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BDS call for boycott should not ignore states’ responsibility to uphold international law

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One year after the end of Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip, little has been done to alleviate the misery caused by Israel’s assault and by the ongoing Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip. The international community has failed to hold Israel accountable for the killing of 1543 Palestinian civilians, 550 of whom were children. The situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, also continues to deteriorate. Year after year, the occupation persists while the international community fails to end Israeli impunity.

This environment is what prompted the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) initiatives, and is the cause for its continued global growth. At its core, BDS is a non-violent movement that calls for accountability for human rights violations. Individuals involved in BDS should have their rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and association, amongst others, upheld. Instead, as BDS garners more headlines, opponents have sought to delegitimize the movement. In such a climate, it is necessary to distinguish legal obligations from political action.

This begins with “B.” Boycott entails choice: ethical consumerism as a way to bring change. Through boycott, the onus is placed on the public at-large – not governments – to hold Israel accountable. Initiatives to label settlement products will only inform consumers of a products origin; goods will still end up in national markets.

This concern was one of the main reasons that Al-Haq, the oldest Palestinian human rights organization of which I am the director, did not join other members of Palestinian civil society in the 2005 BDS call. More specifically, Al-Haq believes that under international law, states themselves have the duty to uphold and ensure compliance with the law. This position was outlined in the 2013 report “Feasting on the Occupation,” which noted that Israel’s settlement enterprise and its accompanying practices are in breach of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. States, and not individual citizens, have the duty to not recognize a situation resulting from illegal conduct as lawful, as well as the duty to cooperate in order to bring these violations to an end.

Products originating from Israeli agricultural and industrial settlements are essential to reinforcing the illegal settlement enterprise, and provide vital revenues that help ensure their viability and growth. Accordingly, states fail to comply with their international legal obligations by allowing settlement products to enter domestic markets. By not implementing a ban on settlement products, states themselves are politicizing a legal issue and shifting the burden to consumers.

While Al-Haq remains committed to solely advocating for a ban on settlement products, examining corporate liability, and working within the confines of our mandate that is rooted in respect for international law in the OPT, we principally support BDS as a non-violent campaign. We view it as complementary to our work, and see our work as complementary to theirs. More individuals than ever understand that the occupation is fueled by control over land and resources, and that the profitability of settlement businesses helps reinforce this control. Both “B’s”, banning and boycott, will bring us closer to ending the occupation.

Shawan Jabarin

Shawan Jabarin is the General Director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization. He is the Vice President of FIDH- the International Federation for Human Rights and is a Commissioner for the International Commission of Jurists.

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7 Responses

  1. Rusty Pipes on August 27, 2015, 5:35 pm

    As long as politicians fail to apply International Law, individuals and civic organizations will have no other nonviolent recourse than Boycott and Divestment. As the people lead, more and more leaders will follow — then we will begin to see increasing Sanctions applied to Israel (including the ban of settlement products).

  2. Rodneywatts on August 27, 2015, 6:36 pm

    Thank you Shawan for the work you do through Al-Haq and your short piece here that explains the complimentary nature of your organisation to the BDS campaign. Wrt your report “Feasting on the Occupation” which highlighted in 2013 shortcomings in the EU, I am pleased that we are now turning up the pressure on Israel:

    Of course it has been the US at the UN that has prevented, thus far, any real pressure on Israel to act as required under international law. However it does appear that even here there is some hope, and we must recognise the wonderful part that Jews of conscience are playing –MW being at the forefront!

    Anyway, good news for Professor Stephen Salaita : (It was Stephen’s situation that brought me to MW) We must thank Rima for her long persistence and the good staff at UIUC for ‘doing the business’ So there is still opportunity to sign the petition for reinstatement and to support Stephen Salaita.

    Also the UK parliament petition to arrest Netanyahu is getting closer to critical 100k and now stands at 88,088. We look forward to justice in Palestine!!

    • Rodneywatts on August 27, 2015, 6:58 pm

      Correction!! Sorry it is Steven Salaita –it’s me age….

    • Citizen on August 27, 2015, 10:38 pm

      Petition now has 88,235 signatures–Brit & UK citizens, please sign to get to required 100,000

  3. HarryLaw on August 28, 2015, 7:36 am

    In that ‘Feasting on the occupation’ report Al Haq tell us what others ‘must do’. In my opinion on the labeling issue there are plenty groups associated with Al Haq who could take action on labeling but will not do so, for instance the ‘Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights’ will not take up cases of false labeling in UK courts, when urged to do so by activists who can see the law being broken everyday. Here is one example:- The Golan Heights Winery export over 6 million bottles of wine to the EU, this is how their labels read:-
    1. ‘Wine of Israel’ and 2. ‘Produced by Golan Heights Winery 183 Katzrin 12900, Israel.
    As an added factor, the labels when viewed as a whole show at least five other indicators which tend to confirm the false facts in 1 and 2 above.
    1. Golan Heights Winery with Galilee underneath, ‘Galilee’ is a region of Northern Israel.
    2. The wine is Kosher for Passover; and is authenticated for the Jewish religious holiday of Passover by a Rabbi from the Northern Israeli City of Tiberias.
    3. The web page indicates an Israeli country code [il]
    4. Barcode first three digits 729 indicates Israeli origin, although not conclusive proof of origin.
    5. Hebrew text.
    As you can see this is a blatantly false label in breach of various EU Regulations in this case EU Reg 607/2009 article 55. The Trading Standards Departments will not prosecute. The Food Standards Agency will not prosecute. The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA], Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or The UK Foreign Office will not prosecute. It is left to a Litigants in person to prosecute [under section 6 of the 1986 prosecution of offenders act it is possible]. Unfortunately the LPHR although masquerading as a charity, are in my opinion a business whose requests for ‘advice’ always seem to be met with the question ‘Do you have funding’ if you say no the line goes dead. That’s my experience, and I have evidence that this is the case. I do not have a good opinion of Lawyers in general, although I do not agree with that Shakespearean character who said “come the revolution, first thing we do is kill all the lawyers” I think they should torture them first.

  4. HarryLaw on August 28, 2015, 8:50 am

    When Professor Norman Finkelstein spoke in Dublin recently, he said ‘you have to fight self’ then recounted how the many NGO’s in the West Bank exist because of the occupation and that many had a stake in the occupation. I think this is true of the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, so much of their work consists of making appeals in the form of open letters to various UK Government Departments, nothing wrong with that of course, my argument is that they should concentrate on the many ‘real’ breaches of domestic law which, because the “charity” consists of a majority of Lawyers, they are uniquely placed to tackle, like my example above, rather than go on a fools errand and make appeals to the extreme Zionist sensibilities of the likes of ex Foreign Sec William Hague or PM David Cameron.

  5. HarryLaw on August 28, 2015, 9:47 am

    The outgoing EU Envoy to Palestine warned that the EU had more tools to discourage Israeli settlements. He said they are exploring guidelines that would require the occupant to label settlement products. In my opinion the guidelines are only in place to enable traders to avoid breaking the many EU laws already in place. As an example of the guidelines this is what the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] put out in a paper in 2009.
    Paragraph 5: Technical advice; Labeling of produce grown in the occupied Palestinian Territories
    5. “Separately, the Government considers that traders would be misleading consumers, and would therefore almost be certainly committing an offence, if they were to declare produce from the OPT (including from the West Bank) as ‘Produce of Israel’. This would apply irrespective of whether the produce was from a Palestinian producer or from an Israeli settlement in the OPT. This is because the area does not fall within the internationally recognized borders of the state of Israel”.
    This also applies to the Golan Heights occupied at the same time by Israeli forces.

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