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Resistance and Efforts for Peace

Boycott Israel

Mazin Qumsiyeh has served on the faculty of both Dukeand Yale universities. His latest book is Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle. He is involved in manycampaigns supporting Palestinian rights.

By Mazin Qumsiyeh
Global Agenda Magazine

Global civil society ought to boycott Israel until it ends its apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians, says Mazin Qumsiyeh.

Millions of activists have come to see an organic link between the occupation and colonization of Palestine and diverse and pressing globalissues ranging from the war on Iraq to global poverty. How did we reach apoint where Palestinian flags dominate anti-war rallies and thedemonstrations against US-dominated world financial institutions? Why dothese activists see the hypocrisy of American foreign policy with regard toIsrael/Palestine as the Achilles' heel that might allow a successful challenge to its hegemony? How did we get to the point where mainstreamchurches and more than 30 American campuses have active divestment andboycott campaigns against Israel? Why do the US and Israel stand isolated in international fora, and in public opinion around the world?

The roots of Zionism

To answer these questions, we must first understand the history of Zionismand the roots of the Israeli/Palestinian conundrum and then look to how we might advance towards a durable and just peace in Israel/Palestine,which isa key to peace and justice elsewhere.

In early 1840, the British imperial government hired Lieutenant-ColonelGeorge Gawler, a founder of the British penal colonies in Australia, to lookinto the feasibility of Jewish colonization in Palestine. In 1845 Gawlerpublished Tranquilization of Syria and the East: Observations and PracticalSuggestions, in Furtherance of the Establishment of Jewish Colonies in Palestine, the Most Sober and Sensible Remedy for the Miseries of AsiaticTurkey. In 1852 British officials founded the Association for PromotingJewish Settlement in Palestine. This society later evolved into the Palestine Fund, the first concrete modern Zionist project.

Pioneering Zionist colonies were first established in Israel in the 1880s.The movement gained steam in 1896 with the publication of Die Judenstaat by Theodore Herzl, a Hungarian-Jewish journalist, and the formation of theWorld Zionist Organization. Today, Zionists shy away from the use of theterm colonization but early Zionists like Herzl and Ze'ev Jabotinsky spoke openly of Jewish colonization. Jabotinsky, whose picture and philosophydominate the ruling Likud party in Israel, had this to say in 1923:"Zionistcolonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carriedout in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonizationcan,therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a forceindependent of the local population – an iron wall that the native population cannot break through."

Evolving methods

Zionists have been skilled at evolving their methods over the years. Therewere three important shifts in strategy since the movement began in thelate nineteenth century. The first was a change in patronage. The shift fromBritish to American protection was most noticeable between the 1930s andthe1960s. The second was the acceptance of Fatah and the Palestinian LiberationOrganization as groups to negotiate with on establishing autonomy forPalestinian in the truncated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The thirdstrategic shift was the idea of a Palestinian statelet comprised of the disconnected ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza, not more than a fifth ofhistoric Palestine, occupied by Israel in 1967, a la South AfricanBantustans.

Yet, despite these strategic shifts, today's Zionist programme is unwaveringin its original goals, goals that are shared by all major factions inIsraeli politics (Likud, Labour, Shas and other religious parties). Itsconsensual programme includes: the rejection of complete withdrawal from allareas illegally occupied in 1967; the rejection of refugees' right toreturnto their homes and lands; the rejection of concepts of full sovereignty orself-determination for Palestinians, and a refusal to change Israel's basic laws that discriminate against non-Jews.

Unchanging goal

Thus, while tactics may change, the goals of political Zionism areunchanging: demand for Jewish Zionist control and maximum land with minimumPalestinians (maximum geography with minimum demography). Between 1947 and 1949, this was accomplished by outright removal of 70% of the Palestiniannatives in the area that was to become Israel by 1949. More than 530Palestinian villages and towns were completely depopulated and erased off the face of the new Israeli map. Even Israeli Zionist historians like BennyMorris now acknowledge this.

According to most historians and declassified material, Israel initiatedthe1967 war to acquire more land, some of it for bargaining and some for strategic and economic reasons. Immediately, a new phase of colonizationwas started in the occupied areas in the West Bank (including EastJerusalem). A total of 450,000 colonial settlers have moved into theseareas over the past 39 years 39 years to 2006 (while 2% have been withdrawnfrom Gaza over the past year an additional 4% has been added in otherareas).

American friends

Gatekeepers in the American media ensure that political Zionism is not questioned. The only debate allowed in pages of The New York Times or onmajor television broadcasts is between different brands and strategies ofZionism. On the other hand, we see literally millions of people in America and around the world, using the internet, reading between the lines, andquestioning the Zionist narrative. We see thousands of Jews reach the sameconclusion as Gilad Atzmon, the musican and writer, Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, and Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthopologist: that politicalZionismis the problem. They articulate an optimistic post-Zionist discourse basedon universal justice and human rights. They pose the question: If apartheid was the problem in South Africa, why is it a solution inIsrael/Palestine?

Those who advocate political Zionism cannot defend it on its own merits sothey focus instead on diverting attention and distorting reality. The best example of this is ignoring the cause of the disease and focusing attentionto one of its many symptoms: violence of the natives against the colonialsettlers (but not the vastly more deadly violence of the colonizers on native people). The idea is that if we vilify the natives and make themlook subhuman, we will not be criticized for killing them and taking theirlands.

This is an old strategy to justify the pillaging. It was used by the French government in Algeria, by European colonizers in the Americas, by apartheidSouth Africa, by the Americans in Vietnam, and in hundreds of other placeswere Western economic and colonial interests came in conflict with the rights of indigenous people.

Israeli apartheid

Zionism not only supposes that Jewish people (including converts) enjoyethnic, national or historical rights to Palestine but that these rightsaresuperior to the rights of the native population. Unlike South Africa where black labour was needed, Zionism wanted the natives out. Simply put, thegoal of Zionism was to create a state by, for, and of "the Jewish peopleeverywhere" to the exclusion of most of the native people and then ensure that the minority that remained at all odds is not treated equally.

Amnesty International reported: "In Israel several laws are explicitlydiscriminatory. These can be traced back to Israel's foundation in 1948 which, driven primarily by the racist genocide suffered by Jews in Europeduring the Second World War, was based on the notion of a Jewish state forJewish people. Some of Israel's laws reflect this principle and as a result discriminate against non-Jews, particularly Palestinians who had lived onthe lands for generations. Various areas of Israeli law discriminateagainstPalestinians. The Law of Return, for instance, provides automatic Israeli citizenship for Jewish immigrants, whereas Palestinian refugees who wereborn and raised in what is now Israel are denied even the right to returnhome. Other statutes explicitly grant preferential treatment to Jewish citizens in education, public housing, health, and employment.

Zionism represented a colonial British venture later taken up as one ofmanypossible responses to discrimination in Europe. Other responses to discrimination like socialism and humanism were indeed available and had atleast equal strength. Zionism can be seen as 19th century-stylechauvinistic, ethnocentric – mostly Ashkenazi (central European)–nationalism response to prevalent European chauvinistic ethnocentric nationalisms. It is in that sense an assimilation by some Jews to a nowoutdated European colonial period.

In this sense, it is not surprising that the Zionist lobby has been pushingthe US to a neo-colonial era perpetuating these outmoded forms of human relations. In a society that values equality and separation of Church andstate, a concerted media campaign justifies "preemptive" invading of othercountries, religious apartheid, sectarianism, ethnic cleansing, and putting walls around ghettoized "undesired" people. Zionist apologists do not findit contradictory that they talk about equality in America and Europe butsupport discrimination and exclusion of Palestinian refugees (for being not Jewish) in Palestine/Israel. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent bygroups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League to the American JewishCommittee to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to "think tanks" in our nation's capital to promote bankrupt ideas.

The relentless efforts of many to defend apartheid and separation can onlybe described as symptoms of cognitive dissonance at best and racism atworse. In their Orwellian world, occupation becomes "security," a relentless war of colonization and occupation becomes "advancingdemocracy",a "peace process," an apartheid wall becomes a "security fence", beinganti- or post-Zionist is morphed into being anti-Jewish, and "moderation" becomes a code word for shredding international law and basic human rights.

Our demands

In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizationsissued ahistoric document. It articulated Israel's persistent violations of international and humanitarian laws and conventions and called upon"international civil society organizations and people of conscience alloverthe world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheidera."

The call stated that "these non-violent punitive measures should bemaintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies withtheprecepts of international law by: ending its occupation and colonization ofall Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; andrespecting,protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return totheir homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194."

We propose that global civil society take this call seriously and build acoalition open to all people for a global Movement Against Zionism or aglobal Movement Against Israeli Apartheid. This would have merit on its own for bringing peace with justice to all people regardless of their religionor ethnicity. It would also be a significant contribution to exposingAmerican government-led programs of domination and hegemony in the Middle East, most aptly exposed by its support of Zionism.

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Videos & Multimedia

Nonviolent Protest in Bil'in, 4/17/09; Bassem Abu Rahme is Killed

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View footage from 2/6/2004 demonstration at Georgetown University, USA

View footage from 12/26/2003 demonstration in Mas’ha, West Bank—Israeli activist, Gil Ne’amati, is shot

View footage from 11/9/2003 demonstration in Ramallah, West Bank

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Additional Resources

Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance

Charter of the United Nations


Courage to Refuse

American Muslims for Palestine

A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT)

Sabeel – Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

Friends of Sabeel, North America

More Religious Peace Groups

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