West Bank boycott campaign impacting settlement economy

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Qalqiliya call for a boycott of Israeli goods. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

Grassroots Palestinian boycott campaigns across the occupied West Bank to take Israeli settlement products off the shelves of local stores have made an impact on the Israeli settlement economy, to the unease of the Israeli government, noted the Israeli daily Haaretz this week (“Palestinians ‘adamant about continuing boycott on settlement goods’,” 8 August 2010).

From the tightly-packed communities in refugee camps, to the sprawling urban areas in major cities, to the rural countryside, Palestinians have galvanized around campaigns to promote locally-made products and locally-harvested food instead of a myriad of items made in illegal settlement colonies on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), for its part, has produced pamphlets listing Israeli settlement-made products and delivered them to thousands of homes across the West Bank, urging Palestinians to buy Palestinian products and warning that trading of settlement products risks legal prosecution. But grassroots, local community initiatives have been working independent of the PA for years as activists have organized to educate and support business owners in making responsible choices in purchasing and selling merchandise.

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has asked the PA to cancel the boycott, citing supposed violations of international trade rules and feigning concern for Palestinian laborers who work in the settlements.

International trade laws do not apply to consumer boycotts, however, and the Israeli settlements themselves are entirely illegal under international law, including Articles 46 and 55 of the Hague Convention; Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 465. The illegality of Israel’s settlements was reaffirmed in the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice at the Hague (“Israeli settlements fact sheet,” Palestine Monitor, 15 March 2010).

Irish artists pledge to boycott Israel

In international boycott news, more than 150 Irish artists helped to launch a broad-based boycott of Israel, pledging on 13 August to refuse to perform or exhibit their work in Israel, and to refuse to accept funding or grants from institutions connected to the Israeli government. Through this campaign, Ireland has become the first country to enact a nation-wide cultural boycott movement against Israeli apartheid.

In a joint action with the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), artists drafted a statement, published on the IPSC website, that “commits signatories to boycotting the Israeli state until it respects international law” and notes that the artists are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society for a cultural boycott of Israel (“Dublin concert sees launch of ‘Irish Cultural Boycott of Israel’ pledge,” 13 August 2010).

Musician Eoin Dillon was amongst the Irish artists who signed the pledge. IPSC states that his brother was on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May of this year, and was kidnapped and arrested when Israeli commandos attacked the ships, killing nine and wounding dozens.

Dillon told IPSC, “I encourage all Irish artists to take this pledge and thereby honor not only their own dignity but more importantly, the dignity of the Palestinian people.”

The pledge was recognized by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which remarked in a statement on 11 August — anticipating the artists’ boycott action — that this represents a “groundbreaking strategy in supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice” (“Irish artists make BDS history …”).

“In the last few years, many international cultural figures have come out in support of the cultural boycott of Israel,” PACBI added. “A statement authored by John Berger in support of the boycott gathered dozens of signatures, including some celebrities. Montreal, Canada, witnessed a most impressive initiative in this respect, where 500 artists issued a statement this last February committing themselves to ‘fighting against [Israeli] apartheid’ and calling upon ‘all artists and cultural producers across the country and around the world to adopt a similar position in this global struggle’ for Palestinian rights. Yet, the Irish artists have raised the bar of solidarity by pioneering the first nation-wide cultural stance in support of the boycott of Israel.”

This cultural boycott initiative comes on the heels of last month’s consumer boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign by the IPSC to deliver more than 6,000 signatures to a national supermarket chain, as customers demanded that the Dunnes markets stop selling Israeli-made products. Trade union officials, Sinn Fein activists and members of the Palestinian and South African communities in Ireland presented the petitions to the Dunnes stores in multiple locations across the country.

IPSC says that this campaign only took two weeks to gather signatures, and “comes a quarter-century after Dunnes was at the center of a bitter two-year campaign of boycott and pickets, when it sacked a group of workers who refused to handle South African goods” (“Petition: Thousands demand that Dunnes stop stocking Israeli goods,” 29 July 2010).

Canadian union supports boat to Gaza

Meanwhile, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) officially called on Canadians to support the Canada Boat to Gaza project. The Canadian boat is to be included in a flotilla led by activists with international human rights organizations planning to deliver humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Gaza Strip in the coming months (“Postal Workers’ Union: Get Mail to Gaza on the Boat,” 12 August 2010).

The union has a long history of solidarity actions in support of justice for Palestinians, including drafting resolutions calling for an immediate end to the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Following an announcement by Canada Post that Israel Post has suspended mail delivery to Gaza, the union is encouraging people who wish to send mail to Gaza to get their mail onto the Canadian boat bound for the blockaded Palestinian territory,” CUPW stated.

The CUPW says that its support of the Canada Boat to Gaza was elevated when Israel Post recently informed Canada Post that Canadian mail would not be delivered to the Gaza Strip due to circumstances “beyond their control,” according to the Canadian daily Vancouver Sun (“Canadian postal workers put stamp of approval on bid to break Gaza blockade,” 12 August 2010).

Receiving mail in Gaza has been irregular for years, as Israel’s illegal blockade against the strip continues. But according to Gaza’s Director General of the Communications Ministry, Jalal Ismail, the mail delivery system has been delayed and government mail has remained undelivered for at least four months. Speaking to news agency The Media Line, Ismail said that mail disruptions “are not new” in Gaza. The Gaza-based Palestinian postal employee responsible for mail transfer in Gaza was arrested by Israeli forces, and Israel continues to stall in their “vetting” of a new postal liaison.

Israel has also blocked mail between Gaza and the West Bank, according to Maan News Agency (“Israel blocks mail between Gaza, West Bank,” 20 May 2010).

Denis Lemelin, the CUPW’s national president, explained the union’s move to back the Gaza-bound boat actions: “As postal workers, we know very well that cutting off mail creates suffering and hardship for people, who are isolated from their loved ones. How many more abuses will the people of Gaza have to endure?”

“We are heartened by the growing international response to Israel’s cruel treatment of the Palestinian people,” continued Lemelin. “We stand in solidarity with all efforts to break the blockade and end the indignities imposed on the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.”