Boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigners in France are welcoming their government’s decision not to spend more than $100 million on Israeli drones.
This time, Elbit was in a competition to sell its Skylark drone to the French army, but on 5 January, France’s arms procurement agency awarded the contract to rival weapons maker Thales.
Thales and Elbit are not always in competition, however. The Watchkeeper drone previously rejected by France is built in a joint venture between Elbit and the UK subsidiary of Thales.
But the new battery-powered reconnaissance drones in this contract will be almost 100 percent made in France, according to the business publication Challenges.
BDS France said it is “delighted at the commercial failure of Elbit Systems,” stressing that the company “uses the Palestinian population as guinea pigs to test its weapons, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Elbit Systems is one of several major Israeli arms companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation and assaults on Palestinians, by using them as opportunities to test weapons that are then marketed internationally.
BDS France said activists had waged an intense campaign against buying the Israeli drones, including sending thousands of postcards to President François Hollande, and staging two national days of protest with rallies in dozens of cities.
The BDS National Committee (BNC), the Palestinian civil society steering group for the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, has long called for a military embargo on Israel, a demand that has gained significant support internationally.
BDS France added that while it was happy to see an Israeli bid fail again, “we can in no way celebrate the acquisition of such weapons” from any supplier. While the new drones will not be armed, BDS France calls them “indirectly lethal,” as they could be used to help guide airstrikes.
Another French city backs BDS
Despite the harsh government crackdown on BDS campaigners in France, activists have continued to make their voices heard and win victories.
In October, the CGT-Inra scientific researchers union voted at its congress to endorse the Palestinian call for BDS.
Also, in October, the town council of Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb with 60,000 residents, voted by a large majority to call on the French government to end its criminalization of BDS and Palestine solidarity activism.
In December, Clermont-Ferrand, a city of 140,000 in central France, became the third municipality to adopt a ban on the procurement of goods originating in Israeli settlements.
The measure, which passed by 24-12 with five abstentions, reaffirms that it is a “legitimate right of a citizen to accept or to refuse to buy a product based on its origin. And it is a duty for a local body to verify the provenance of the goods and services it provides to its population.”
Noting that Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law, the city council also called on the French government to bar the import of settlement products altogether.
The same month, the city council in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, a town of 15,000, backed a similar measure. According to BDS France, the town has been twinned with the Palestinian city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, since 2009.
Such actions by local governments are catching on. In Spain, dozens of town councils have voted to declare themselves “free of Israeli apartheid.”
Since November, two cities in Norway have adopted bans on settlement goods.
And in December, following a campaign by Palestine solidarity activists and allies, the city of Portland in the American state of Oregon voted to halt investments in Caterpillar, a company whose construction equipment is used by Israel in home demolitions and extrajudicial killings.
Also in December, FERC-CGT, a confederation of French educators’ and researchers’ trade unions, passed a resolution at its national conference backing the BDS campaign and calling on the government to end its crackdown on Palestine solidarity activists.