Civil Society

BDS: A Global Movement for Freedom & Justice

Al-Shabaka Policy Brief

Overview

While media attention over the past few months has focused on a brewing third Palestinian intifada in response to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Al-Shabaka policy advisor Omar Barghouti argues that a far more widespread, nonviolent grassroots movement originating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has been building and spreading around the world. He reviews the formation and evolution of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, including its rights-based (as opposed to solutions-based) approach, its collective leadership, its call to Israelis of conscience, and its promotion of context-specific strategies.

The Trigger for BDS

Not only friends of Palestinian rights recognize the potential of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign; foes do too. In May 2009, at AIPAC's policy conference, Executive Director Howard Kohr warned that BDS was reaching the American mainstream and "laying the predicate for abandonment [of Israel].” 1

Kohr added, “This is a conscious campaign to shift policy, to transform the way Israel is treated by its friends to a state that deserves not our support, but our contempt; not our protection, but pressure to change its essential nature.”

BDS does indeed challenge Israel’s “essential nature.” Rooted in almost a century of civil resistance to Zionist settler colonialism, the Palestinian Civil Society Campaign for BDS against Israel was launched on 9 July 2005, 2 ushering in a qualitatively new phase of resistance to Israel occupation, dispossession and apartheid against the indigenous people of Palestine. 3

The global campaign in response to the Palestinian BDS Call, which is guided by its Palestinian leadership, has made significant inroads into the Western mainstream over the past few years. The global BDS Campaign asserts a new, rights-based discourse in dealing with the question of Palestine. By so doing, it decisively exposes the double standard and exceptionalism with which the United States and most of the West have to varying degrees treated Israel ever since its establishment through the carefully planned and methodically executed campaign of forcible displacement and dispossession of the majority of the Palestinian people in the 1948 Nakba. 4 The official western collusion reached its height when Western states collectively ignored the historic advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice on 9 July 2004, which affirmed that Israel's colonial Wall and settlements were contrary to international law – at a time when Palestinians were still reeling from Israel’s violent take over of cities and refugee camps in the occupied West Bank in 2002. This factor was the direct trigger for the BDS Call a year later.