Israeli boycott makes inroads despite complexities on the ground
RAMALLAH - A movement to boycott Israeli goods, culture and academic institutions is gaining momentum worldwide but faces difficulties near Israel for a number of reasons, one of which is the complex relationship between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.
The movement recently scored a “cultural victory”, with US pop star Lauryn Hill cancelling a performance in Israel because of “challenges” to also host it in occupied Palestinian territories.
“Setting up a performance in the Palestinian territory at the same time as our show in Israel proved to be a challenge. I’ve wanted very much to bring our live performance to this part of the world but also to be a presence supporting justice and peace,” Hill posted on her Facebook page.
The boycott, focusing on culture, economy, sports among other activities, has been active for more than a decade.
Haidar Eid, a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), told The Arab Weekly that culture and academia are fields of conflict because they help shape the awareness regarding the longest occupation in history.
“This was a big blow to Israel,” Eid said.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) was born in 2007 after a call for action against Israel made two years earlier by some 170 Palestinian non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
BDS adheres to a strategy of allowing people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice. BDS’s most recent victory occurred in April when the French corporation Veolia sold nearly all of its business activities in Israel.
Boycott activists argue that comparing efforts made in this context by those living under occupation and those who can help them abroad is not fair.
“We have a series of a complex system of imposed relations that are out of our control,” a boycott activist told The Arab Weekly. He said he preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons.
For example, a person living in Area C in the West Bank has to seek the Israeli authorities’ permission if he needs to pick his olives.
“This is an imposed relationship that one can’t classify as a normalisation act with the Israeli occupation,” the activist continued.
The Israeli goods boycott efforts fluctuate based on the general feeling against the Israeli occupation. These sentiments peaked during the Gaza war in July 2014, when a wide-scale popular movement called for the boycott of Israeli products.
Since then, major stores adopted a voluntary ban on Israeli products that have national or foreign alternatives. The decision has reportedly increased profits for many Palestinian companies and brought losses to the Israeli economy. However, no figures are publicly available.
The ban lost momentum after the 2014 Gaza war but picked up again when a national Palestinian campaign kicked off calling for a ban on products by six Israeli companies. The action came in response to Israel’s withholding Palestinian tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in line with bilateral agreements under a 1993 framework of a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis.
In March, during the heat of the campaign, Israeli milk was poured into the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank to emphasise the ban. Initiatives have sprung in Palestinian territories to decrease dependence on Israeli goods, such as the first Palestinian farm to produce white mushrooms. While analysts praise such efforts, they stress the need for a drastic change, not just a small step here or there.
Moreover, the boycott movement is confronted with the complexities of the PA’s signed agreements with Israel that do not permit such calls for action. For example, the PA enforced a ban on Jewish settlement products a few years ago but could not openly announce that because of the agreements.
Although Israel remains the sole provider of electricity, water, fuel derivatives and cement to the Palestinian territories, activists want more anti-Israel actions. They say there is room to do more but the PA is refraining from moving ahead.
“There are demands for the PA to re-evaluate the relationship with Israel and revisit the past political, economic and security commitments and the path that led to signing the Oslo agreements” in 1993, the head of research at Masarat think-tank in Ramallah, Khalil Shahin, told The Arab Weekly.
“This option can be costly to the PA, which is why it prefers that the civil associations lead the boycott calls,” Shahin added.
The activist who spoke to the Arab Weekly was more critical of the PA, saying that it can do more.
“There’s room in the signed agreements to stop dependence on certain goods from Israel, like petrol, but the PA wants to spare itself political headaches,” he said.
He added that some businessmen close to the PA have relations with Israeli companies and fear for their own interests if they are boycotted.
“The PA supported and enforced a boycott of Israel’s cellular companies but not its other companies,” said a veteran local journalist who opted not to share his name, in reference to Palestinian businessmen running mobile firms.
Activists say that the Israeli occupation has played on the people’s psychology to make them believe sometimes that Israeli goods are better. “Another challenge that has to do with the feeling that the occupier’s goods are better because the occupier is more powerful,” an activist concluded.