After glorification of Sharon, only boycott can reveal Israel’s truth

Milany Boutros Alha Bourje holds a picture of herself standing over her dead family after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, in her home at Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, on 11 January 2014.

Caren Firouz Reuters/Newscom

Last week, lines of Israelis queued to mourn the war criminal Ariel Sharon.

Some lit candles in vigil; others, wanting to capture the moment for posterity, took photographs of the man’s funeral bier.

The world too weighed in, or at least the Western world did. Politicians and diplomats were dispatched, correspondents reported proceedings and speculated on the soul of Israel and columnists’ long obituaries recounted, in various shades, “a controversial figure.”

Absent from almost every mainstream report was the truth.

The truth is not that Sharon was considered a war criminal by Palestinians and Lebanese, the truth is not that he was a controversial figure, the truth is not that he was Israel’s most resilient politician.

Rather, the truth is that he was a cynical and racist political and military leader who led, formulated and instigated policies of murder and ethnic cleansing.

To his victims, this is not news. They don’t need the truth — they have the reality, the lived experience of loss and exile. What they deserved, and now will never get, was justice and restitution.

Despite that, what few lines media correspondents deigned to devote to the victims in Beirut and Gaza dishoneslty fixated — almost entirely — on tales of sweet-distribution and celebration of Sharon’s death, as if to confirm they were savages.

“Nothing changes”

A rare and honest report by Reuters’ Alexander Dziadosz, however, recorded no celebration; only grief and loss, bitterness and resignation.

Milany Boutros Alha Bourje, bereaved mother and wife of victims of the 1982 Shatila massacre, laconically commented, “Nothing changes. The situation we are living in does not change.”

But if Palestinians don’t need the truth, Israel and the West certainly do. For amidst the national mourning, something much worse than an insult to Sharon’s victims was being perpetrated — a lie was reinforced, a myth embellished, a role model exalted.

Legislating against truth

Writing for The Guardian, Israeli academic Avi Shlaim was one of the few dissident voices to recognize that the legacy of Sharon’s criminality “has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.”

That is a legacy only truth can counter.

And the reality is that without truth, Sharon’s legacy, like David Ben-Gurion’s, will be cross-generational.

Just as Israel legislated against truth in its 2011 Nakba Law, it is not inconceivable it will do the same against those who call Sharon what he was — a war criminal.

The power of BDS

In the absence, then, of a Palestinian Authority move to join the International Criminal Court — and even that may be of only limited value — only the civil society movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has the potential to unveil the truth.

BDS, although promoted foremost as a strategy to achieve Palestinian human rights and Israeli compliance with international law, also does something more — something which may in the end may be of as much importance as the act of not being complicit.

Through truth-telling, BDS holds a moral mirror up to Israel and its supporters.

Every time an artist says no to performing in Israel, a shopper questions a retailer or an academic turns down a collaborative project, they signal not just their preference for justice over injustice, but they write a new script.

In these thousands of small performative acts, testimonies for the voiceless are sent both to the perpetrators and to the bystanders.

Such indeed was the power of BDS against South African apartheid that towards its demise, discourse on apartheid focused almost entirely upon the truth of its searing injustice.

Lacking the international instruments of political power, the anti-apartheid movement created something new: a record of the truth in a testimony of actions. And, in so doing, the movement re-wrote the political, historical and ethical records.

Today, the global Palestinian-led BDS movement is doing the same.

And so while co-war criminal Tony Blair can eulogize his friend Sharon, we can all take comfort in knowing that when the historical record is reviewed in ten or twenty or fifty years time, the “controversial” Sharon will be by then recognized as the unconvicted war criminal Sharon, and Tony Blair as the shameful figure he truly is.

It will not be justice, but it will be truth. That is what BDS is doing and will do.

Richard Irvine teaches a course at Queen’s University Belfast entitled “The Battle for Palestine” which explores the entire history of the conflict. Irvine has also worked voluntarily in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and is coordinator of the Ireland-based Palestine Education Initiative.




Brilliantly put Richard, and keep up your great work.

Everyone else? Remember to check the source of your supermarket fruit and veg! Every little helps.


Can you or another EI writer give us a complete description of when, where and
how the Palestinian Authority refused to join the World Court? Who were the
actors in this decision? This is material which most of us know little
to nothing about. Such knowledge would help in evaluating statements by
Palestine in the UN as well as all other decisions and so-called "negotiations".

Or do I speak only for myself?


I agree and like the BDS one state strategy because all "peace agreements" seemed to be flushed once made anyway. I just wondered how you answer Finkelstein who seems to want to rely on "the law" or compelling someone to somehow enforce past agreements and laws. I don't know if Finkelstein's "paranoia" argument is very persuasive since the apartheid mindset is always going to be paranoid by its racist nature as long as others in the taboo race or nationality continue to exist.


Additional question re: International Court of Justice:

The information I have is for MEMBERSHIP in the United Nations.. That as you have noted requires a Security Council "recommendation" (a US veto for Israel in
in the Security Council---the "powers that be" as you have written).

However, the "Representative for Palestine" currently takes part in debates in
General Assembly where there is no veto. Palestine can also vote in
the General Assembly (Israel objects with nasty comments but with no
veto Israel cannot prohibit this participation by Palestine).

Once more, please clarify why this is so. Does the World Court have
yet different rules? For "membership"? For bringing suits? Etc. Please explain
in simple language (we are not lawyers!!!)

Or was there a decision not to join, under what "pressure" when?

Peter Loeb, Boston


"In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands."
- Passover Haggadah, 160CE


When the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state, on November 29, 2012, Palestine became eligible to sign the Rome Statute and there by agree to come under ICC jurisdiction. It is now more than a year since the UN recognized Palestine, but Abbas has not signed the Rome Statute. That’s because before agreeing to join the peace talks, Abbas promised Kerry that he will not join any UN organizations and the ICC in exchange for Israel’s agreeing to release 120 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli jail before the Oslo peace accords of 1993. I have read reports that the reason Abbas agreed to this unwise decision was that Kerry had assured him that in the new peace negotiations, he will be fair to the Palestinians and will help them to get their freedom at last. And like an imbecile, Abbas, and even Erekat, trusted Kerry. Now we know that on almost every issue, Kerry sided with Netanyahu. Netanyahu went ahead with expanding settlements in the occupied Palestine at an unprecedented rate because he knew Abbas could not go to the ICC seeking redress. I believe the blame for this situation rests with Abbas. With several experts in International Law by his side, it is a mystery to me why Abbas did not take their advice and, instead, listened to Kerry and trusted him.

Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania


Many thanks to Yesh Prabhu on Abbas and ICC for a helpful analysis.

On July 5 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester NY (USA) Abolutionist Frederick
Douglass commented on American "Independence Day" with the words:

"Go where you may, search where you will... and you will say with me that for
revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy America reigns without a rival."

We may add Israel as a client of America following other powers.

BDS is most certainly correct in its emphasIs on Israel's total economic dependence
on the US. That may explain the extreme reaction of the Israeli government to
BDS. (For an analysis of Israel's economic realities from the Israeli point
of view and rooted in the 1980's see Edward Tivnan's book about AIPAC and
Israeli arrogance and helplessness in THE LOBBY...(Touchstone, Simon &
Schuster, 1987) especially Chapter 9, pp 217-240). The very existence of
Palestinians as a real people is nowhere to found in these pages which highlight
only Zionists' myopias and myths. The nature of American "help" is not
confronted except in the etchnic myths created.

Peter Loeb, Boston, MA (USA)