Choosing to do no harm
by Kim Bullimore
Melbourne, AUSTRALIA: In December 2008, the Popular Committee Against the Wall from the Palestinian village of Bil’in in the Occupied West Bank and the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall were jointly awarded the Carl Von Ossietzky Human Rights Medallion in Berlin. The Award, named for the 1935 German Nobel Peace Prize winner Carl Von Ossietzky – a journalist and pacifist – who died in a Nazi concentration camp, is awarded each year for “outstanding service in the realisation of basic and human rights”. The International League of Human Rights who awards the prize noted that the two groups were an exemplary example of non-violent grassroots resistance to Israel’s occupation polices.
In their speech at the award ceremony, a representative of Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW) noted that as activists they were originally reluctant to accept a prize for political activism, saying “we would prefer not to be singled out for glory, and receive gratitude for what we feel is our duty”. The AATW representative, however, stated that despite this they would accept the award because:
“Here on this podium, just as in the olive groves of the West Bank, our primary moral duty is not to maintain ideological purity, but rather to stand with Palestinians in their resistance to oppression. We recognize the importance of garnering international support for the ongoing struggle … We believe that standing here, in the current state of affairs, is a direct continuation of the blocking of bulldozers, standing side by side with the stone throwers, or running away from teargas along with young and elderly protesters. Here, as in the olive groves, I would like to stress that we are not equal partners, but rather occupiers who join the occupied in THEIR struggle. We are aware of the fact that for many, the participation of Israelis in a Palestinian struggle serves as a stamp of approval, but in our eyes, this partnership is not about granting legitimacy. The Palestinian struggle is legitimate with or without us. Rather, the struggle is an opportunity for us to cross, in action rather than words, the barriers of national allegiance”.
For Palestine solidarity activists, such as myself, who have worked with Palestinian, Israeli and international activists campaigning in both Palestine and Australia against Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices, the Palestinian initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a similar continuation of the work done on the ground in Palestine: of blocking bulldozers and standing shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians struggling for freedom. The BDS campaign, like the struggle on the ground in Palestine, gives not only activists like myself but ordinary people across the world who believe in human rights and justice for all, the opportunity to cross in action rather than words, the barriers of national allegiance to stand with Palestinian society which since 1948 has suffered decades of human rights abuses and harm at the hands of the Israeli state.
The Palestinian BDS campaign initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society does not seek to “balance competing harms”. Instead its focus is on preventing further harm being done to an occupied and oppressed people. This is because the Israel-Palestine conflict isn’t a symmetrical struggle, played out on level playing field by two equal nations. Instead it’s an asymmetrical struggle, between a settler-colonial nation and a colonised, occupied, stateless Indigenous people. It is, therefore, a conflict marked by the dispossession of the Indigenous Palestinian people and their oppression by a stronger colonial entity, Israel.
As a result the Palestinian BDS campaign, which is conducted within the framework of international human rights law, is a non-violent punitive campaign launched by a colonised, oppressed people against the colonial state which is oppressing them. This is why at its heart; the BDS is an anti-colonial campaign which seeks to struggle against the “normalisation” of Palestinian dispossession via Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices, while also seeking to non-violently contribute to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and national liberation.
It is in this framework that the campaign calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained against Israel until it meets its international obligations to recognise the Palestinian peoples inalienable right to self-determination and until it complies with international law by (1) Ending its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; (2) Recognising 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.
Opponents of the BDS campaign, however, have sought to paint the campaign as anti-Semitic and/or harmful to Palestinians and any possible peace process. As BDS National Coordinator Hind Awwad notes, this second claim is not only patronising but it also paints Palestinians as immature children who don’t know what’s best. Similarly the argument that BDS is supposedly anti-Semitic doesn’t hold water. As the Palestinian BDS National Committee has repeatedly pointed out, not only does BDS actively oppose all forms of racism (including anti-Semitism), the campaign is aimed not at individuals but at businesses or institutions which directly contribute to the grave human rights abuses and international law violations of the Israeli state and military or to the rebranding campaigns that attempt to whitewash Israel’s crimes
Recently at a debate on the Palestinian cultural boycott in London, Omar Barghouti explained that the basic principle behind the campaign is ‘DO NO HARM”. Barghouti explained “all BDS asks you at the basic level is to refrain from undermining our struggle – from doing harm by abetting the cover-up of our oppressor’s crimes”, saying this is simply “a profound and basic moral obligation [of] refusing to be an accessory to a crime”.
Today, people of conscience around the world have a choice: do we choose to DO HARM and undermine the struggle of the Palestinian people for human rights and self-determination OR do we choose to DO NO HARM and refuse to be an accessory to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians? Today, which will you choose?
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.