I recently received an email from a thoughtful Palestinian/Canadian friend, who raised concerns about what he thinks is a worrying trend concerning the BDS campaign. (See his email is at the end of this post).
He is concerned that the BDS call from Palestinian civil society is being sidetracked – or in his words “hijacked” – by those who focus primarily on “ending the occupation” and minimise (or even ignore) the other 2 demands articulated in the 2005 call (i.e. “right of return for refugees”, and “civic rights” for Palestinians inside Israel).
As a bit of background, my friend is a Palestinian refugee who now lives in Canada. He was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon. His family was expelled from Safed in northern Israel in 1948 and he still has relatives who live in the camp.
His concern arises out of the fact that Israel’s policies over the last 40 years or more have divided the approximately 11 million Palestinians into different groups, each with different problems and different priorities. In broad strokes, these are:
- The refugees, for whom the right to return to their homes and for compensation for the suffering they have endured, is the #1 goal. (about 60% of the total population).
- Those in the occupied territories for whom the end of the occupation is the #1 goal. (about 25% of the Palestinian population)
- Those inside Israel, for whom civic equality is the #1 goal (about 15% of the total population).
The 2005 BDS Call from Palestinian Society, with its 3 key demands, was designed to promote the UNITY of the Palestinian people, by supporting the claims of each group.
Unity among Palestinians is particularly important at this point in time, as the so called “peace process” moves forward. Many fear that that in order to get a Palestinian “state” on 22% of historic Palestine, Abbas and the current PLO leadership might be willing to recognize Israel “as a Jewish State”, and to give up the rights of refugees.
My friend’s concern is that some Canadian supporters of Palestinian human rights have fallen into the habit of focusing exclusively on the occupation and basically ignoring the other issues. In his view, this promotes division and disunity among Palestinians. It is particularly demobilizing for the Palestinians in Canada, many of whom are refugees, to see that their needs are all but ignored.
I think there are several reasons why this sidetracking is tempting:
- The occupation is the “easiest” case to explain to Canadians. It is much easier to talk about “the occupation” than about legal discrimination against non-Jews in the Jewish State of Israel. Palestinians fighting the “wall” makes for exciting copy, discrimination in land ownership does not.
- The photos of Israeli tanks and fanatic settlers in Hebron attacking peasants are dramatic, while the never ending non-violent poverty of the millions in refugee camps is not very photogenic.
- The focus on the “occupation” echoes the current PLO leadership’s focus on borders, so it feels like we are supporting Palestinians, (though ironically it comes at a time when that leadership has diminishing legitimacy in Palestinian society).
I suspect that few Canadians realize that when they focus on the occupation, they are actually taking sides in an internal Palestinian debate and favouring one group of Palestinians over another. And few realize that by doing so, they are implicitly supporting the “liberal Zionist” position (Peter Beinhart, Thomas Friedman, etc. ) which argues Israel is a liberal democracy, whose problems started in 1967 and can be resolved by ending the occupation.
Here is my friend’s letter:
The original Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) call in 2005 defined 3 objectives:
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.
Full call is here: http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1801
Since then, the BDS language has been “hijacked” and we have now 3 “BDS languages” with 3 different objectives:
1- Palestinian BDS: Objectives mentioned above
2- Liberal Zionist BDS: The objective is to “protect Israel from itself” by removing occupation of West Bank. However, this language is OK with Israel as a “Jewish State” (discrimination against non-Jewish citizens), and would like to see refugees staying outside Israel/Palestine.
3- John Kerry ‘s BDS: The objective, as many analysts believe, is to use the separation wall in West Bank as a border between Israel and the “Palestinian state” (remove international law from the formula forever!), recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” and resettle Palestinian refugees outside Israel/Palestine. This version of BDS is fully supported by the European Union.
Human rights activists should be clear on which BDS they talk about!
This is especially important at this crucial time with the Palestinian refugees and the “Jewish State” questions are put on the table as we speak today!
Human rights activists should make it clear that they defend the Palestinian human rights and not just part of them! Talking about part of the rights, at this critical time, is a first step to divide Palestinians into various groups without a common national identity. This is very dangerous!
One people, same rights, one Palestinian BDS language!