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Rela Mazali Headshot

A Call for Livable Futures

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What to do when the country I live in totally loses its compass? Totally loses its shame? What to do when the regime that collects my taxes uses them to deploy its high-tech military, armed to the teeth, against activists sailing to oppose a criminal siege? When this country's politicians authorize soldiers to shoot-to-kill into a deck-bound crowd? And then tell me they are protecting me? What to do when the governments of the world are too deeply implicated to hold this regime, this country accountable?

I have watched government after government in Israel present itself as a respectable, normal member of the club of developed countries; open, democratic, cultured and liberal. Israel recently launched a major "re-branding" campaign, emphasizing diversity, richness, creativeness, to divert attention away from its warring belligerence. Israel's leaders are deeply committed to keeping up their positive self-image.

I have noted the special privileges granted time and again on the pretext of this image. The US awards Israel billions every year for "defense" in the form of planes, missiles, guns and ammunition. Just this May, the organization of so-called developed countries (OECD) granted Israel full membership, after years of Israeli lobbying. Israel bases its equal footing in such clubs on its claim to democracy.

It is time for us all to hold it to that claim. Accountable. Not only privilege-able. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to end the occupation, reject, and actively remove, Israel's mask of "business as usual."

Each of us, each of you, can draw the line through BDS and act as a caring, responsible citizen of the world. To end Israel's 43-year-old occupation. To end the unacceptable, criminal siege of Gaza. To end racist laws and policies inside Israel, openly targeting the Palestinian citizens of Israel. To end more than sixty years of ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Inside Israel, BDS has already started to work. It is working where years of other civil society strategies have achieved far too little. For the first time in a very long while, many Israelis around me are sitting up and taking notice: Notice that there is still an occupation in place 43 years down the line, an occupation "out there" beyond their "normal" lives and beyond the self-perpetuated "existential threat." Notice that millions the world over believe "ordinary" Israelis -- both personally and collectively -- have something to do with this occupation. Notice that it just may turn out to be too costly.

For weeks now, dozens of items in Israeli media have reported on BDS developments, speculating on its chances and consequences. Israel's cabinet recently addressed the boycott of settlement goods by the Palestinian Authority. In May, a Harvard professor warned a Tel Aviv University conference of the grave strategic threat of Israel's crumbling legitimacy. Ignoring the country's record, he chalked up waning legitimacy to BDS, blaming individual activists who, he actually implied, were traitors. BDS activists in Israel regularly receive veiled and less veiled threats, including one recent death threat, in the media, through employers' reprimands, in the form of (so far) threatened legal suits, through university email lists and colleagues' petitions. A new bill making its way through Israel's legislature would criminalize support for BDS, past or present -- turning this op-ed into incriminating evidence against its author. Israel's minister of education has preempted legislation, already pledging punishment for academics who support BDS. All this is clear evidence that BDS has started to make its mark on society here in Israel.

Meanwhile, internationally, civil society organizations are passing resolutions in support of BDS -- trade unions, student bodies, municipalities, football teams, even one government -- in Norway, South Africa, Britain, New Hampshire, California, Sweden, France.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society groups came together to voice a powerful joint call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. Activist groups all over the world and inside Israel have subscribed to this call and declared their support. BDS is a political tool claimed and operated by international civil society where other tools seem ineffective; When international institutions and governments are failing; When a long overdue need to end severe oppression is not being met. Today BDS may be the only non-violent tool capable of moving Israel beyond its patterns of militarized brutality.

Courageously and creatively, BDS faces violence with a firm commitment to non-violence. It stands in solidarity first and foremost with Palestinians, and then with humanity -- with the thousands of internationals and Israelis who have chosen nonviolent resistance as their means to oppose and end the oppression of Palestine.

A tool, a strategy, not an end in itself, BDS is meant to work. As it did in the past when a 1953 boycott of segregated buses jump-started the crucial years of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States; when the African American community of Baton Rouge boycotted and faced down a Louisiana court ruling; when, two years later, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a Montgomery bus and initiated the Montgomery bus boycott; when the massive school boycott in 1965 galvanized the movement again in Cook County, as more than 100,000 African American students stayed home from disgraceful schools despite a court injunction; when the world movement to resist South African apartheid gradually gained ground throughout the sixties to the dismay of successive US and British governments; when this movement kept growing, refusing to go away.

Today, BDS can make it increasingly difficult for Israel's government to keep up the occupation and the internal repression. Hiking up costs, it can make occupying unprofitable and racism disgraceful. Meanwhile, and no less important, it is already allowing Israeli society a clear reality check, reflecting what it looks like to international civil society, and capturing what it has become.

BDS is a means to justice for those to whom it has been denied. Not against, but rather for, both Israel and Palestine, it aims to end the policies destroying the lives of Palestinians and devouring the humanity of Israelis. BDS supports the livable, viable futures of all the people of this land.