Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: a rising people’s movement for justice

By: Maren Mantovani

[Today], ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ starts in India. For the first time, India is joining in the global series of events annually held in some 200 cities around the world that seek to build support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a growing global citizens response to Israel’s system of apartheid over the Palestinian people.

India’s Israeli Apartheid Week will explain why the movement, nominated recently for the Nobel Peace Prize, is so successful and why it is so urgent for India to join in.

Events in Hyderabad will include a talk with Mahmoud Nawaja’, the coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, Palestine’s largest civil society coalition that acts as a global reference for the BDS movement, called “Let’s talk Palestine – What we can do about it” held on March 28 at 6 pm at Car Khana, Banjara Hills.

Nawaja’a’s visit to India comes at a historic moment and will hopefully mark a return to policies that strengthen the foundational values of India’s constitution – democracy at home and policies that promote peace abroad.

This year marks 70 years of the Nakba, the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people from their homelands to make space for the establishment of the state of Israel as a colonial project. The global powers supported the establishment of Israel as it promised to continue their colonial interests in the region, even after British troops had withdrawn, by establishing a settler-colonial state in Mandate Palestine.

The illegal and inhumane ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people is far from being history – not only does Israel continue to deny Palestinian refugees the right of return but it continues the expulsion of entire communities until today. Those that have been able to remain on their land – whether as citizens of Israel or under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza – suffer under an atrocious apartheid system.

When activists 14 years ago launched Israeli Apartheid Week, within the three-tiers regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, they decided to focus on the aspect of Israel’s institutionalized racial discrimination as an exclusionary state at the expense of the indigenous population. It is exactly this profound dehumanization of the Palestinian people that allows Israeli policy makers and their supporters to justify massacres, fifty years of ongoing military occupation, torture, home demolitions, theft of land and the construction of an up to eight meter high cement Wall that surrounds towns and villages to cut them off from their land and livelihoods.

Getting at the core of the problem, it is important to understand and repeat – the Palestinian cause is not and has never been a question of religious strive but an essential quest for justice, freedom and equality.

Once the diagnostics are clear the fundamental question that remains is how to heal and bring justice.

After a decade of failed negotiations and the persisting failure of the international community to hold Israel accountable, in 2005 Palestinians launched their call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions until Israel complies with international law and grants Palestinians their human rights. This call was deeply inspired by India’s non-violent boycotts and disobedience during their freedom struggle and the South African anti-apartheid movement.

Since then, Palestinians have been working to build global boycott campaigns asking citizens to focus on specific companies to accumulate strength, target after target. Giant multinationals have in this way already given in to people’s efforts and pulled out of business with Israel. In the US churches have divested impressive amounts of money from corporations complicit with Israeli human rights violations, The EU has started putting restrictions on investments in the settlements, in Latin America major public contracts have been cancelled.

India today stands in stark contrast to these global shifts. Showcasing the extent to which previous policies have seemingly been put aside and steered themselves toward the wrong side of humanity, during the last UN General Assembly, Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu cited India and the penguins (sic!) as Israel’s best supporters.

In fact, between 2013-2017, India has bought 49% of all Israeli weapons exports. This ensures that India’s tax money directly funds Israeli wars and military occupation. It shows as well that India today – if it was willing to do so – could force Israel to respect Palestinian rights practically overnight. India ending its arms deals with Israel would be the one single action that could bring peace to Palestine and the region.

Short of the Indian government acknowledging its responsibility and acting accordingly, there is still much people and their movements can do. Israeli Apartheid Week itself shows the powerful impact people mobilizing can have. What today is a global, yearly growing effort that brings together people and movements across the world started with a single student event 14 years ago in a university campus in Toronto, Canada.

India is a vast market for many Israeli products and much of the Indian money flow to sustain Israeli apartheid is channeled through public contracts at local and state level. Concerted, organised and sustained campaigns can make a difference.

Israel knows that the people of India in its majority still support the Palestinian quest for justice. The BDS movement has already seen ready response in India. All India Kisan Sabha, which led the historic farmers long march in Mumbai just weeks ago, has already joined the BDS movement to end Israeli corporate take over of Indian agriculture. Indian women’s and LGBT groups, dalit organizations, artists and intellectuals, students and civil society organizations, all are supportive of the BDS movement.

It is for this reason that Israeli state officials have launched its charm offensive to Bollywood, offering India’s film industry subsidies and incentives to come and film there so that they may  act as a propaganda tool to whitewash Israeli apartheid and to “fight BDS”.

The first Indian edition of Israeli Apartheid Week will therefore be a moment of strengthening existing ties and building new alliances. It will be about letting people know that BDS is built by all of us and gives us the possibility to be part of an inspiring movement where people can come together across the continents to make a change.

(Maren Mantovani is international secretariat member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee and coordinator of international relations of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.)