It has been a year since Israel dropped approximately twenty tonnes of explosives over Gaza. Most of the strip remains devastated, with the scarce material being used to reconstruct homes and infrastructure being bought from Israel itself. “Operation Protective Edge” has long been declared over and the media and politicians have turned their attention away. Unfortunately for the residents of Gaza, the wounds, devastation and continued Israeli aggression have not been over. In May alone, a total of fourteen teenagers were shot by IOF watchtowers according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Hundreds of thousands of children are still in dire need of psychological support, 90% of the water in Gaza is considered undrinkable, and people only have a few hours of electricity a day. With two thirds of the population being refugees within their own land, people have no jobs, tranquility or future. The rest of Palestine also remains occupied, segregated and dispossessed, under the constant threat of ethnic cleansing.
In spite of all this, within Palestine and within the Palestinian diaspora, people keep resisting. Internationally, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) keeps growing in size and success. The recent historic endorsement of the movement by the National Union of Students in the United Kingdom, coupled with the upcoming divestment of U.S. churches to divest from Israel (as well as fossil fuels), is small but represents the increasingly symbolic indication of the growing isolation Israel is heading towards. The inflammatory reactions by the Israeli foreign ministry and Benjamin Netanyahu, coupled with the millions invested to counter BDS can only be a sign of strength for the movement.
A recent talk at King’s College London, chaired by journalist Ben White and co-hosted by Amos Trust and KCL Action Palestine, featured a Question-time style panel with Palestinians from all walks of life. The main themes fuelling the discussion were the meaning of resistance and the future and what was next for the Palestinian struggle.
Ahmed Masoud, Palestinian writer and activist from Gaza, made the case for armed struggle in specific contexts, arguing it is the inevitable and last option that has been left to people, especially in besieged Gaza.
Riya Hassan, BDS European and National Co-ordinator, spoke about the BDS movement and international solidarity as the most effective tools to combat the occupation.
Iyad Burnat, from West Bank’s Bil’in’s Popular Committee, defended the strategic importance and relevance of non-violent resistance, talking from his own experience in succeeding in dismantling part of the apartheid wall. This sentiment was joined by Sami Awad from the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, who spoke about the moral grounds for non violent struggle and its function as a uniting and inclusive force.
Finally, Leila Sansour from Open Bethlehem, emphasised the importance of lobbying, political parties, negotiations and institutionalised struggle to pursue actual change on the ground. The debate was by no means consensual, which showed in a nutshell the diversity of positions existing within Palestine itself. There was a heated discussion on the legitimacy and efficacy of each type of resistance, as well as in the ways they should interact with each other. Some common convergence points were the importance of the BDS movement in shifting the narrative to one of rights rather than political boundaries, and having an impact on the ground yet while being wary in not converting it into a movement of its own that intends to “liberate” Palestine. This is recognition that Palestinians are the main actors of their struggle and thus have to be the drivers of their fight for liberation and a just settlement.
As an example of the effect international solidarity is having on the ground, Riya pointed out to the fact that during the recent Gaza massacre, no European country was willing to sell Israel ammunition, and so it had to be transported all the way from the United States. Another point made was the significance of the resistance to the Israeli Prawer Plan since it was announced in 2013. This plan aimed to ethnically cleanse around 40,000 Bedouins from the Negev desert, but the cohesion showcased by thousands of protestors from Palestine 1948, the West Bank, the diaspora, and even Gaza, created a sense of shared struggle that led to the withdrawal of the plan in December that year. This temporary success allegedly radicalised many Palestinians and has marked a turning point in the Palestinian grassroots struggle.
Lastly, Sami mentioned we should never overlook Netanyahu’s remarks on anti–Semitism and the invoking of Nazi Germany to condemn actions such as the recent NUS boycott as frivolous. Not only is his cabinet allocating money and people to combat BDS, but these statements are intelligently formulated to appeal to a certain national and international neo-conservative Jewish audience that is highly susceptible to the language of fear. By utilising the label of anti-Semitism, Israeli officials foster a sense of paranoia and entrenchment to the Israeli state as the protector of Jewish people, which gives political strength to Netanyahu and the Israeli right wing at home, whilst also maintaining and boosting international support from Zionist donors and lobbyists.
According to Sami, the Israeli status quo is composed of 3 pillars – the army, the media, and the economy. These factors are heavily dependent on international support, hence why it is key to use tactics such as BDS to weaken them. This way Palestinians can pressurise Israel into providing equal rights, the right of return, and an end to the illegal occupation – the three key demands of the BDS movement.