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Why BDS is the right way to combat Israeli apartheid

Apartheid South Africa fell apart only when the economic cost of maintaining apartheid became too great a cost to bear

From 1967 to 1987, the period between Israel’s annexation of the occupied territories and the First Intifada; from Oslo Accords 1 in 1993 to Oslo Accords 2 in 1995; the Second Intifada of 2000-2005 to Operation Protective Edge in 2014; and with many other pivotal dates in between, it is almost impossible to recall a conflict that is more defined by yearly markers than the one that pits Israeli colonialism against Palestinian resistance.

And given the already tumultuous events of the current year, 2016 is shaping up to be one of reckoning for Israel’s occupation and apartheid of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its blockade of Gaza.

In the '70s and '80s, Palestinian national resistance movements sought to overthrow their occupier by means of violence, but neither hijackings, car bombs nor shootings would dislodge Israel’s militarised presence. In the '90s, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat negotiated a peace agreement brokered by US President Bill Clinton – otherwise known as the Oslo Accords.

Palestine recognised Israel’s right to exist and renounced the use of terrorism – while Israel agreed to Palestinian autonomy in both the West Bank and Gaza. But due to Arafat’s weak hand, for Palestine neither possesses a military nor the backing of a superpower, the agreement failed to articulate a sovereign Palestinian state, and it didn’t demand a stop to Israel’s settlements.

It seems to matter not whether the Palestinians seek violence, peace, negotiations or protest – Israel’s occupation only expands and becomes more brutal. At the time of Oslo (1993), there were roughly 250,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today there are nearly 750,000 and counting.

The failure of the West to put a halt to settlement expansion has produced countless waves of Palestinian resistance over the course of the past two decades. Israel has skillfully used this violence as an excuse to impose even more draconian measures on the Palestinians – with the “separation barrier” promising to cage two million Palestinians living in the West Bank the same way Israel has caged 1.8 million of their fellow stateless citizens living in Gaza.

Israel is injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into further colonising the West Bank, and having endured failed intifadas and broken promises, it’s clear Palestinians can do nothing to make Israel comply with international law.

Enter BDS

Thus the importance the boycott, divest, sanction movement – otherwise known as BDS – in bringing Israel into complicity with the Geneva Convention, multiple UN Resolutions, and basic human rights.

Launched in 2005, Israel dismissed the BDS movement as little more than something US college kids do to rack up credits for their international law or liberal arts undergrad programmes.

Fast-forward 10 years to 2016, and Israel is no longer taking the BDS movement lightly. In fact, Israel has waged a full-scale propaganda and legal battle to not only break the back of pro-boycott activists, but also to criminalise the movement itself.

Pro-Israel billionaires and the Israel lobby have poured millions of dollars into the effort to negate the pressure BDS is exerting on Israel’s apartheid and occupation. This money flows to the usual line up of popular talking heads that can be counted on to parrot Israeli hasbara. The now-disgraced Maajid Nawaz recently penned an op-ed on how “BDS will do nothing to build peace and much to bolster Bibi Netanyahu.” While Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born cheerleader for Western colonialism, accused BDS of being “anti-Semitic”.

But not content to depend upon propaganda mouthpieces alone, the Israel lobby is investing much treasure into buying votes and legislation in parliaments and congresses all across the Western world. The US state of Illinois recently passed an anti-BDS bill, which has made it illegal for the state to invest in companies that have boycotted Israel. The Washington Post points out that there is a “wave” of anti-BDS bills sweeping the country.

The United Kingdom plans to make it illegal for “local councils, public bodies, and even some university student unions to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products, or Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.”

BDS activism criminalised

In a report titled “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech,” the group Palestine Legal identified hundreds of instances where the Israel lobby has suppressed Palestinian rights advocacy in the United States – citing cases where activists have been smeared as “anti-Semitic”; where students have been suspended or expelled for nothing more than promoting Palestinian sovereignty or even flying a Palestinian flag.

The report documents how pro-Israel campus groups and alumni “have intensified their efforts to stifle criticism of Israeli government policies”. The report goes on to explain, “Rather than engage such criticism on its merits, these groups leverage their significant resources and lobbying power to pressure universities, government actors, and other institutions to censor or punish advocacy in support of Palestinian rights.”

Israel’s efforts to criminalise activism against Israeli occupation is a desperate, almost last-ditch effort to stave off world opinion that is quickly shifting in favour of the Palestinians.

Old enough to remember the final years of white rule in apartheid South Africa, it’s evident there are an increasing number of parallels one can draw between the eventual collapse of the National Party in the late 1980s and the mounting international pressure on the Zionist expansionist project today.

“Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than apartheid South Africa,” declared a former UN special rapporteur on Palestine, John Dugard, in a recent interview. While former UK parliamentarian George Galloway warned the BBC that Israel’s days as an illegal occupier are “numbered”.

These voices are added to the names of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian solidarity activists all across Europe and the United States, as well as the many more attached to the boycott Israel movement (BDS).

Apartheid South Africa fell apart only when the economic cost of maintaining apartheid became too great a cost to bear. With shifting public opinion and the success of BDS inflicting a cost on Israel’s occupation, 2016 is certainly proving to be an existential struggle for apartheid Israel.

The world is now faced with a stark choice: either uphold demands for Israel to comply with international law, or be a party to Israel’s apartheid and occupation.

It’s likely 2016 will go a long way to determining which path the world will follow.

- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America (2013), God Hates You. Hate Him Back (2009), and Koran Curious (2011), and he is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A Palestinian flag hangs outside a building in Nablus, in the West Bank, on 30 September 2015 (AA)