The magnitude of the injustices experienced by the Palestinians at the hands of Israel can no longer be denied. The repeated murderous attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip are only the most overt manifestation of these policies. More entrenched are ethnic cleansing, illegal colonisation, racism, torture, imprisonment of children and the denial of statehood. Palestinian civil society has, in response, chosen to adopt the non-violent strategy of boycott to bring pressure to bear on the powerful and unaccountable. This use of boycott has numerous successful precedents, notably the decades-long boycott of white-ruled South Africa that was a key contributor to the collapse of apartheid.
- Ethnic cleansing and the Greater Israel project
- Discrimination against Palestinians in Israel
- Absence of international sanctions
- Why a cultural boycott?
Edited excerpts from The Case for a Cultural Boycott of Israel
That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians [726,000 of them], a Jewish state would not have arisen here. Benny Morris, Israeli historian, 2004
Since before the establishment of Israel, the aim has been to secure as much territory for the state with as few Palestinians in it as possible. The deliberate ethnic cleansing of 1947-8 displaced the majority of Palestinians to neighbouring states. Those forced out, and their descendants, are denied the right to return and live in exile. Two out of every five of the world’s refugees are Palestinian.
In stark contrast, anyone who can claim Jewish descent, wherever they live in the world and regardless of whether or not they have any family connection with the land, has an automatic entitlement to all the privileges of Israeli citizenship.
After 1967, the situation of Palestinians deteriorated further: the war brought millions of them in the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli control. The refugee camps also became bigger and more numerous. Between Israel’s illegal and de-facto annexation of Jerusalem in 1967, and 2010, over 14,000 Jerusalem IDs had been revoked, forcing Palestinians to either leave the city or reside within it illegally. The ID-based exclusion prevents many Palestinians from accessing their own homes, leaving them liable to confiscation.
The ‘Arab demographic danger’ has been stressed by Israeli academic geographers and military people alike. Many Israeli policies can be understood as aiming to make life for Palestinians so unpleasant that they will leave. The ‘separation wall’ became an opportunity to secure 8.5 per cent of West Bank land onto the Israeli side, but without its Palestinian farming owners. Building controls, planning regulations and legalistic pretexts are used to prevent Palestinians from building the homes they need, and to demolish those that they have in areas eyed for Jewish encroachment. Together with the burgeoning settlements and the apartheid road system, all this forces Palestinians into overcrowded and impoverished bantustans. Other results include the disruption of social relations and of education, and indeed the devastation of the local economy.
In the Gaza Strip, 1.8 million Palestinians live within what is in effect an open-air prison, subject to periodic attack by Israel. The occupying state’s actions there constitute an unlawful collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Israel’s Cast Lead assault on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 killed some 1400 Palestinians, the great majority non-combatants by any standards, and injured another 5000. Twenty thousand people were made homeless. Protective Edge in 2014 was even more savage. The Goldstone Report on Cast Lead for the United Nations found that there was a prima facie case that the IDF (as well as Palestinian militant groups) had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
A common claim in defence of Israel is that it is ‘at least’ a democracy, unlike, say, China. But the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in Israel, who have Israeli citizenship and vote in elections, are nonetheless subject to an array of systematically discriminatory laws and practices which would be illegal in Britain. Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, lists ‘more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures’.
One law that has a devastating impact is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003. It severely restricts Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from living together in Israel with their Palestinian spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territory or from ‘enemy states’, defined by the law as Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. In Adalah’s view: ‘The Supreme Court approved a law the likes of which do not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnicity or national belonging of their spouse.’ At the time of writing, Adalah reported 29 additional discriminatory bills passing through the Knesset system.
Israel is sustained by the backing of our own Western governments and many of our businesses and institutions, which gives us both the responsibility and the opportunity to remove this support.
There are many countries around the world that face retribution by some or all of the ‘international community’ for breaching international norms – Israel is not one of them. At the time of writing, Syria has had its foreign assets frozen, Zimbabwe faces embargoes on international loans and arms imports, and the US and EU have imposed an array of sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses.
But Israel experiences the opposite. It commits war crimes and offends every principle of human rights – and in return it gets rewarded. Since 1948, Israel has received nearly $234bn in US tax dollars. Between 1967 and 2011 the US vetoed 42 UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. Often the US was almost alone in its negative vote. Indeed of the 55 single-handed vetoes that the US has exercised at the UN, only 15 were not in support of Israel.
In February 2014, Amnesty International said Israel had shown ‘callous disregard for human life’ by shooting and killing dozens of unarmed civilians, including children, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the previous three years. In July and August 2014, Israel killed more than two thousand Gazans (of whom only around 276 were members of armed groups), wounded close to 11,000, and reduced the homes of hundreds of thousands to rubble – but US aid continues regardless. The US administration, while bemoaning the scale of civilian deaths, actually re-supplied Israel with ammunition during the 2014 onslaught.
Our governments make Israel’s abuses possible. Bilateral trade between Britain and Israel, in the region of £5.1bn in 2013, is reported to be growing. The European Union issued a directive in 2013 preventing any of its funding to Israel being spent on activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But the impact of this restriction is trivial by comparison with that of the wide-ranging EU-Israel Association Agreement, signed in 1995, which remains in place. Israel is de facto a member of the EU, while flagrantly violating the common values and human rights commitments that are supposed to bind EU member states together.
Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It’s a member of all the programmes, it participates in all the programmes. Xavier Solano, EU foreign policy chief, 2009
If the diplomatic defence system erected by our own governments had not existed, there would have been UN-backed sanctions on Israel decades ago.
Boycott is a way of dismantling this defence system – of generating pressure on our governments to end the policy of guaranteeing Israel’s impunity.
Decades of business-as-usual cultural exchange with Israeli state-supported institutions have not yielded any progress towards rights and justice for the Palestinians, as the besieged people of Gaza can testify. Culture, in the context of Israel’s occupation, has not served to ‘build bridges’, but has acted as a cover for the state’s crimes. Cultural import and export are a crucial part of the ‘Brand Israel’ programme, a strategy aimed at overlaying the brutality of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism with a veneer of civilised sophistication.
Challenges to this strategy of cultural whitewashing have an important effect. Refusals by British cultural figures like Iain Banks, musicians Elvis Costello and Nigel Kennedy and the physicist and author Stephen Hawking, have generated not only column inches in Israel, but also high-level debates within Israeli intelligence, government and business circles, about how to counter what they see as a serious challenge to the credibility of Israel’s narrative abroad. For Israel, culture is never unpolitical.
It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel … There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent. I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security … I hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner, nor is it one in which I imagine myself to possess any unique or eternal truth. It is a matter of instinct and conscience. Elvis Costello, musician, May 2010