Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

November 28, 2010

(August 11th 2010)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: Reflections, Suggestions

I have been having conversations with many people lately about boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) and its role in the larger movement of Palestinian civil resistance. So, I decided to set my thoughts out here for discussion/debate.

1) The boycott is of anyone who benefits by being a part of the state. This includes people in the form of citizenship, since every Israeli citizen receives direct and indirect benefits from the state. Any Israeli citizen, therefore, or joint project with an Israeli citizen is subject to the academic, cultural and economic sectors of the boycott.

2) In order to succeed, the Palestinian struggle for human rights, sovereignty, and reparation/ repatriation must link itself to justice movements globally. In this framework, the Israeli state can be seen as an imperial outpost, a kind of frontier settlement  in the American/western European drive for resource acquisition and the accompanying psychological warfare of ideology. The Palestinian movement is not separated from the landless workers movement in Brazil (MST), the Tibetan struggle, Kashmir, or the Native American struggle in North America. Disenfranchisement and occupation are remarkably similar everywhere and the resistances to them are also similar.

3) It is good to know that a British court ruled recently in favor of four BDS activists who were demonstrating inside an Ahava store in downtown London. The legality of BDS is firmly established in international law, notably UN resolutions 1701. In fact, enshrining BDS in the governments of every state internationally would seem to be a logical outcome of their signatures of the UN Charter for Human Rights and other bodies of international human right law. BDS, then, is not simply a movement of personal responsibility/ consumer choice, but a legal and political took for the advancement of human rights.

4) Palestinians will not give up their right of return, nor should they have to. This is a basic right given to them by the international law and recognized by every state in the world.

poster by Jama Al-Yad Art Collective


I stumbled across Kesha’s Tik Tok video because of the clip which showed Israeli soldiers dancing to it in the occupied city of Hebron. That Hebron is the site of an ongoing Israeli settler-colonial project nullifies any funny aspect of this performance, at least for me. More about the Orientalism of the Israeli troop’s dancing can be found on Juan Cole’s blog here. I thought that two of the latest pop videos could help to elaborate on the colonial anxiety facing America at this moment. I say colonial rather than post-colonial because it seems to me that the post-colonial moment was born and survived in a narrative of modernization, development and independence that no longer exists.

It should be plain to everyone now that national sovereignty means nothing when capital flows across borders and the profit/loss of resources by a few corporations dictates military action and state policy more than the needs or interests of any group of constituents. Also, I do not say that we are post post-colonial because unfortunately, we have not made any progress. The humanitarian rhetoric of the 80’s and 90’s has now been shown to be a sham, advancing only the cultural “soft power,” of the US and Europe. Any gains that NGOs or humanitarian aid projects have made have been nullified by the increasing capitalization and militarization of the world. Instead, we are going historically backwards, back to a state of colonial military jostling over resource control.

Kesha’s video has a lot to say about contemporary American society. The pop star wakes up alone in a suburban bathtub. She wanders through a world populated by bemused suburbanites and faceless hipsters, their faces obscured by huge sunglasses and/or eye makeup. They don’t need facial expressions because the clothes (the red plastic cups and the Converse)  are all there is. There is nothing else to perform. Kesha, on her golden bicycle, rides past a sign saying “Money,” which she then goes on to sing, she doesn’t have. Her hipster friends live with their parents in this global economic crisis. The video ends with voices babbling indistinctly in Spanish. “We came here for a better life, but we are realizing we made a mistake.” -Tunisian migrants in Italy. Predictable flows of labour are being reversed. With them, the post-colonial anxieties they engendered in Europe and America.

(The belated feminisms of both these videos deserves a separate article, but I will mention how modern pop-stars in America, like their Sex and the City counterparts, both view and treat men as an accessory, like a ring or a pair of shoes. Men are lifeless, suits or stylishly clothed. Boys are the new… girls?)

The most interesting thing in both videos is the amount of American flag paraphernalia. It would be hard to imagine, in 1995, either Britney or Christina explicitly waving American flags. They didn’t have to. The empire was secure, it’s foundations solid and invisible. Now, 15 years later, that is not the case. (As weird as it is to be nostalgic about Jay Z and Britney, as if they were the Beatles or Elvis… At 22, I feel old.) America’s drive to civilize and develop the world through benevolent military intervention and humanitarian aid has failed, largely through it’s own hypocrisy and greed.

So, singing their way through this zeitgeist created by their parents, both Kesha and Miley are emblems of a nostalgia, for the Phoenix Sunbird, for cowboy boots, emblems of an America that once existed but no longer does. By priveleging a “real” America; Nashville over L.A. in Miley’s video, we see the ordinary American’s desire to return to something stable, a comfortable self-confidence that came from living at the center of the world. Before a backdrop of a huge American flag, Miley’s “Made in the USA” video could easily be a stage perfomance to boost the flagging morale of our troops in Afghanistan, who perhaps (unluckily for the innocent civilians around them) haven’t gotten the memo that the empire has fallen. They continue to maim and kill Iraqis and Afghans with the same bravado, acting out a mission that lives on only within them. Ordinary Americans continue to deal with the fallout from the recession and the oil spill, both huge and intractable problems that will mark the future of our country for decades. Obama has not “changed” anything and looks increasingly powerless in a world stage that is largely a prop for the same corporate interests. “It’s a party in the USA…” Oh, how we wish…

Update: Afghan soldiers dancing to Lady Gaga… (thanks Ange!)

Carlos Slim at AUB

March 17, 2010

photo by Marwan Tahtah

Today we held a protest at the Olayan School of Business at AUB. We were protesting Carlos Slim Helou, a Lebanese/Mexican businessman. He was recently named the world’s richest man. Currently, over 1/2 of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, with as many as 1/3 living in extreme poverty. Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Movement (NAFTA) in 1994, these free-trade laws have decimated the local economy and left tens of thousands of Mexicans with no choice but to risk their lives crossing the border into the United States in hopes of a better future. Carlos Slim is also responsible for the renovation/destruction of Mexico City’s downtown area, a project with eerie similarities to the Solidere project in Beirut.

We want Carlos Slim and the AUB community to know that we are watching and bearing witness to the deep structural inequality, politically- motivated violence and electoral fraud committed by neo-liberal capitalists such as Carlos Slim. We object to AUB’s hosting of this man and the intended “lessons” he will teach our business students. We stand in solidarity with the people of Chiapas and the Zapatista army of liberation. Subcomandante Marcos is a poet and a philosopher extraordinaire, I salute his wisdom and his work. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the EZLN is their complete integration of women into the resistance movement at all levels and in all capacities from military commanders to emergency surgeons. This is something that previous revolutions like the FLN in Algeria failed to accomplish. Here are is a photo of our protest. More from ABC News here.

Here is a link to one of our other protests, the AUB Career Fair.

New Year

January 9, 2010

As we enter a new year, taking time to reflect on the successes and failures of the past is a good thing to do.

All kinds of resistance, resistance means everything. Beginning with the word “no” and ending with holding arms. And in between there are many ways, [including] a political struggle, a popular struggle. They want us to accept them as they are: racist, discriminating, an apartheid regime in Israel. This is what we don’t want. We cannot coexist with such people. But we can coexist with people like us. This is the way we are looking for. -Leila Khaled

Grief and Anguish

November 6, 2009

What is the difference between grief and anguish? Lately I have come to know both. On 17/08/09 my dear friend Tadd Gero passed away. With him, a voice, a light startling in it’s clarity of purpose and strength of heart.

I can’t help thinking- worrying- that despite the current outpouring of art and work about Palestine, the increasingly effective boycott and sanctions campaign and the deluge of highly visible op-ed articles about the intransigence and bellicose nature of the paranoid Israeli state, real facts on the ground make the establishment of any kind of Palestinian state (one or two) impossible. Brilliant Israeli journalist Amira Hass said recently:

Thousands of my articles and zillions of my words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media, and is used in order to distort reality–official language that encourages people not to know.

Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist.

To Israel Mahmoud Darwish says in his poem Under Siege:

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

Read Jean Genet’s description of Sabra and Shatila here.

In Hebron:

Once inside the Jewish Israeli settlement there was a complete absence of any signs of life or activity. All of the shops were barricaded and the trees and shrubs were reclaiming the buildings. To demarcate this desolate territory as exclusively Jewish all of the shop fronts have been sprayed with the Star of David along with plenty anti-Arab graffiti. One can’t help but feel that there is either a complete misunderstanding or disregard for history. Didn’t the Nazis mark all Jewish properties in the same manner?

In Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she remarks on Eichmann as a self-deluding functionary; ” his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.” (Arendt 44)

Also, back home:

Those arguments will find a receptive audience in congress, which relies on rich campaign contributions from the banking, insurance and financial industries.

And that’s the real root of the economic excesses and inequities in the global financial system – the undue influence of corporate money in politics and public policy. Obama, in his campaign speeches, promised to end the influence of special interests in Washington. So far, he has done nothing about that.

Sorry for the sad post, but that’s really, all I’ve been thinking lately, while working, while functioning.

Rachel Corrie

May 28, 2009

Here are a couple of interesting things that I’ve stumbled upon in the past few days.

“So this film is an independent investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, but it turned out also to be an inquiry into the investigation itself, into the inquiry process of the Israeli army. Now, for example, the Israeli army says they are investigating possible violations of human rights during the bombings in Gaza in January. All the time the Israeli army investigates the killing of civilians, and in 99.9 of these cases, there is no independent investigation, and nobody’s punished, you know?

Not that it is the only army in the world that kills civilians. I’m not naive — it’s not. But maybe it is the one who kills civilians and it is so easy for the Western world to accept it and to swallow it. Maybe it is the only one where there are so many lies and hypocrisy around it, you know? It is not the army who kills the most civilians in the world, but maybe it is the army for which it is so easy to lie about it and to still be presented as democratic — this is a problem. The hypocrisy about it, you know? As an Israeli I would prefer them to be less hypocritical. If they continue to kill, at least I would like them to stop lying.”

“In Israel, when you are a Jew you can say what you want. When you are a Jew. That part is very important.”

 “it’s really time for the Americans, especially the Jews among them, to stop being intimidated by this pressure, from the Israeli lobby or whoever it is. They should say what they really feel. A lot of people are talking in our name who are not entitled to talk in our name.”


Ahmadinejad told delegates at the summit in Switzerland on Monday, that after the Second World War the United States and other nations had established a “cruel, oppressive and racist regime in occupied Palestine”.

“The UN security council has stabilised this occupation regime and supported it in the last 60 years giving them a free hand to continue their crimes,” he told delegates at the Durban Review Conference hall in Geneva.


If Ahmedinejad had stood before the conference and said, “you know the thing about Jews is, they’re all greedy and conniving.” THAT would be anti-Semitic. What he did was to offer criticism of the state of Israel’s POLICIES towards the Palestinians over the last 60 years and the support of key European and American governments who made it possible. 

Furthermore, when he talks about ‘wiping the state of Israel off the map,’ did it occur to anyone that he might mean dismantling the military state of Israel not the murder of all Israeli citizens in a mass holocaust (no pun intended?) But, to the enlightened leaders of the United States, France, Canada, Germany, Poland, etc, he is just a man with a beard who wears old suits and talks in a funny accent. He’s from Iran therefore he must be a terrorist. He’s an Arab, therefore he must hate Jews. Well, if that’s not racist then I don’t know what is. 

The saddest thing is that, in boycotting the conference, Barack Obama directly contradicts his call for dialogue with the Muslim world and his commitment to direct, engaged diplomacy. Who does it threaten to sit in a room and listen to opinions that are different from your own? If everyone in a conference already agrees, then what is the point of a meeting? We should expect of our leaders that they will engage in difficult conversations. If the United States had attended, they could have fought for the conference statement to condemn Ahmedinejad’s words. At least, he had the bravery to stand up before the world and speak. I respect that. 

The text of the Durban conference declaration states:

Having listened to the peoples of the world and recognizing their aspirations to justice, to    

equality of opportunity for all and everyone, to the enjoyment of their human rights, including 

the right to development, to live in peace and freedom and to equal participation without 

discrimination in economic, social, cultural, civil and political life, 

Palestinians, both within Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza (as well as refugees in many neighboring Arab states) are denied these aspirations. As a case in point, the Israeli Army blocked both Palestinian Christians from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Palestinian Muslims from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque this weekend. Moral of this story: Some boycotts are useful and some aren’t. Continue with the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions because this is the only way to pressure the government to rethink its cruel (killing babies,) oppressive (the blockade of Gaza,) and racist (Jewish-only roads to settlements) policies. 
UPDATE: KabobFest, an awesome blog on Middle-East related things, has an awesome post on the conference walkout here. The caption above the picture of Western delegates leaving reads: “Sorry, we’re at the wrong conference. Thought it was a pro-racism event…” Exactly.