For those who lament the Palestinians’ use of violence and sigh, “But where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” –here is the answer: Israel delegitimizes all tools of resistance, including non-violence. In 2011, for example, the Israeli parliament passed legislation punishing any public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott in response to the Israeli Occupation and its settlements.
A boycott is a very reasonable tool of resistance, one used in the past by many oppressed peoples–the Irish, the Indians, the Jews–against their respective tyrants. With the notable exception of the state of Israel, which persisted in providing the apartheid regime of South Africa with weapons, the imposition of a boycott was even a broadly-supported international policy at one time. At an individual level, surely each person is entitled to choose to give or not to give sustenance to an entity that contradicts his or her personal values.
While Israel’s anti-boycott law is meant to empower its Occupation and its settlers and to intimidate the international movement in solidarity with Palestinians, the law also stimulates many thoughts about the Palestinian reactions to the boycott. After all, some Palestinians have a complex and enmeshed relationship with Israelis.
For myself, I have studied with Israelis. I recently finished a three-year training program at the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society. In East Jerusalem, where I live, many Palestinians work in various Israeli institutions and when they are ill, are treated in Israeli hospitals. Many Palestinians from the West Bank can only find work in Israeli settlements. And let us not forget the tragic reality that the infamous separation wall was built by Palestinian hands.
As a result of these interrelations, it is perplexing for many Palestinians to draw a fine line between the need to survive and the need to resist normalizing the relationship with the occupier. Palestinians share a plight and a dream of justice; but in the current absence of a Palestinian national policy, one can only “freelance” and improvise in the hope of achieving this dream. While I maintain a solid connection with a small number of Israelis with whom I share common values, I strongly oppose normalizing relationships with the Occupation and its institutions. A Palestinian needs to be savvy enough to do one thing without eroding the other.
Surely there can be no win-win outcome between the Occupied Palestinian nation and the Israeli Occupation. The more the Occupation expands its illegal settlements and the more it develops its racist policies, the more we suffocate on Occupied land. A boycott of the Israeli Occupation is the mildest form of resistance that Palestinians and those who support them could carry out. A boycott is a sign of individual and collective strength; its main value is the psychological and moral effect of confronting and potentially isolating the state of Israel.
I know some Israelis who even today refuse to buy German cars, although the cars appeal to them, because they don’t want to contribute the health of the German economy. Imagine us, whose wounds from Israelis are always open and bleeding!
Jews who endorse the boycott are seen as an autoimmune disease by Jews who oppose it; their critics fail to see any sign of health in these few good antibodies struggling to protect the infected Israeli conscience. But the legislation against boycotts has only served to further expose the false democracy of the Occupying power. The legislation only further delegitimizes Israel in the eyes of the world, causing more uproar than the boycott itself. “Autoimmune disease” is just additional nomenclature augmenting the list of slurs such as “self-hating Jew” and “anti-Semite”–terms meant to silence and to intimidate.
By neutralizing military resistance, and prohibiting boycott, the Occupation reveals its satisfaction with the status quo. Why take steps towards peace? Why relinquish tired racist ideologies and practices? Palestinians went to the negotiating table and got nothing; our fighting for freedom is called terrorism and shunned by the world. Condemnation of the horrors committed by the state of Israel feels futile against a regime that is indifferent to the suffering and deaths of Palestinian people.
The government of the United States and its followers are reluctant to take any decisive action against Israel but in countries across Europe, Latin America, and Africa, more and more people are recognizing the real story: the Occupation of Palestine by a powerful military force and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their homeland.
Palestinians need to be helped to see something beyond the pain, suffering and death that is being inflicted upon them. They need recognition of their experience and an acknowledgement of the wrongs that have been done to them over many years, a glimpse of hope and a sense of justice. It is not sufficient to demand an end to the attacks against the Palestinian people who are being slaughtered in their homes as this falls on deaf ears, it is important to mobilize the vast consenting Israeli majority–and this can happen effectively if Israel is to experience the taste of isolation it has been imposing on Palestinians. Wherever ordinary people enjoy democracy, there is an opportunity to launch a large international boycott campaign against the Israeli Occupation. Israeli individuals can only encourage their government to move towards peace by endorsing a boycott. If they fail to do so, Israel will continue on its path toward a moral collapse that will bring only shame and humiliation upon all of its supporters.