Boycott of Israel gathers support

By Brian Durrans

The toll of dead and injured in Operation Defensive Edge - especially its one-sided character and how Israel’s onslaught on Gaza was reported in the mainstream media – has provoked global outrage and a new surge of support for Palestine.

 As I write, Israeli breaches of the terms of the ‘permanent’ ceasefire are already coming to light, quite apart from its biggest land-grab in the West Bank for three decades. In the meantime it’s unclear whether the unity of Hamas and Fatah factions will hold; whether the Palestinian Authority will at last take Israel to the International Criminal Court for its war crimes; and whether popular pressure can convert into effective sanctions the criticism which Israel’s actions have provoked even from the US, the UK and the EU. What is beyond question, however, is that there will be no peace without justice for Palestinians, which means achieving the three key demands on which all strands of the resistance movement are united: 

  • ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory (including Gaza, whose occupation consists of a siege and collective punishment) from the ‘Six-Day War’ in 1967;
  • equal rights within Israel itself for its Jewish and Palestinian citizens (the latter comprise 20% of Israelis); and
  • honouring Palestinians’ right of return to land from which their families were expelled in 1948.

 Media distortion of the Gaza conflict usually starts with allegations that Palestinian ‘rockets’ provoke an Israeli ‘response’. This then frames the debate around whether that ‘response’ is ‘proportionate’ or not.  In the propaganda stakes, however, Israel has painted itself into a corner.  Trying to justify attacks on kids playing football on the beach, or on five UN schools in as many days, exposes even the best trained pro-Israeli apologist as a liability to his cause. But for all the point-scoring, the background still gets overlooked, and that is more important than ever. Two aspects are crucial: Israel’s colonial status and its value to its main sponsor, the US.

Imperialism and Settler Colonialism

Israel’s occupation of Palestine began with slaughter and expulsions which established Israel as a Zionist state in 1948.  The new nation had a long prehistory. Although many Jews were engaged in struggles for social advancement alongside fellow-citizens wherever they lived, European Zionism gained support from the late 19th century onwards with the idea of a ‘homeland’ to protect Jews from (Christian) persecution and discrimination. This notion attracted not only a minority of Jews but also the ruling classes of the main imperial powers, who alone had the power to make it a reality.  

 Even if it remained elusive, the promise of a ‘homeland’ served ruling class interests by confirming the stereotype of the ‘unintegrated’ Jew as a permanently-available scapegoat for the cyclical crises of capitalism, sowing disunity among the organized workers and their allies, dividing Jews from non-Jews. But the Jewish ‘homeland’ also looked like a game-winner in geopolitics. After several other locations were proposed and rejected (including Uganda and Argentina), Palestine seemed to serve Anglo-French designs at the strategic and oil-rich crossroads of Europe and Asia. This found expression in the duplicitous Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised the Zionist lobby part of Palestine while also assuring Palestinians that their rights would be not be jeopardized.  

The Zionist pipe-dream became reality only after the defeat of Fascism in 1945, a beneficiary of the monstrous but rarely-challenged claim that the West had been powerless to prevent the Nazi Holocaust. In fact, Fascism could have been nipped in the bud by defending the Spanish Republic, or by entering into an earlier anti-Nazi alliance with the Soviet Union.

As for Palestine here never was any possibility that Palestinians would lightly accept British-brokered colonization, especially at a time when old empires began crumbling across the world and not least in the Middle East.  Neither was there any doubt that imperialists would hold on wherever they could; and here, above all – and then as well as now - in the interest of oil and strategic control. In the current exacerbating turmoil of the Middle East, and elsewhere, US-led repression and interference in the affairs of other countries is aided and abetted by Israel, though at an enormous price and in a way that sometimes gets out of hand.  Hitherto, that price has been affordable and the waywardness tolerable. But if the more thoughtful Zionists and their allies are beginning to ask whether either will continue to be so for much longer, what’s forcing them to rethink is the tenacity of the Palestinians themselves: a resistance encompassing both armed and non-violent struggle and increasingly effective use of social media. And it is supported worldwide by an increasingly confident solidarity movement whose main inspiration is Palestinians but also the proven success of solidarity in helping end South African apartheid three decades ago.    

Hearts and Minds

Operation Defensive Edge (ODE) itself, directed at Gaza, was preceded by ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ directed against the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank. Both operations were undertaken on the pretext of ‘provocations’, the first the killing of three teenagers from an illegal West Bank settlement, which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed on Hamas without a shred of evidence and for this reason lost much of his limited credibility in the outside world; and the second the firing of rockets from Gaza following a series of increasingly intolerable attacks and restrictions on the already besieged territory by Israel itself.

The real ‘provocation’ for both these (co-ordinated) lethal Israeli offensives, however, was the earlier announcement of a unity government by Hamas and Fatah, which Netanyahu declared unacceptable. But if the assaults on the West Bank and Gaza were meant to break that unity, they appear so far to have failed. Israel sought to force Gaza to ‘demilitarise’ but as the last ceasefire was agreed had to admit that this had not been possible. High though their casualties have been, Palestinians are correct to interpret the agreed ceasefire as a victory; not only has the resistance not been disarmed but Israel has had openly to agree to measures to lift the siege, which now makes it more difficult for it not to do so. In the wider arena, Israel has lost sympathy not only by its grossly disproportionate attacks on Gazans and during Operation Brother’s Keeper, or by its latest land-grab in the West Bank, but also for its patently grotesque attempts to justify its actions.

Solidarity and political bankruptcy         

I referred above to the annexation of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank – a thousand acres, so the most serious in three decades - which was announced shortly after the end of ODE and thus immediately called into question (for anyone naïve enough to have been taken in by it) Israel’s commitment to even a resuscitated ‘peace process’.  But ODE, Palestinian resistance and the terms in which Israel seeks to justify its post-ODE land-grab also highlight something else of great importance to Palestine and to the solidarity movement.  It’s not just that Israel is losing friends but that it seems to have no idea how to win them back, or to stop losing more of them. Despite previous losses of public sympathy in (for examples) Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) or during the murder and piracy against the Mavi Marmara (2010), Israel was able to count on some credibility among waverers.  But Israel’s own actions are now the best recruiting sergeants for the solidarity movement. Waverers would have had to have watched TV very selectively to have kept Gaza’s suffering out of their living rooms this summer, whatever the commentators were saying.

In the past, Israel’s apologists have tried justifying the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land by claiming the land is theirs anyway, some even using the Bible as proof.  When Israel was established in 1948, the land was represented, in slightly different though still compatible terms, as a haven for those who had survived the Holocaust; and if those were the terms in which the ‘guilt-ridden’ West came to view the arrangement – provided the awkward fact of indigenous Palestinians could pretended away - who then could deny its morality?  But if citing the Bible as the word of God is no longer a serious way of conducting an argument, neither is denying Palestinian rights a corollary of respecting those of Jewish Israelis. 

This is why the terms in which Israel tries to justify its latest land-grab reveal such moral and political bankruptcy. The establishment of Israel – the obliteration of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the killing or expulsion of their inhabitants who were never Nazis - was presented by Zionists as both a justifiable response to the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust and the fulfilment of a religious or quasi-religious destiny. Now comes a theft of land as groundless vengeance. The latest annexation of part of the occupied Palestinian West Bank is officially justified as a response to the killing of the three Jewish Israeli settler teenagers for which no branch of the Palestinian resistance has either claimed or credibly been accused of responsibility.

The only wat to deal with the Israeli against the apartheid state except action to isolate Israel and pile on the pressure. Summer 2014 may be recorded in history as the beginning of the final victory for Palestinian self-determination. Israel seems to be running out of options.


Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) worked in South Africa and despite the different context they can work in Israel-Palestine. BDS has reached a tipping point. In the last few months alone, BDS-related successes include the decision by the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation. This was followed by the world's richest person, Bill Gates, withdrawing his entire stake - more than $ 180 million - from a security company (G4S) involved in Israel's human rights abuses.

Earlier this year the second largest ($200 billion) Dutch pension fund, PGGM, divested from five Israeli banks and a month earlier the largest Danish bank, Danske, blacklisted Israel's Hapoalim bank.

In January the Norwegian sovereign fund, the largest in the world, divested from two Israeli companies that were part of its portfolio. In July 2014, TESCO, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, decided to stop selling Israeli products originating from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In July 2013, three major supermarket chains in the Netherlands Aldi, Hoogvliet and Jumbo announced that they will no longer sell products coming from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In April 2012, UK supermarket chains “The Co-op” adopted a complete boycott of Israeli companies. Last year, the South African agricultural company Karsten Farms terminated its relations with Israel's Hadiklaim in 2013.