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Update: London Palestine Action shut down an Israeli drone factory, UAV Engines Limited, demanding an end to all forms of military trade and cooperation with Israel.
It’s clear that we can’t just tweet in the face of genocide and that marching from A to B in the face of massacre and ethnic cleansing is not enough. So what is enough to stop Israeli impunity and apartheid, and ongoing international governmental, institutional and corporate support for Israel? The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a Palestinian initiated call for a comprehensive cultural, economic, and academic boycott of Israel until Israel abides by international law and three core aims are achieved: 1) Israel withdraws from all occupied territory (this includes ending the collectively punishing blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights), 2) full equality for all citizens of Israel and 3) implementation of the Right of Return for expelled and exiled Palestinians.
Israel has violated 28 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council (which are legally binding on member-nations), and almost 100 resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly (which are not binding, but represent the will and understanding of the international community). Israel as well as member states signed up to the International Court of Justice are in violation of the advisory opinion of the ICJ in 2004, condemning the separation wall Israel is building throughout the occupied West Bank as illegal and for all relevant parties to dismantle it. To date, no state involved has taken its’ responsibilities under international law seriously.
The Israeli government’s biggest fears are: 1) Delegitmisation of its’ exceptional status a country that can violate international law and never be held to account, as well as delegitimisation of its’ ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and collective punishment of the Gaza Strip. 2) De-normalisation – currently, musical acts, artists, academics, and political leaders, continue to treat Israel as a ‘normal’ country, rather than an outlaw apartheid state, so for example when artists refuse to perform in Israel citing ongoing violations of human rights and international law as the reason for boycotting, this normalisation is exposed, also impacting on the consciousness of Israelis who find it more comfortable to normalise rather than challenge Israeli impunity. And finally, 3) Lawfare. It’s the term used by the Israeli government for legal challenges to its’ impunity and unaccountability, as evidenced in the hefty Goldstone Report on the Gaza war 2008/9 which accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the attempts to acquire arrest warrants for former ministers and army generals such as former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and General Doron Almog. The term lawfare however can be reclaimed by human rights activists, in our using of international law to re-legitimise it and re-legitimise Palestinian and universal human rights and protections through it.
But what about the here and now – how can we begin to expose Israel’s impunity? Actions speak louder than letters and are faster than lobbying. Actions are also more empowering and more effective at engaging the public. There’s no time like the present, leave your computer at home and hit the streets. Here are some effective, low cost, high impact collective actions you can take:
1) Supermarket Sweep! – Minimum 2 people (it’s always good to have a buddy). Find your local supermarket (Co-op do not sell Israeli products anymore) and identify the Israeli products which are manufactured in Settlements. These will include all fruit, veg, herbs, and dates. Also, look out for Strauss Food group products like Sabra Houmous. Strauss is Israel’s biggest food producers and sponsors the Israeli army’s most notorious brigades – the Givati and Golani brigades, which committed atrocities during Operation Cast Lead and whose members wear T-shirts like the infamous ‘One shot, two kills’ one showing a pregnant Palestinian women in the crosshairs of a snipers sights. One possible action is to load them up into a trolley and take them to the manager and explain that these products violate international law and shouldn’t be on the shelves so you’ve done them a favour and removed them. Have some placards, have some Palestinian flags with you, take pictures, tweet and facebook them, Add a caption like “this is a BDS action in solidarity with Palestine and in coherence with international law.” Be creative – London Palestine Action have had Dabke dancing sessions in supermarkets. Flashmobs to music with lyrics of popular tunes changed to reflect BDS messaging are also a winner.
2) Israeli Apartheid – Leave the Shop Is there a Sodastream, Ahava or Kedem retailer near you? You can do the same as above. Try and take more people with you, try and leaflet customers inside and outside (BDS Movement has links to downloadable fliers). Think creatively. Ask to see the manager, and at all times, document and disseminate what you’re doing on social media with the hashtag #BDS
3) Where’s your local Israeli arms dealer? Campaign Against Arms Trade have a map to help you find them. Think creatively. Is a picket enough? Do people in the vicinity know what is being produced there? Do they know that Israel is the UK’s number 1 arms customer and that £42million worth of export licenses were granted to 130 British companies supplying Israel since 2010? The Brighton-based campaign group Smash EDO has been active for a decade and have organised blockades, street parties. Some activists from the group did what it says on the tin and smashed up the factory belonging to EDO-MBM technologies, during Operation Cast Lead. They were acquitted as a judge found their defence of necessity (the use of force to prevent a greater crime from taking place) as valid. The legal landscape in the UK has changed since that 2009 ruling but, there is scope for using international law arguments in legal defences. #StopArmingIsrael is the hashtag – War on Want and BDS Movement have a great report on the subject.
4)If you’re investing in ethnic cleansing, we will shut you down. Who are the big investors in the arms trade with Israel? British high street bank Barclays is the eighth biggest investor in Israeli drone giant Elbit Systems. The Elbit Systems Hermes 450 is known as the Israeli Army’s work horse and has been ‘battle-tested’ on the bodies of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza, intensively during Operation Cast Lead where according to Al Mezan, a human rights organisation, 513 people including 116 children were killed by drone strikes. Israeli drones patrol Gaza and the bantustans of the West Bank and can be armed to extrajudicially assassinate or strike anyone at any time. Barclays have shares worth £3million in Elbit. Some Palestine action groups are gearing up for a campaign on this, watch this space.
Whatever your target, an action that is reproducible works best. Sometimes even a simple banner drop in a key place can raise the profile of BDS as a tactic and Palestine as the issue. Likewise occupying targets on your local high street can enable many more people to take simultaneously. Think of the impact UK Uncut have had by targeting Vodafone and high street banks. If it’s local, you can reach it and multiply.
Friends in Gaza are dispossessed and destitute. Many have lost their homes, their entire neighbourhoods, relatives – every family I know in Gaza has lost someone or a number of family members in this latest massacre. The sense of isolation, Israeli impunity and impending annihilation is strong. Even if Israel is restrained this time, it is likely the siege will continue, the apartheid wall in the West Bank will continue to be constructed and defended and the settlements will expand. It’s not enough for people to wake up when blood is splashed across their screens and images of mutilated children flash by, only to then return to normalisation of ethnic cleansing. Israel’s occupation does not rest, neither should we. We all have a role to play. A close friend, Sabr Zaaneen of the Beit Hanoun local initiative said to me: ‘We’re told to remember, Stay Human, Stay Human, but where is the humanity? Humanity is dead, it must be because how can this continue to happen to us? How is this not being stopped?’. He spoke to me from the cold hard floor of a house in Gaza City he and his family are sharing with 40 people. His family homes have all been destroyed in Beit Hanoun. ‘I go to the UN and ask them for mattresses, for food, for water, they say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, we cannot help you’. There’s no food or water, we are sleeping on the floor without anything. We need support and we need you to stop Israel, stop them bombing, stop this siege’.
Palestine is not a charity case and the future cannot be a drip feed of international aid and periodic torture whilst the international community looks on. If not not now when? If not you, who? Up the ante, take direct action, deeds not words, for to quote Sabr we need action for ‘Freedom, Justice, Peace’.
Ewa Jasiewicz is an activist with London Palestine Action @londonPalestine