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.

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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).

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »