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Amin Abbas on the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel (Discussant 1 of 5)

Preamble by NAJ Taylor: Following the reaction to my blog post on the application of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel campaign in October, I decided to approach five members of the Middle East diaspora and community in Australia to each discuss, in their own words, the following proposition:

“To what extent is the BDS effective at balancing competing “harms” – the use of ”non-violent” harm to injure Israel economically, politically, reputationally and militarily and the relief of the “violent harm” endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation? How useful is a campaign that “balances competing harms” for the Israeli and Palestinian, as well as Jewish and Muslim, diaspora – and wider Middle Eastern community – in Australia?”

Discussant 1 of 5 (below): Amin Abbas is a Diaspora Palestinian.

Does Einstein have the formula to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict? 

by Amin Abbas 

One country, two peoples and two worlds. The apartheid wall, (Photo: Joshua Hough) - and Tel-Aviv beach-, (Photo: Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Melbourne, AUSTRALIA: A Martian lands in the Holy land and asks this question: “what sin have the Palestinians committed to be locked up behind high walls and electrified fences, many living in miserable conditions  and the majority displaced and not allowed back to their homes?”

A fellow Martian landing only a few kilometers away responds “you sure we landed in the same place? There are no Palestinians here!”

Israelis are apathetic to the injustice they brought about on another people for six long decades. The underpinning aim of their state is to privilege Jews everywhere, regardless of any harm, violent or otherwise, this inflicts on the indigenous inhabitants.  The anomalous racial configuration endures in a world of diversity and fading bearing of borders. Unrelenting and systematic practices to exploit and isolate the Palestinians politically, economically and even physically behind concrete walls conveniently makes the entire Palestinian population invisible to Israelis.

This brief Martian chat echoes the shift of Israeli politics to the right, 20 years of futile negotiations, lack of impartial arbitrators, Israeli’ disregard for international Law, the worsening Palestinian living conditions and suffocating Israeli colonisation. The imposition of non-violent harm, the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), is the natural discourse the world must urgently endorse against Israel. BDS best explored from four perspectives; morality, balance, effectiveness and relevance to Australia and present-day norms.

Morality of BDS instinctively raises this question: is the Palestinian experience of apartheid a manifestation of South African apartheid? In 2009, The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) responded in the affirmative. Israeli policies exhibit the three ‘pillars’ of apartheid. The first being laws and policies that establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential status and benefits to Jews over non-Jews. The second is the policy to fragment the Palestinian territory and ensure that Palestinians remain confined to the reserves designated for them while Israeli Jews enjoy freedom of movement. The third is Israel’s invocation of ‘security’ to validate sweeping restrictions on Palestinian freedoms.

In a recent interview, Reverend Allan Aubrey Boesak, a veteran of the South African anti-apartheid struggle, went even further; “It is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it”.

Upon recent reconciliation between the Palestinian factions Fateh and Hamas, Israel penalised all Palestinians by denying them access to their own money, the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority crucial to the livelihood of thousands. Israel is also considering cutting power and water supplies to punish the Palestinians further.  Such measures of collective punishment are matters of policy and Israelis are complicit tolerating them. BDS is moral and necessary to get Israelis to question their convenient and lofty configuration.

On the question of balance, some portray the conflict as one between two victims. This is false.  We have the oppressor and the oppressed. One has excessive power and the other has none. No warring parties over contested land, just two peoples on the one land, one controlling the lives of the other pretending they don’t exist.

For decades, Israeli military excessive violence was justified in self defense. The perpetual existential threat to the makeup of the Jewish state is also the ultimate right to be protected as far as foreign policies of the West are concerned. Having been founded on the continual dispossession of three generations of Palestinians, the largest refugee population in the world today, is immaterial. Palestinians rights are mere clichés. BDS offers the non-violent alternative to counter the grave imbalance of power, diplomatically and militarily.

On the effectiveness of BDS, Israel fitting the image of the pariah state is owed to its own actions and policies. Cultural and academic boycott would hurt it further with growing global awareness of BDS. Furthermore, the troubled finances of the world exposed the volatility of politics against fragile economies, the theme of prevalence this year. Countries are viciously protecting their exports and trade as world economies contract and austerities swell.  If boycotts scared Israel last year, it surely terrifies it today.

Finally, the world of the Arab spring, occupy Wall Street and the Spanish Indignados takes the other prevalence of contemporary world events. Individuals suddenly empowered by momentary communication and mobilisation along with eagerness for change.

Equally, the discrepancy between politics and democracy has never been more evident. World democracies influenced by strong lobbies and established power structures, not popular opinion. The recent Palestinian bid for a state is a case in point. The overwhelming international support has no value against an American veto. Popular support in Australia also deemed irrelevant by the Prime Minister pledging to oppose any such bid. Acts of political manipulation blatantly demonstrated when the American government penalised UNESCO financially upon Palestine’s membership admission. UNESCO’s reprehensible crime was allowing a democratic decision by its member states.

The function of global bodies like the UN makes one wonder; what is the purpose of international legal frameworks if they cannot protect the weak? Do they represent the International community? Would its decisions differ from the voice of the “people”? And can movements such as BDS bridge the likely divergence?

Naïve notions to withstand age old realities of power and international politics, perhaps, but the emergence of:

(a) rising super-powers;

(b) growing cause-driven networks;

(c) unprecedented technology enabled global reach, and;

(d) live news, reports and tweets weakening mainstream media control; are surely game changing. Individuals everywhere, including everyone here in Australia, are at the core of this evolution, bringing vigor to the power of collective action to bring about justice.

The imposition of BDS against Israel is moral, balanced, timely and the best strategy to repeal 60 years of injustice, in lieu of any other forms of resistance, including war and violence.

As for Einstein; “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

Amin Abbas is a Diaspora Palestinian. 


The other discussants: 

Discussant 2 of 5: Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based independent journalist and author who has written for The GuardianHaaretzThe NationSydney Morning Herald and many others. His two best-selling books are My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is currently working on many projects, including a book about vulture capitalism, a book on the Left in contemporary politics and another title on Israel/Palestine.

Discussant 3 of 5: Kim Bullimore is a long-time socialist, political activist and anti-racism campaigner.  Kim is a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS-Palestine), the only all women international peace team working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.   She also writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action and blogs at Live from Occupied Palestine.  In 2010, Kim co-organised the first national Australian BDS Conference.

Discussant 4 of 5: Les Rosenblatt is a Melbourne writer and political activist with a strong interest in Middle-Eastern politics and history. He has written several book reviews and articles on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for Arena magazine and elsewhere. Les also promotes the science of climate change and is seeking to understand how best to respond to the GFC Mark 2. Les was active in the Australian Jewish Democratic society over many years and participated in a Middle East Dialogue project organised by La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue a couple of years ago.

Discussant 5 of 5: Moammar Mashni is the co-founder and manager of Australians for Palestine. He works to articulate the concerns of Australia’s Palestinian communities among politicians, churches, unions, universities and the media and to raise Australian public awareness of the Israel-Palestine conflict’s dynamics. Moammar was born in Australia to a Palestinian refugee family.

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  • 1
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Nice piece.

    Well argued.

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