In times of turbulence, Palestinians continue to put nonviolent pressure on Israel
LONDON - Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah. He is managing partner of Applied Information Management, a consulting firm specialising in business development with a niche focus on start-ups. Bahour was instrumental in establishing the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PalTel) and the Arab Palestinian Shopping Centre.
He said he spends about 70% of his time on business activities and the rest on civil society activism. He is outspoken about finding creative ways of engaging in non-violent resistance against Israeli occupation, including economic and educational development.
The Arab Weekly (TAW) spoke with Bahour via Skype to discuss the challenges facing the Palestinians.
TAW: “You left the United States in 1994 when many Palestinians were hopeful about the Oslo peace accords. How do you see the situation now?”
Bahour: “We are in economic survival mode, not economic growth mode but I was able to engage in trying to find a livelihood for people so that they can stay here and to me that’s the ultimate political resistance: to get people to stay in the country constructively because people are being pushed out or pushed to violence.
“Reflecting back, it has been a serious rollercoaster ride but, all the details aside, I think what this phase has taught us is that bilateral negotiations between the occupied and the occupier don’t work as a model to move the political process forward. It took a long time and it took a lot of losses and it made the reality more complicated on the ground but maybe that was all a necessary process to articulate to the international community that the bilateral model that they put us in, that they forced us in, never had a chance to succeed.
“I think going to the UN and making a case at the International Criminal Court and joining UN treaties, all of this is non-violent resistance and it’s driving Israel crazy. They would much rather we charged the checkpoint with a knife because there they can kill us and it wouldn’t even make headline news.”
TAW: “Your supermarket was one of the first big companies to boycott goods made in Israeli settlements. What other examples of non-violence resistance are there?”
Bahour: “The Palestinians are engaged in dozens of modes of resistance that are non-violent and, sadly, those are not the ones that make the media. The other modes of resistance are crossing a checkpoint every day to go to school. Or a farmer who has to cross the wall to go to his farm.
“I have two daughters, one of them got a scholarship to [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and the other one is on her way to Harvard. Both are products of our education system. To be able to maintain integrity and quality of an education system under the duress of a military occupation is yet another example of how we non-violently resist this occupation. They would much rather see us in the dirt and in the streets and in poverty given the actions that they’ve taken during the last 25 years but we still value education, we’re still producing quality graduates, less than before but we still are.”
TAW: “You were involved in PalTel’s efforts to get Israel to allow the operation of local 3G networks, which were permitted this year after Israel withheld frequencies for nearly 12 years. What does that mean for the Palestinians?”
Bahour: “Israel continues to control all and I’m saying this very carefully, all strategic economic resources. In lieu of that we built a telecoms company that is thriving, that is profitable even though it’s not separate or independent. A good example is we had to wait, to battle for more than 10 years with the Israeli side before they released the 3G frequency so our telecom company can provide 3G services to our mobile phones. Meanwhile, the world has got to 5G and 3G is expired technology and it’s being dumped on us too little, too late.
“That resilience to be able to build forward knowing that we are at a significant disadvantage and that Israel uses us as a dumping market is an act of non-violent resistance from the private sector. It’s not usually connected to resistance but I make that connection.”
TAW: “How do you see the near future given the absence of a peace process?”
Bahour: “There is turbulence on all sides. On the US side we’re already seeing that with the movement of [its] embassy to Jerusalem. On the Israeli side, we’re seeing a prime minister who is drunk on power and who is facing criminal charges. On the Palestinian side, succession will prove to be turbulent and the Israelis are bulldozing through the West Bank literally, given that they have the ability to do so with the Trump administration covering their backs.
“I don’t think the Palestinian Authority should disband as some people have called for. Yes, they can do much better. However, disbanding means jumping from poor governance to military occupation governance so even if what the Palestinian Authority has been able to achieve is 10% of what it should have, that’s still 10% that we didn’t have and our goal needs to be to get it to 100%, not to go backward.”