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BDS takes Arab and Western worlds by storm

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been scoring new successes lately, on and off campus

Nadeen Shaker , Sunday 28 Apr 2013
A Belgian demonstrator displays a sign reading "Boycott Israel, racist state" (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 4035

Scoring one victory after another since 2005, the global campaign of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to play a vital role in exposing Israeli human rights abuses and campaigning for the rights of Palestinians.

Rising up from the grassroots, the BDS movement is led by the largest coalition of Palestinian rights and civil society groups worldwide.

Often compared with South Africa’s campaign against apartheid, the movement appeals to “people of conscience” to call for an end to Israel’s multi-tiered system of “ethnic cleansing, colonisation, racial discrimination, and military occupation,” the BDS website states. Supporters of BDS worldwide have persuaded millions to join their boycott of Israel academically, culturally, and economically, causing companies to lose some of their biggest contracts and for some countries to impose sanctions.

In recent weeks, the BDS movement has moved to challenge Israel once again, pressuring large corporations to end their complicity with its crimes and leading academic groups and institutions to endorse the movement.

G4S and Israeli prisons

A flare-up of protest broke out worldwide over a multinational security firm’s complicity in human rights abuses in Israeli settlements, prisons and checkpoints.

Group4Security (G4S), a private British-Danish conglomerate that operates in 125 countries, is the largest private security service provider in the world. It operates in Israel through its largest subsidiary, G4S Israel or Hashmira.

In July 2007, G4S signed a contract with the Israel Prisoner Authority (IPA) to equip and provide security systems to its major facilities, including the Ofer facility in the occupied West Bank, and others such as Ketziot, Megiddo and Damon prisons as well as for the Kishon (“Jalameh”) and Jerusalem (“Russian Compound”) detention and interrogation centres.

G4S services these facilities through providing security equipment such as touch-screen control rooms, CCTV camera monitoring and recording equipment, and fiber-optic communication lines. G4S also lends its services to businesses, shops, and supermarkets in illegal Israeli settlements — also assisting with security equipment at checkpoints.

The company is held complicit for doing business with these sites where torture and unlawful detentions are rampant.

According to a Who Profits report, G4S has the Ofer Prison fitted with a central control room from which the entire prison is monitored. It also installed a defence system on its walls.

The prison is notoriously known for its human rights abuse record, where prisoner and hunger striker Samer Issawi conducted a hunger strike for over 210 days.

In February this year, Arafat Jaradat died after several days of interrogation at Megiddo Prison. Autopsy reports showed that he was tortured to death. Jaradat was first arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing.

These prisons are primarily in contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for transferring Palestinian prisoners and holding them on Israeli territory. There are up to 4,600 Palestinians held in prisons in Israel.

What also implicates G4S is its involvement in the detention, brutal interrogation and torture of Palestinian children in these centres. In testimony provided to Ahram Online by Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine), a teenage boy from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, whose identity remains confidential, was held at Meggido Prison after spending three days with a broken nose and right thumb and enduring brutal interrogations that included an attack using dogs.

In another incident, Muhannad Alami, 14, spent over six months in Ofer Prison in 2012.

DCI-Palestine lawyers represent Palestinian children in such cases. According to the organisation, as of 21 March, there are 238 Palestinian children under 18 in Israeli custody. Among these, 39 range between the ages of 12 and 15.

Arab responses to G4S

A number of rights organisations in Egypt, Jordon, Lebanon and Palestine issued a statement 16 April, calling on Arab governments to divest from G4S, and for the European Union (EU) to discontinue using G4S facilities and renewing contracts with the company. The EU already lost a lucrative contract with the company after a group of 28 members of the European Parliament lobbied intensely against it last year.

Suzan Zarour, programmes manager for the Centre for the Defence of Liberties and Civil Rights, "Hurryyat,” told Ahram Online that the centre signed the statement as member of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations Network (PNGO), because it “supports any activity that contributes to reducing torture that the Israeli government practices against humans, and the violations of human rights that the whole world is witnessing and is speechless about.”

In Jordon, the Daem Observatory for Consultation and Training endorsed the statement where the “ongoing plight of Palestinians is a destabilisation factor for Jordan,” according to Linda Al-Kalash, founder and director of Tamkeen, one of its programmes.

A group of active civil society organisations in Egypt and Lebanon also signed the statement.

With the company’s complicity with gross violations out in the public eye, it has thought of an exit strategy. The Financial Times reported that the company will end contracts covering Ofer Prison, barrier checkpoints and West Bank police headquarters when they terminate in 2015.

“This is not new information and we've seen companies before use this tactic to push back criticism, and not to comply with our demands,” Al-Kalash said.

In March 2011, the company made a public announcement stating it would pull out of its controversial operations.

But Al-Kalash holds out little hope that the company will bow to international pressure. She says: “They announced withdrawing only from the [occupied Palestinian territories] whereas Israeli crimes, racial segregation and G4S complicity extends to detention centres outside those territories.”

The BDS movement, however, has hailed the company’s announcement as a victory.

New faces in the academic boycott

The academic boycott of Israel — arguably the most difficult forms of boycott to implement — has been gaining momentum in student councils around the world, as well as in a diverse number of academic institutions.

Sydney University’s student council passed a motion a few weeks ago calling for a comprehensive academic boycott of Israel, including Israel’s Technion University, which is involved in manufacturing remotely piloted aerial vehicles and the building of the illegal separation wall in the West Bank.

According to Omar Barghouti, Palestinian human rights activist and founding member of the BDS movement, adopting BDS resolutions outside the UK, South Africa, and North America makes the university’s statement unprecedented.

“We have had a spate of BDS motions passed recently by student councils at major US universities, such as the University of California campuses in Irvine, San Diego and Berkeley. All of them called, in one form or another, for divestment from companies supporting Israel's occupation and violations of international law,” Barghouti said. “For a student council to adopt an academic boycott of Israel, however, is unprecedented in the West. In that sense, the University of Sydney's motion breaks new ground.”

In another unprecedented move, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in Seattle announced its boycott of all Israeli academic institutions, becoming the first professional academic association outside the Arab and Muslim worlds and in the US to do so.

The association trumpeted rights to academic freedom and free speech in its statement, two values that were severely threatened recently in Brooklyn College.

Barghouti was directly involved in the incident, which he recounted to Ahram Online. Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College, in coordination with the Political Science Department, had organised a BDS discussion where US philosopher Judith Butler and Barghouti were scheduled to speak.

Barghouti believes that Israeli academic institutions promote a "false image of democracy," and that boycotting them is a very effective way of holding them accountable.

Israeli and other lobby groups in New York tried to scuttle the event, lobbying officials and Congress members to threaten to withdraw funding from the college should it go ahead with the event.

“This overt attempt to suppress free speech went beyond most previous displays of the Israel lobby's new McCarthyism,” Barghouti said. ”All the Zionist attacks on the BDS event led to a media frenzy and helped to raise awareness about BDS more than a thousand demonstrations, despite the expected censorship in the media of Palestinian voices in this controversy.”

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03-05-2013 07:44am
Boycott is a form of collective punishment
Boycotts strike against everyone. It's a form of indescriminate collective punishment. Isn't that supposed to be a bad thing?
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02-05-2013 02:05pm
A boycot of the state of Israel will not work as the democratic countries who were the victors of WWII will not allow that the jews will be harm done (again). The reason of course the holocaust. You have to convince your government that the jews in Israel use the same methods as the nazi's in Germany. In a country that respects the rule of law minorities should be able to live in peace and without being discriminated. That is also true for the state of Israel and every other country in the (arab) world. Otherwise the sacrifices of WWII and the palastinian conflict are all in vain.
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01-05-2013 09:18pm
The Arab countries are racist for expelling their own Jews. They should be boycotted for Racism
The Arab countries are racist for expelling their own Jews. They should be boycotted for Racism.
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30-04-2013 01:45pm
The untruths here are mind blowing. I guess the person who penned this article has never been to Israel. The BDS is a racist movement intent on the destruction of the State of Israel. It will never succeed. Israel is a small Democratic State, occupying one sixth of 1% of the entire Middle East. It is the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It enshrines freedom of speech, a free press and a State whose citizens live under the rule of law. It’s the only State in the Middle East, where people of all religions can practice their faith freely and openly. It’s the only State in the Middle East, where homosexuals are free to live without fear of persecution, or indeed execution. In short, it’s the State in the Middle East which resembles our own values in Australia and with whom Australia has long stood side by side, as a friend and ally
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Palestine Solidarity Campaign Mauritius
29-04-2013 06:32pm
In Solidarity with Palestine
You can't call an occupied land without no Justice A land of Worship!
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29-04-2013 03:46pm
wishful thinking
Israel is not a racist state (if you apply same standards to it that you apply to other countries, Egypt included). It restricts life of Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and West Bank for security reasons, which a normal phenomen across the world. Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews do not like each other but their human, social and political rights are identical. As for BDS, it will always be a failure because 1) it is easy to show that for humanitarian or moral reasons BDS is more applicable to all Arab and most Muslim countries (where, for instance, women have few rights), 2) Israeli products, especially medical, military, space equipment and other hi-tech, are highly valued for its quality.
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Ahm Sha
30-04-2013 12:27am
You're completely obliviant to the human rights abuses practiced by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Israeli Arabs put aside, Palestinians are treated like second class citizens if anything, optimistically speaking. Moreover, the sporadic illegal Israeli settlements shouldn't pass by unnoticed and not to mention groundless child imprisonment and torture. It is only a human duty to stand against such practices.

Hassan Shaker
29-04-2013 02:56pm
at last a hope
This eye opening article gives me some hope that human right movments can do something against the systematic human rights abuse of paladtenians in israel. The strong pro-israel media in the western world has mufled every voice tried to shed light on such practice. I am happy to learn that this movment is paying off. You really gave us some hope in these gloomy times.
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peter claudemir
30-04-2013 12:51am
my two cents
if this is your only hope, that is very sad! rather help the palestinians advance than try to harm israel, which is not working one bit, contrary to this article.

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