Gaza is in urgent need of opening spaces on many levels. The geophysical space — incarcerated by Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza and its construction of barriers to “protect Israel’s citizens with power and sophistication,” according to Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which are fast becoming normalized and barely worthy of mention in diplomatic circles.
Equally important, to fight the alienation imposed by the international community when it comes to Gaza, is the creation of spaces for Palestinians to articulate their own resilience and resistance.
There is an option — a Palestinian-led, internationalist approach — that can counter the alienation through forceful insistence to bring the diplomatic segment of the international community in line with Palestinian rights.
The Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions Movement (BDS) — a Palestinian-led initiative that started in 2005 and has since expanded globally — promotes the boycott of apartheid Israel to force it to comply with international law in a way that will, in turn, provide a platform for Palestinians to reclaim their rights.
BDS works on three different levels. It calls for the withdrawing of support for Israeli academic, cultural and sporting institutions. This form of boycott has proven to be popular and has left numerous dents on Israel’s image, as pressure is ramped up on celebrities to refrain from legitimizing Israel’s violations by visiting or participating in Israeli-organized events. Companies are also urged to divest and withdraw their financial investments from Israeli-related firms. On an international level, BDS also seeks to influence governments and organizations to uphold human rights by holding Israel accountable for its violations and expelling the settler-colonial state from membership in international institutions.
The movement echoes the earlier South African anti-apartheid campaign which initially called for a consumer boycott and later expanded to include other forms of boycotts, including calls for expulsion from international organizations.
Khalil Abu Yahia — who lives in Gaza and is a researcher in cultural studies, as well as an activist from the BDS movement — spoke with MintPress News about activism from within the enclave. He described how the international, and more visible, face of BDS has other equally important dynamics at work that are overlooked as a result of the blockade.
As BDS successes are celebrated in Palestine and abroad, turning attention to Gaza — where, according to Abu Yahia, there is near consensus on BDS to the point that activists and nonactivists alike work towards their common aims — is important.
Gaza faces many limitations as a result of Israel’s colonial entrenchment and military occupation. BDS in Gaza, as well as other forms of activism, have managed to combine a strategy in which Palestinian collective memory and Palestinian rights are given equal importance. Since the international community has decided, despite no consensus from Palestinians, that the two-state paradigm is the only possible solution, Gaza’s popular resistance aids in presenting the Palestinian perspective and defining the type of state preferred by Palestinians.
Popular resistance from within
Abu Yahia departs from a historical perspective to shed light upon the current Israeli atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza and the need for boycotting Israel:
Like other Palestinians, the people of Gaza have also been suffering from Israel’s systematic oppression since the Nakba of 1948, during which 800,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes. Two-thirds of Gaza’s population are refugees and entitled to their right of return, which is why Israel decided to oppress and dehumanize these people who have refused to succumb or to recognize the Israeli apartheid system, and who fought against the Oslo Accords in 2006.”
For Palestinians in Gaza, Abu Yahia explains, BDS is a matter of an informed decision to unite in popular resistance and express the demands of the people. BDS, he says, “represents the people, their hopes and their visions.”
The dehumanization inflicted upon Palestinians by Israel and the international community has made it possible for Gaza to unite and spread awareness from within, thus consolidating the activist base.
Since 2007, when Hamas asserted its control over Gaza following its electoral victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza under the pretext of security concerns. A land, sea and air blockade has transformed the enclave into a large open-air prison, where the quality of life is steadily declining. A recent survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveals that 53 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are living in poverty — an increase of 14.2 percent since 2011.
To exacerbate these conditions, Israel has employed a system of collective punishment in which experimentation has led to irreversible deprivation. Israel has periodically bombed Gaza — destroying its infrastructure and field-testing Israeli weapons upon Palestinians prior to marketing the technology to other countries. In 2014, Israel embarked upon destroying Gaza’s tunnel network, which provided the only means to combat the inhumane blockade and aid Palestinians in staving off a food crisis. Educational institutions and medical facilities were also targeted. As a result, Palestinians in Gaza were deprived of the foundations that can contribute towards the empowerment of their society.
Limitations imposed by Israel are acknowledged by Abu Yahia: Gaza is restricted in terms of what it can impart if seen in isolation. Yet there is a tangible link, as Abu Yahia speaks, between the achievements that are generally more prominent due to international pressure, and the foundations that are established in Gaza in terms of determining their own popular struggle:
There’s a near consensus on BDS so almost everyone is involved, making the movement an expression from the people, which facilitates participation. Gazans need a voice — to end the Israeli-imposed siege. We BDS activists, like other Gazans, cannot physically leave Gaza. However, BDS is an international and universal Palestinian movement and the siege cannot stop us from calling upon them abroad and contacting them.”
Abu Yahia speaks about Gaza’s BDS activists’ support and participation in the Great Return March. It stands out as an example of his earlier comment — that the aims of BDS activists and nonactivists are aligned when it comes to Palestinian rights. The merging of activism portrays the inclusivity of the movement in Gaza and vice-versa:
The Palestinian people in Gaza have been marching against Israeli violations of international law, especially UN Resolution 194 which calls for our right of return. BDS believes in the popular resistance – it supports the mass mobilization which is happening now at the Great Return March. It is worth mentioning that the black resistance in South Africa depended mostly upon two pillars of struggle. The boycott movement against apartheid which, for Gaza, is BDS as a massive international movement, and mass mobilization on the ground, which is manifested in the Great Return March.”
The collective experience of Palestinians in Gaza — unique owing to the illegal Israeli blockade that has affected everyone in the enclave — has united the people and institutions in popular resistance. Abu Yahia discusses the extent of Palestinian involvement in BDS.
The movement, he explains, has disseminated information through various means — lectures on the defense of Gaza, organizing meetings, as well as promoting and organizing cultural activities. The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), which launched in 2009 after Operation Cast Lead, also has the approval of all the student bloc and has commemorated Israeli Apartheid Week every year since its inception. He explains further:
In Gaza, people agree with the vision of BDS because it demands their rights — namely the right of return and the dismantling of the apartheid system, both of which are central to the BDS movement. When BDS activists organize meetings, the venue is full of people from different age groups. Gazans are supportive of us BDS activists, as the movement was founded to be a voice for these people. In Gaza, for example, we are in agreement that the normalization of Israel’s colonialism works against our rights. As a result, we have a situation where almost all institutions and all universities in Gaza implement the BDS framework.”
One recently launched project between PSCABI and volunteers from the One Democratic State Group is the Oral History Project, which complements the BDS struggle by articulating the Palestinian history, and contextualizes the Nakba in the current colonial context:
We met with the victims of this ongoing Nakba and listened to their testimonies. We believe the Nakba is a turning point in our struggle against colonialism, apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Besides the importance of documenting these stories directly from the victims and their experiences, the project also draws our history closer to our hearts as we use it as a tool against apartheid Israel. In addition, this project will give a powerful dimension to our identity. It is a powerful evidence that we are the people of this land and we shall return to it and reclaim our inalienable rights.”
“The international community must be forced”
On the subject of anti-colonial struggle and Palestinian rights within the international context, Abu Yahia is clear that the international community’s collaboration with Israel must be met with a consistent and challenging stance. The UN has, countless times, affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself while refuting Palestinians’ right to resist. Rather than just raising awareness, activism must be conducted in a way that forces the international community to take note and uphold Palestinian rights within the context of international law and human rights. Abu Yahia states:
BDS has the support of the people internationally, especially with grassroots organizations and solidarity groups, but not the support of governments. However, it is climbing to the intra-official level with powerful steps. I think Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people because of the conspiracy of silence of the international community, which has been complicit with Israel.
BDS activists in Gaza and elsewhere know that the international community will do nothing. However, this is changing because BDS has prompted a new stage of awareness, which is forcing the international community — it cannot justify, cannot give justice to our cause on its own; it has to be forced to do so. In both cases of South Africa and Ireland, it was forced to take a stand in favor of the oppressed people’s rights.”
Abu Yahia discusses the international community’s silence at every opportunity since the Nakba. Not only did it remain silent in the face of such atrocities — it also failed to protect Palestinians in 1967 and, in more recent history, during each Israeli aggression on Gaza, including the atrocities recently committed against the Great Return March. BDS provides the means through which the gap between rights and enforced oblivion can be narrowed. With Palestinian options severely limited, popular resistance and internationalist action need to be fortified in order for the international community to be moved towards constructive action:
I think the Palestinian people of Gaza know very well that they cannot get their inalienable rights by using the military equation since Israel has the fourth strongest army in the world. They cannot get them through negotiations, as those have also failed us. The power of the people, however, is on our side. The international community doesn’t sympathise with Gaza — it doesn’t care and will not take action unless it is forced. On the other hand, BDS activists in Gaza and abroad want to get rid of the apartheid and colonial systems in Israel. It is our right that we support, that we memorize, understand and want to achieve.”
On Wednesday May 30, the Jerusalem Post reported that the U.S. called on the UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting “to condemn rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.” Meanwhile, Israel shelled a high school in Gaza while students were taking their exams.
Activism and the one-state solution
BDS does not stipulate a political solution for Palestinians. Abu Yahia perceives this gap as a boundary between political settlement and rights. The latter can be campaigned for internationally while a political solution following the dismantling of the colonial state is a Palestinian decision. He clarifies:
BDS is a rights-based movement. It was not created to force solutions. It aims to dismantle the apartheid, colonial system of Israel. . . .
I speak now for myself, not as a BDS activist. I believe, as a Gazan, as an oppressed, that the two-state is a racist solution. As activists, not as part of the BDS movement, we are aiming at a secular democratic state for all of its citizens regardless of their religion, ethnicity, race or anything. This, I believe, is the only solution that can bring about justice for all of its citizens.”
Abu Yahia continues, expounding upon this concept of justice.
This is relative justice, not absolute justice. If we are to take absolute justice, the settler-colonial population would have to be returned to their original homelands. We are asking for relative justice — for us and for them. This is different than the one-state that Israel envisions, which according to its definitions is a state for Jews and Jews only, which is racist.”
With Gaza once again a prominent feature in the news, Abu Yahia mulls over the links between activism, recognition, and the international community. The outrage at the sniper killings of Palestinians at the Gaza border generated an outcry of solidarity and a renewed focus on BDS:
The international BDS campaign is doing what the oppressed want. Gaza is giving a new dimension to our non-violent struggle. All people look to Gaza and see it as a core issue. But the message is clear: Yes to BDS. No to the silence of the international community.”
Feature Photo | The larger banner reads “Sharpeville 1960/ Gaza 2018. Military Embargo Now!” The Sharpeville massacre took place in South Africa in March 1960. 5000 to 7000 South African demonstrators protested the apartheid government’s practice of segregation and severe restrictions of freedom of movement. South African Police opened fire on the crowd, and Sharpeville is today synonymous with resistance to segregation and apartheid. The children in the photo are in front of the part of the banner that says “BDS: Freedom, Justice, Equality.” Credit | BDS National Committee
Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer, and blogger. She writes about the struggle for memory in Palestine and Chile, historical legitimacy, the ramifications of settler-colonialism, the correlation between humanitarian aid and human rights abuses, the United Nations as an imperialist organisation, indigenous resistance, la nueva cancion Chilena and Latin American revolutionary philosophy with a particular focus on Fidel Castro, Jose Marti and Jose Carlos Mariategui. Her articles, book reviews, interviews and blogs have been published in Middle East Monitor, Upside Down World, Truthout, Irish Left Review, Gramsci Oggi, Cubarte, Rabble.ca, Toward Freedom, History Today, Chileno and other outlets, including academic publications and translations into several languages.