During the divestment votes at the Presbyterian and Methodist church conferences last spring, we heard that pro-Israel forces were using the West Bank housing development, Rawabi, to claim that an “economic peace” between Israel and the Palestinian territories was somehow giving dignity to Palestinians living under occupation.
Rawabi is the project of a Palestinian businessman named Bashar al-Masri. The Palestinian civil society movement that is promoting BDS has issued a statement condemning Bashar Masri’s latest work with the Israeli government. Here is a portion of its latest statement. More at the link.
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that includes Palestinian political parties, unions, NGOs and grassroots organisations and leads the global BDS movement, strongly condemns the participation of Palestinian businessman Bashar Masri in the Israeli High Tech Industry Association (HTIA) annual conference taking place between the 10th and 12th of September in Haifa and Jerusalem. Other speakers to the conference include Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nir Barakat, the Israeli mayor of occupied Jerusalem. Masri will be speaking at a panel with Israeli businessman in a conference that is supported by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other Israeli state bodies. Masri’s participation in this conference constitutes an act of normalization with Israel that helps it whitewash its ongoing occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people and that undermines the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and self determination.
The institutions and individuals at the helm of this propaganda conference that aims to promote Israel to the world as a “high-tech haven” are active participants in the oppression of Palestinians and persistent violators of international law. Israel’s high-tech industry is a major partner of the Israeli military-security complex and depends on it for its growth and success. Exports from the Israeli high-tech industry help sustain the military budget. It is therefore unsurprising that the conference enjoys the full backing of Israel’s ruling elite with the high-tech industry accounting for one-third of Israel’s GDP and constituting a key pillar to Israel’s hegemony in the region…
Masri’s support for this conference despite the public nature of these facts constitutes a shameless act of normalization of the worst type that trivializes the sacrifice of those Palestinians that on a daily basis struggle to defend their rights and dignity. These include the Palestinian prisoners currently risking their lives on hunger strike in Israeli jails and Jerusalemites who are facing a vicious and escalating Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing advanced by the apartheid Jerusalem Municipality of Nir Barakat.
To make matters worse, this year’s HTIA conference will commemorate the centennial of Israel’s Technion University, an institution that plays an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians. To cite just one example among many, Technion has led in the development of the armoured Caterpillar-manufactured D9 remote-controlled bulldozer used by the Israeli military to demolish Palestinian houses. Technion is target of an international boycott called for by Palestinian academics and international solidarity groups in Canada and the US, among other countries. It is disconcerting to see a Palestinian breaking the boycott, as Masri is deliberately doing, when hundreds of academics worldwide have adhered to it as an act of principled solidarity and have even put their careers on the line to stand up to its detractors.
Bashar Masri’s commitment to this conference is not out of line with his other dealings with Israel in subversion of the Palestinian-led global BDS campaign to isolate Israel, an effort that has enjoyed unprecedented success worldwide and constitutes one of the most effective tools Palestinians have for accountability and justice in the face of growing Israeli criminality and impunity. Contrary to Masri’s claims to be working for “building Palestine” through his business dealings, his actions have in fact been more in harmony with Israel’s declared policy of “economic peace” for the West Bank, that is, the sidelining of basic Palestinian rights, including the right to self determination of all Palestinians, in favour of economic gains for an elite minority, part of Israel’s carrot and stick approach that rewards obedience to Israeli dictates. The failure of this policy, spearheaded by Netanyahu, has manifested itself in the abject poverty, growing malnutrition, and joblessness that have prevailed among Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the besieged Gaza Strip and the so-called Area C of the West Bank, controlled by Israel.
Bashar al-Masri has been an active supporter and participant in the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce (IPCC), an Israeli-established and controlled body based in Tel Aviv designed to advance the economic exploitation of Palestinians and Palestinian resources under occupation. One of the stated goals of the IPCC is to provide business intelligence and facilitate deals for Israeli businessmen in the Palestinian market. The organization is headed by Israeli Lt. Col (ret) Avi Nudelman, an Israeli military official who spent most of his career in the intelligence apparatus or as a high-level commander for the Israeli military. Masri participated in the opening gala of the IPCC and lectured before its [Israeli] members at least once about the prospects of investing in the Palestinian economy. According to Masri himself, “Israeli businessmen come to me time and time again seeking help in entering the Palestinian market and the Arab world.”
The BNC had publicly condemned this blatant economic normalization, in particular through the construction of the planned city of Rawabi, north of Ramallah, as news became known that Israeli companies were “invited” to bid for contracts.