The situation in Palestine has long been compared to that of apartheid South Africa; a campaign backed by Desmond Tutu that has successfully garnered the cause international attention.
Although the Palestinian cause has fuelled global activists to start the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, similar to what was exercised by the international community against South Africa in 1992, the question of the effect that this international movement has on-the-ground in Palestine remains rampant.
Repeatedly pointing out the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements does nothing but put Israel in an uncomfortable situation, where it occasionally feels compelled to issue a statement.Yara al-Wazir
The movement – which spends a lot of time touring universities and conferences around the United States and Europe – calls for the boycott, divestment and sanctions of all Israeli-linked academic, cultural and business institutions. It almost seems to preach to the same people that fuel it; Palestinian refugees, activists, and others who echo its call for a one-state solution, the majority of whom are based abroad.
Operating in the West
Yes, public rhetoric has made the issue of Palestine as sensitive as fingertips in the West and has been fuelled by the media. And yes, the Western media’s unprecedented support for anything Israeli, coupled with its refusal to allow musicians to mention Palestine, must come to an end. Although the movement may seem to be preaching to the choir at times, with the audience being filled with Palestinian refugees or students of Middle Eastern origin, the movement has proven itself repeatedly. From Stephen Hawking’s pull-out (arguably a boycott) of a conference hosted by Shimon Peres, to Sheffield University Students Union supporting the movement – in many aspects, the movement can be considered successful, even though it predominantly works in the West.
However, the movement cannot be seen as a solution, nor can it be seen as a viable long-term campaign. The movement is an important tool in shifting the narrative about the reality of the Israeli occupation – people start talking, and once they start educating themselves, rather than letting one-sided media institutions educate them, it stirs the pot and allows the reality of apartheid to float to the surface. Yet eventually, once the talk has been shifted, action by governments and people must be taken beyond what hurts Israel’s reputation. Repeatedly pointing out the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements does nothing but put Israel in an uncomfortable situation, where it occasionally feels compelled to issue a statement. However, regardless of the spotlight shone by the BDS movement, Israel is yet to be phased and it does in fact continue to build these settlements.
Closer to home, the BDS’s strongest achievement has perhaps been successfully lobbying Mashrou’ Leila, a popular alternative Lebanese band, to pull-out from opening the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ concert in Lebanon, after the American band insisted on playing a concert in Tel Aviv.
The movement, however, has failed to urge Egypt to keep its borders with Gaza open. It has failed to call for Arab governments to sever their ties with Israeli energy and utilities companies. It has failed to even call for the boycott of G4S offices in the Middle East, despite calling for the London 2012 Olympics to revoke their contract with G4S Security, due to their work in Israeli prisons. The offices of G4S remain scattered, and the BDS movement is as scattered in the Middle East as Palestinian refugees are around the world.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Rome wasn’t built from across the world either. The Palestinian cause, including the BDS movement, needs to shift itself closer to Palestinian turf if it hopes to achieve tangible change, end apartheid, or end the occupation.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir