The Israeli onslaught on Gaza this summer has reawakened us all to the horrors of life and death in occupied Palestine. My initial reaction was despair - and anger that the political focus was on getting a ceasefire and resuming the 'peace process'.
Return to the status quo like this is not an option. As part of an olive picking team each October in the West Bank (pictured, below), I have seen how the so-called peace process is a cover for steady Israeli colonisation of Palestine. We witnessed intimidation and assaults from Israeli settlers, backed by Israeli soldiers: olive groves burned by flaming tyres rolled down the hillsides; trees savaged by nocturnal chainsaw attacks; streams cut off by the settlement above; young men arrested and roughed up for picking their own olives on their own land.
The villagers resist the takeover of their land in all sorts of ways. They continue to plant and replant trees, rebuild demolished homes, grow food crops, send their children to school. But they are under escalating pressure, and options for resistance are being closed down daily.
It's an intolerable way to live. Back from my first visit, I hunted out Green Party policy on Israel and Palestine (policy.greenparty.org.uk/ip). I was relieved to find that we recognise that before a fair choice can be made and accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians for their common future, the underlying causes have to be addressed. We call for UN and EU sanctions such as suspending special trade agreements and halting military support until the Israeli government has, as obliged by international law, ceased new settlement and evacuated existing ones; dismantled the settlement wall; abandoned their claim to East Jerusalem; addressed discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel; amended the Israeli law of return so that it ceases to discriminate against Palestinians.
Having seen how bad it is in the West Bank, I can barely imagine Gaza after nine years of a punitive blockade and the destruction of water supply, sewage treatment and power. Then in June came the renewed bombardment from land, sea and air. Galvanised by the catastrophe in Gaza, a few of us put an emergency resolution to conference to actively participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It was adopted: we have decided to join a campaign to impel the Israeli government to meet its legal human rights' obligations.
At the subsequent packed meeting, some concerns about being much more active in the BDS movement were raised. Here are some thoughts on what we need to be confident and clear about.
- Green Party members have already been active, joining pickets and demonstrations, with or without Green Party banners; Caroline Lucas has raised the issues in the EU and the House of Commons.
- The BDS movement is not an organisation directing us but a call for support from Palestinian civil organisations; people decide in their own areas how they can be most effective. Within Israel, for example, Who Profits researches the links between companies and the occupation. In the UK, groups focus on supermarkets selling goods produced in illegal settlements or specific companies like SodaStream.
- This is a targeted campaign against the government and its supporting institutions, not against individual Israelis. People are most often uncomfortable with the cultural boycott, concerned about academic freedom. But Israeli institutions are targeted when they: carry out research for military intelligence and occupation; tolerate racist theories and victimise dissenters; are involved in designing the wall, the settlements and their infrastructure; and promote a historical narrative from which Palestinians are missing.
- We are acting against the Israeli government and their murderous policies, not against Jews: the religion or ethnicity of oppressors is irrelevant. Plenty of Jewish groups support the campaign because they see that the struggle for Palestinian human rights is part of the wider struggle for all humans. And we need to recognise that anti- Semitism is a real and vicious threat, so we must challenge such attitudes, keep the distinction clear, and champion the rights of Jews.
- We need to be well equipped to deal with suggestions that Palestinians are responsible for ongoing 'conflict'. This is not a matter of the latest outburst: it is a long story of dispossession, displacement and occupation. It has become clear that the Israeli government has a vested interest in stalling any peace process. It is no accident that the latest onslaught began after Hamas and Fatah agreed to accept Israel within secure borders and renounce armed struggle.
- Neither the BDS nor the Green Party have a position on whether there should be a one- or two-state solution: our demands are that human rights and justice should be addressed, not the details of how.
With all this in mind, local councils can be bold in legally refusing tendering to complicit companies like G4S, which runs Israeli prisons under conditions that defy international law, Veolia, which built the railway connecting illegal settlements to West Jerusalem and dumps Israeli rubbish on Palestinian land, and Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers that plough through Palestinian homes.
All members can encourage MEPs to pursue sanctions and support Caroline Lucas in her relentless attack on the arms trade and work to demand a divorce of the UK's military marriage with Israel. The work is well under way: we can work alongside local BDS, Jewish social justice and/or Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) groups, proudly bringing our banners, our distinctive politics, and our influence on councils, in Parliament and in Europe. We can include it in our manifestos, talk about it on the doorsteps.
We'll be supporting the voices of Palestinians such as Rajah Shehadah, writer and human rights activist, who told Desert Island Discs: "We have things to offer. [Israelis] have things to offer. Together we can do brilliantly", and, "I have very few partners in optimism." We can be one of those partners.
Why we founded J-BIG?
by Deborah Fink
Having signed up to Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) in July 2002, I eventually concluded that the best way forward was to pursue the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel until it complies with international law. Governments and the United Nations will not act, so pressure needs to be applied at a grassroots level to create a snowball effect.
Some of us felt that there should be a visible Jewish presence within the boycott movement to increase the movement's credibility ('Even Jews boycott Israel!') and to strengthen it by negating the notion that it is anti-Semitic to boycott Israel and mobilising Jews who themselves fear ostracism from Zionists. JfJfP could not fulfil this need as it would not support a full (as opposed to Settlement) boycott for fear of losing many of its signatories, some high profile, and thus its power. In November 2006, we therefore decided to form Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) and affiliated it to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign's 'Boycott Israeli Goods' (BIG) campaign. We supported the goals of the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS - freedom, justice and equality. The idea was not so much to act independently, as to have a separate identity - we have our own name, blog, leaflets, banner, stickers and badges. We wanted, in effect, to give a 'kosher' stamp to the boycott movement, hence our slogan: 'It's kosher to boycott Israeli goods'.
Like JfJfP, we demonstrate that Israel and its advocates do not speak for all Jews, thereby helping to fight real anti-Semitism, while challenging and isolating Israel, which expects support from world Jewry. Israel's behaviour goes against Jewish ethics and violates Jewish law, so it is also about reclaiming Judaism from Zionism.
Read more at: www.jews4big.wordpress.com