The Blog

Boycotting, Divesting From and Sanctioning Israel

Israel has waged three wars against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the past five years. Those wars, and every war before them and every war that will come, are an outgrowth of a deep injustice.
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The "peace process" is over. Structural imbalances, material asymmetries, a lack of good faith and the absence of an impartial broker -- all of those things contributed to its end. Today, where there were supposed to be two states there is only one. Jewish-Israelis control the entirety of the land that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The government there regulates the lives of thirteen million people, the majority of whom aren't Jewish. Palestine/Israel is one country and it will remain undivided -- that's the permanent state of things.

While the territory itself exists as a single geographical unit, its social and political order is far from stable, durable or desirable. Palestine/Israel is characterized by deep and vicious apartheid in the West Bank, enshrined discrimination in the territory west of the Green Line -- where 25 percent of residents are not Jewish -- and siege, with periodic bouts of extreme violence, in the Gaza Strip.

There is no real possibility that Israel will withdraw any of the 600,000 Jewish settlers from its colonies in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli army has undergone a transformation in the ten years since Ariel Sharon withdrew 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. It is a much more religious and settler-oriented institution, a change that reflects developments in the country's governing class; several Israeli cabinet ministers are also settlers.

The Jewish-Israelis who govern the country will continue to do so for years to come, but they cannot do so forever. The Palestinians have been struggling to attain their basic human and political rights for more than seventy years now. History indicates that people -- all people -- will surge through adversity and isolation to achieve liberty, freedom and the opportunity to pursue the enrichment of their lives and societies. The Palestinians are no different.

So, how can one work towards extending basic human and political rights to the Palestinians in the country they inhabit? What is the process that will produce justice and equal rights in Palestine/Israel? The Palestinians themselves provide the answer.

The grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was launched in 2005 by a broadly representative group of Palestinian civil society organizations and individuals. The call for targeted, non-violent direct boycott actions was intended to highlight the inherent morality of the Palestinian cause -- a fight rooted in the desire for freedom and liberty -- while providing international activists with the tools to engage directly with Israeli occupation and apartheid. The strategy was informed by the South African experience, one characterized by the movement of peoples before governments.

BDS itself is animated by three governing principles: First, that Israel end the occupation and dismantle the West Bank barrier; second, that Palestinian-Israelis are afforded their full and equal rights; and finally, that the Palestinian right to return to homes and lands in Israel be honored.

It is the last principle that is regarded as most controversial by Israel's supporters. They contend that Israel cannot be the "Jewish state" if large numbers of Palestinians are permitted to return to the lands they were expelled from in 1948 and 1967. But in fact, Israel is not the Jewish state -- it is the Jewish-privilege state. How else to describe a place where one in four residents is not Jewish? For perspective, it is helpful to reflect on the fact that America is more Christian than Israel is Jewish. The prospect of a Christian America -- Christian in its symbols, its laws, its apportionment of opportunity -- is as intolerable to Americans as a Jewish Palestine/Israel is to Palestinians.

In the contemporary reality, "Jewish state" is at best a hopeful appellation. But more often than not it is the rickety intellectual apparatus that propels the movement to settle Palestine with Jews forward. Ethnic cleansing cannot, by virtue of what it is, have a moral basis.

There are few sacred cows in American political life. The view that Israel is a "Jewish state," and that it must continue to be one, is one of them. That is why government officials cannot be relied upon to act as agents of reform or action. Rather, civil society must engage -- and has begun to engage - to bring an end to apartheid in Palestine/Israel. Congress and the White House will not pressure Israel to end its unequal regime. It is a challenge that can only be met by grassroots activists and civil society.

Israel has waged three wars against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the past five years. Those wars, and every war before them and every war that will come, are an outgrowth of a deep injustice. For nearly 70 years now the Palestinians have been forced to inhabit the margins of existence, never knowing the benefits of statehood or citizenship. It is past time that the global grassroots joins the fight to emancipate them. The way forward lies in our universal morality. It lies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.