there is ample documentation from within and without pointing to the clear culpability of the State of Israel in a number of international crimes against the Palestinian people.

A significant contribution to truth telling comes from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign launched in July 2005 by over 150 Palestinian unions, associations, civil-society groups and refugee-rights organizations. In itself, this call refutes one lie for there is a long history of non-violent, well-organized resistance by Palestinians that predates formation of the State of Israel in 1948. The call states that “non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

The BDS campaign finds historical resonance with the campaign in South Africa to end apartheid, again calling attention to Israeli apartheid as embodied in its laws and institutions. George Bisharat, Palestinian-American law professor, notes that the South African BDS call took thirty years to gain traction, but that the current Palestinian campaign may have a snowball effect. Already in 2005 there was an international campaign joined by churches, universities, and municipalities against the Caterpillar bulldozers used to kill civilians like Rachel Corrie and the civilians of Jenin refugee camp, to demolish thousands of homes and olive groves.

With the devastating siege and military invasion of Gaza, the campaign continues to gain momentum. Here in Canada, the national organization Independent Jewish Voices passed a resolution supporting BDS and the Quebec Teacher’s Federation and the Toronto United Church just passed a BDS motion. CUPE Ontario and CUPW renewed their support of BDS with strong criticism of the Harper government.

It is timely to focus on Canada’s ties with Israel. Speaking recently in Canada, both Palestinian George Bisharat and Israeli activist/academic Jeff Halper spoke of the need to work strategically on this effort, given the enormous power wielded by Israel and the massive economic and political backing by the United States. Halper spoke of the difficulties in finding a focus for boycott that would engage the electorate and proposed pinpointing the extensive military and security ties between Israel and Canada. A recent COAT (Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade) report lists over fifty Canadian military exporters that have supplied essential components and/or services for the weapons systems used by the Israeli Air Force in the Gaza invasion. Extensive information is available about government and corporate contracts, about related Canadian Pension Plan investments, about Canadian university research and development projects connected with Israel’s military and surveillance industries.

A focus on the military/surveillance connection can reframe perception of both Israel and Canada in a realistic way: Israel is the aggressor and not the victim, and Canada is a military power with a large weapons and surveillance trade. The two countries are bound together in a free trade agreement and by a security pact. Interventions can work: during the last onslaught on Gaza, dockworkers in Australia and South Africa refused to unload Israeli cargo, and the Greek government forbid the unloading of U.S. munitions destined for Israel.

Canadians, whether workers, legislators, faith leaders, etc., must follow suit in actively and aggressively condemning Israeli Apartheid. Indeed, the whole world – and Palestine – is watching us.

This article appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension .

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