The boycott of US information technology giant Hewlett-Packard has recently gained renewed interest, becoming the “hot new” target for Palestine solidarity campaigners in several countries.
An international week of action targeting HP will take place from 25 November to 3 December, a culmination of recent efforts around the world.
HP has long been criticized by the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign due to its role in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. The company boasts of a “massive presence” in Israel, with more than 5,700 employees there, and is one of the Israeli military’s main information technology suppliers.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation — now renamed the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights — and the Palestinian BDS National Committee recently hosted two webinars on the HP boycott.
The first, with approximately 120 participants from 18 countries, covered the reasons behind the campaign and included a talk with Caroline Hunter, who led the boycott of Polaroid due to its involvement in apartheid South Africa.
In 1970, Hunter, at the time a chemist with Polaroid, discovered use of the company’s instant photograph technology for the notorious passbooks used to control and limit movement of black South Africans. She was fired from her job over her activism to hold Polaroid to account.
The seven-year campaign, which was ultimately successful, initiated the anti-apartheid boycott and divestment movement in the United States and also served to educate the general public about South Africa.
The second webinar focused on how to implement HP boycott and divestment campaigns.
“Just as Polaroid was a critical boycott target in the apartheid era for providing imaging to South Africa’s notorious pass system, it’s time for the international community to come together to boycott HP companies for providing imaging to Israel’s notorious checkpoints today,” Anna Baltzer, an organizing director with the US Campaign, told The Electronic Intifada.
Key military player
HP is deeply invested in Israel’s military and security infrastructure, supplying the IT systems for Israel’s defense ministry, supplying and managing the computer servers for the army and administering the IT infrastructure for the navy.
EDS Israel, now known as HP Enterprise Services Israel, developed, installed and services the Basel System, a biometric identification system.
In addition to limiting Palestinian movement and enforcing a regime of segregation, the system collects biometric data as well as personal information on Palestinians.
The company provides printers and administers IT systems for the Israel Prison Service.
HP also maintains a development center in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit. It has provided data storage systems to the settlement of Ariel, and described it in an HP case study as the “capital of Samaria” — Israel’s term for the northern portion of the occupied West Bank — “in the heart of Israel.” The map in this case study depicts an Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with no reference to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A recent report by Public Knowledge Workshop, an Israeli transparency nonprofit, found that exclusive of Israel’s defense ministry, “HP has the largest number of contracts with the government exempt from tenders of any private sector entity.”
Underpinning Israeli oppression
It is the technological underpinning of Israeli oppression that prompted an HP boycott campaign across all of historic Palestine.
The campaign Mutharkeen, or “movers,” was initiated by the Palestinian Youth Together for Change project, and has been raising awareness through presentations to community groups, students and universities in Gaza, the West Bank and present-day Israel.
The group is collecting signatures for a pledge that, according to its literature, defines the HP boycott as a “rejection of the geographical and moral fragmentation imposed on us by Zionist colonization, and the suppression of our collective Palestinian identity.”
The HP boycott is also a national focus for the campaign group BDS Italy, which is encouraging organizations to pledge to free their offices of the company’s products.
The Italian trade union Unione Sindacale di Base recently voted unanimously to endorse the BDS campaign and called all its offices and 250,000 members not to purchase HP products.
The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign has also chosen HP as a key boycott target. More than 18,000 people have signed a pledge not to buy HP products and this past June activists in over 20 locations participated in a national day of action to protest the company’s involvement in Israel’s rights abuses.
Palestine via South Africa and Burma
HP has previously yielded to external pressure. In 1989, due to mounting anti-apartheid campaigns, HP distanced itself from South Africa, saying it would sell off its local unit, though it would continue to sell computers in the country.
In 1996, HP pulled out of Burma following a Massachusetts law on “selective purchasing” under which the commonwealth government avoided contracts with companies doing business there.
In 2014, the Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from the company over its role in the Israeli occupation. Prior to the vote, HP attempted damage control with a letter to the church claiming the Basel System reduces “friction” at Israeli checkpoints.
Hewlett-Packard did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Stephanie Westbrook is a US citizen based in Rome, Italy. Her articles have been published by Common Dreams, The Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, In These Times and Z Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @stephinrome.