The ongoing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign responds to a 2005 call from Palestinian civil society. The BDS Call, which is addressed to people of conscience all over the world, cites Israel’s choice to ignore the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, that the wall built by Israel in the West Bank on Palestinian land is illegal, as the impetus for this international appeal. Since Israel ignored that decision by the International Court of Justice as it has UN resolutions 181, 194, 242, and Arab Peace Plans, we might lose hope that the rights guaranteed to the Palestinian nation by international law will ever be exercised. Already in 1911 Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, a movement which would give rise to not only terror groups during the Mandate and Nakba but also to Likud, the current ruling party of Israel, said, “We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to.” This dictum certainly seems to have been followed ever since. But what can each of us do as individuals, and what can we do in concert?
The fundamental demands from the BDS call upon which the BDS movement is based are the following:
1. Ending Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and the dismantling the Wall
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
This movement draws upon the history of a similar national liberation struggle, that of South Africans against Apartheid. In that struggle, alliances were formed all over the world bringing together the full diversity of the human family to exert pressure on individuals, institutions, companies, and states to boycott, divest, and sanction the Apartheid regime in South Africa until it respected the rights of the indigenous people.
Our own BDS movement faces similar uphill battle seeking to exert pressure on a state intricately wound up in the regional strategy of the US. I cite the example of South Africa to show that what we set out to do is not impossible and has already been done once. The strength of the Palestinian cause is the political dimension which recalls the previous century when so many nations under the tutelage and boot of empires broke free and snapped the rod of colonizers. In that respect, the present status of Palestine is an anachronism. Where in the past, a colonial project was able to carve itself out of whatever land it could seize (as the US has), Israel’s hands are tied by the end of the Age of Imperialism. As David Ben-Gurion said in 1938, “were we allowed to mobilize all our forces we would have no doubts about the outcome… But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves. Militarily, it is we who are on the defensive who have the upper hand but in the political sphere they are superior.” The conflict is political as he said and it is in that field that we can contribute.
Everyday we make choices and these choices define not only the person we are but are slight turns in the concentric wheels of the economies within which we are consumers and producers. That is the terrain which makes us involved in this conflict. By paying taxes which fund military aid and diplomatic cover for Israel, by purchasing goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or by staying silent as others do these things, we grease the treads of the Israeli war machine. So, what is to be done? This is where the ultimate weapon which has always been the weapon of oppressed peoples against their oppressors is ready at hand: solidarity. Joining together with like-minded individuals or just talking to others about the conflict and moving them from inaction to action is the method which drives the BDS movement forward. Through mutual education on the issues and on the status of goods, we can identify companies and products which profit from the occupation or service it such as Ahava Cosmetics, Sodastream, and Sabra Hummus. The BDS movement must start in each of us as we choose for ourselves to answer the call and then share it with others and present our case to religious groups, family members, universities, and other groups we participate in as to why this call should be honored. Here at Cornell, we must mobilize our own community to reflect the vision we have of what a moral and ethical campus policy towards the conflict should look like.
Unfortunately, Cornell’s administration has chosen to implicate itself and by extension all of us as Cornell’s stakeholders in Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. By choosing to collaborate with Technion, Cornell resources are linked into research and development of Israeli munitions and weapons systems including Elbit drones, Rafael fighter jets, and Merkava tanks through Technion’s close partnerships with these Israeli weapons contractors. The Cornell retirement pension provider TIAA-CREF includes Veolia which is building the settlers-only rail network that connects the illegal Jewish-only settlements to the 1948 land; Veolia also operates a landfill for settlers in the West Bank; TIAA-CREF’s portfolio also includes Northrop-Grumman, which produces the Apache helicopter used against civilians in the 2008 Gaza invasion, Elbit Systems which builds the surveillance equipment on the illegal Israeli Wall in the West Bank, Motorola Solutions (separate from the cell phone manufacturer Motorola), which produces surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and settlers, and Hewlett-Packard, which is the supplier of the biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, depriving Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land.
We can and must contribute to creating a space for Palestinian self-determination and the exercise of their rights. We do this by honoring their call upon us as people of conscience to mobilize our communities to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel until it ends the occupation of Arab lands, grants equal rights to all its citizens, and honors the Palestinian right of return.