This May 15th marked the 71st anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe). Seven decades ago, Zionist militias destroyed 500 Palestinian villages, 11 towns and forcibly expelled over 300000 people to establish the settler-colonial state of Israel. Within a year, they had ethnically cleansed and captured 78% of Palestinian land and expelled about 800000 people. As of today, there are over 7 million Palestinian refugees around the world, who are denied their fundamental right to return to their homeland. Most can’t even come to see their homeland temporarily. For Palestinians, Nakba did not end in 1948: it is ongoing.
Israel’s apartheid, settler-colonialism and occupation
The above image is in understanding what Israel’s decades of military occupation has done to Palestine. Palestinian citizens of Israel live under an apartheid regime: last year the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State Law, conveying constitutional status to Israeli apartheid. Before this too there were over 60 laws discriminating against Palestinians, all of which has now has constitutional status in Israel. This includes discrimination in marriage, housing, healthcare, education and all other basic aspects of life. This apartheid is exacerbated in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, along with the rest of the West bank has been under occupation since 1967. Jerusalem as such has a unique international status, which means no nation has sovereignty over it. Yet, the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017, simply as an act of provocation and blatant disregard of international law. Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under the worst from of apartheid, and hold only the status of ‘residents’. They are evicted by Israeli forces systematically, as part of the project of Judaization of Jerusalem.
In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians live staring the barrel of the Israeli gun every day, with checkpoints, home demolitions and violence by illegal settlers and Israeli forces. Over 60% of the area within the occupied West Bank is directly controlled by Israeli military, which includes majority of agricultural land that Palestinians cannot access without the threat of or actual violence. Israeli illegal settlements, with separate Jewish-only access roads, are growing in West Bank, as part of Israel’s strategy to create ‘facts on the ground’ and deprive Palestinians of resources necessary for life and livelihood. These settlements are in complete violation of international law. The apartheid wall, which the International Court of Justice found in contravention of International Law in its 2004 Advisory Opinion, snakes through the landscape of West Bank, disintegrating the land and turning it into a series of Bantustans.
Gaza Strip has been under a brutal siege for over a decade, and is deemed to be uninhabitable by 2020. The blockade has de facto turned it into the largest open-air prison of the world, where 2 million people, most of them refugees, struggle to survive. Gaza has seen two massacres in a decade, and there is the recent killing and maiming of protesters in the Great Return March. Palestinians participating in the Great Return March have been asserting their UN mandated right to return to their homes, beyond the militarized barriers and the blockade that surrounds them. This itself is testimony to the fact that Israel’s settler-colonial, occupation and apartheid regime is met at every step with the Palestinian freedom struggle. The resistance of Palestinians is older than Israel itself.
Palestinian popular resistance
Resistance has been a way of life in Palestine. Post the first world war, Palestine was under British Mandate. From 1936 to 1939, Palestinians organized the Great Revolt, demanding independence and ending the policy of open Jewish immigration and land purchase (the latter ultimately led to the Nakba). This included a general strike and peasant revolts. This was followed by the partition of Palestine and forced transfer of Palestinians. Palestinian political organizing came under the leadership of Palestine Liberation Organization by the 1960s. In the late 1980s, Palestinians popular resistance took the form of the first Intifada (uprising), where spontaneous protests against Israeli aggression and occupation took the form of popular mobilization, boycotts, protests and civil disobedience that lasted for six years. From 2000-2005, following the failure of Camp David accord and postponement of Palestinians statehood, as well as Israeli belligerences, Palestinians mobilized for the second Intifada.
In 2004, Palestinian academics and artists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel for its cynical use of art to whitewash its crimes against Palestinians. A year following that, Palestinian political parties, women’s groups, refugee networks, trade unions- the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society called for the measures of boycott, divestments and sanctions against Israel, until it meets their demands that include ending occupation, ending apartheid and respecting the right of refugees to return: all within the framework of the United Nations and international law. Inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa, and partly Gandhi’s civil disobedience, this call for non-violent measures to pressure Israel have since received growing international support.
Since its launch, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has seen many notable victories. All these have been a result of campaigning and mobilizing, led by Palestinians, and supported by solidarity groups all over the world. The movement has seen corporation such as Veolia, Orange and others end their ties with Israel, after losing millions of dollars due to public pressure. It has seen local councils ending contracts with the state of Israel and/or corporations that refuse to end their complicity with Israel’s crimes. In April last year, city council of Dublin ended its ties not only with Israel but also with Hewlett Packard and DXC technology- companies that support Israel’s occupation and apartheid.
Hundreds of artists, musicians and filmmakers have refused to perform or show their work in Israel, with many of them such as Roger Waters, Mira Nair, Ken Loach and others leading the call for to cultural boycott. Academics like Judith Butler, Nobel prize winning George P Smith and many others have continually reminded the academic community to respect the Palestinian picket line. In the US and Europe, the McCarthyist repression of the movement has opened up debates on free speech reaching as far as the US Congress. The movement has changed the landscape of how the solidarity with Palestine can be practiced, calling upon the conscience of thinking person who respects the values of freedom, justice and equality.