Israel a violator of UN resolutions, must be isolated

Prabir Purkayastha & Githa Hariharan | The Sunday Guardian | 14 août 2012 | Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, in Cultural boycott of Israel will not bring peace (15 July, 2012) argues….

Prabir Purkayastha & Githa Hariharan | The Sunday Guardian | 14 août 2012 |

Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, in Cultural boycott of Israel will not bring peace (15 July, 2012) argues that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel will not bring peace to Palestine. Instead, she counter-poses what she calls « conflict resolution » as a method to bring peace. In the process, she uses false premises and misrepresents the aims of the BDS campaign and the role of boycott as an instrument of international policy.

The BDS campaign does not target individuals in the Israeli academy as Sondhi would have us believe, but institutions of the Israeli state, including those academic institutions complicit with the Israeli state. Various Israeli academics, such as Ilan Pappe and Rachel Giora, have, in fact, supported the BDS call. So have groups such as Boycott from Within.

Sondhi takes on « contested territory » by saying « that this is clearly demonstrated in the two claims to the same territory in West Asia ». Like official Israel, Sondhi may think the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is contested. But international law and UN resolutions are quite clear on this count: these are areas under occupation. Gaza is still under occupation as it is under a permanent stage of siege by Israel, with no control of its borders, air space and access by sea.

The UN Resolution of 1947 made it clear that there would be a two-state solution and identified the territory of each. Sixty-four years later, Palestinians are still waiting for their state. Under the Oslo Accord, Israel agreed to withdraw from the West Bank and allow a Palestinian state. Instead, the Palestinian Authority still lacks sovereignty, with over 20 of its Members of Parliament in Israeli prisons. The settlements in the West Bank continue to expand in violation of the international law stipulating that the demographic composition of occupied territories cannot be changed by the occupying power. Palestine remains the only country today under formal occupation, as distinct from the struggles of various communities for self-determination within nation states.

Sondhi asks why the BDS campaign is directed against only Israel and not against other countries. Many of Sondhi’s ilk pose this question. But the answer is quite simple. Israel is the only country that has violated numerous UN Security Council resolutions on the vacation of occupied territories: all attempts at implementation have been vetoed by the US and other western powers. It is this failure of the international community that has led to civil society organisations in Palestine calling for a boycott of Israel. Hence the international BDS campaign, a calibrated campaign that identifies the Israeli state and its institutions for boycott, not individual Israeli citizens.

Sondhi seems to argue that a boycott can never have a role in conflict resolution. Of course her view is that all conflicts have apparently equal opponents. Sondhi is not exactly unique in this take on Israel’s aggression. Creating a false symmetry between the oppressor and the oppressed is a familiar way to erase or gloss over the reality of ethnic cleansing, occupation and the continued settler colonialism.

In colonies such as Algeria, apartheid South Africa, as well as Palestine today, it is physical force that makes the two parties completely unequal. On one side, there is an unarmed population; on the other a fully armed state. Whoever challenges occupation or apartheid is imprisoned by the fully armed state. This is the crux of the issue.

De-colonisation or dismantling occupation is not about « conflict resolution », but about giving people their basic human rights. And recent history — as in the South African case — has illustrated how powerful a weapon a boycott can be when used by people (and not by states alone) in dismantling the apartheid state. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African human rights leader and advocate of the global BDS movement, has often explained that it was the international boycott movement that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa; and that the movement was supported by academics and artists who today lend their talents to the current boycott movement against Israel’s apartheid policies. « In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom without the help of people around the world… Let’s send a message to governments that a critical mass of people want to see an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the oppression of its people. »

Sondhi refers to Edward Said and his collaboration with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra led by the Israeli musician Daniel Barenboim. The late Said’s collaboration with Barenboim began in the heady days post-Oslo, when it was still possible to believe that Israel’s occupation of Palestine could be finally resolved and music could play a role in reconciling the two states and its people. It is the failure of Oslo that led to the call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004, and the BDS call in 2005. But every time a call for boycott of a cultural event goes out, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is waved as evidence to disregard the call.

Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine is only possible because of the US and other western backers. India does not cover itself with glory either, paying lip-service to Palestine while becoming the largest arms buyer from Israel. But the Indian people can and should exert pressure on the Indian government as well by joining the global BDS campaign to isolate Israel and its state institutions.

Again, let us recall the words of a man who has seen the flourishing and the fall of apartheid: Desmond Tutu says, « I visited the occupied Palestinian territories, and have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints. The inhumanity that won’t let ambulances reach the injured, farmers tend their land, or children attend schools. This treatment is familiar to me as it was to many Black South Africans who were corralled and harassed by the security forces of the apartheid government. It is not with rancour that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope — hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians. Hope for a future where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation … True peace comes only with justice. »

This response is on behalf of INCACBI (Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel)