This week an international alliance of Palestine solidarity and social justice activists begins a coordinated week of actions across the globe that targets occupation profiteer Hewlett-Packard (HP). The Global BDS Week of Action against HP companies- taking place from November 25th through December 3rd, with more than 90 actions planned on six continents- is believed to be the largest coordinated set of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activities since the call for BDS was issued by Palestinian civil society in 2005. The international alliance is targeting HP companies because they provide critical information technology (IT) services and infrastructure that facilitates the segregation and oppression of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, the naval blockade of Gaza, and the suppression of Palestinian human rights. In conjunction with the global week of action organized by the International Boycott HP Network, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Palestinian BDS National Committee have launched a petition drive to collect individual and institutional endorsements supporting the boycott of products and divestment from HP companies (link to petition here).
Activists participating in the Week of Action and endorsing the anti-HP BDS campaign represent a broad spectrum of grassroots secular and faith-based human rights and Palestine solidarity organizations, including groups based in Palestine, Egypt, the Sudan, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Costa Rica, the United States, Canada, India, Australia, and Malaysia. The broad international appeal of the HP companies as BDS targets results from HP’s specialization in biometric technologies, hardware and software that is designed to control and monitor large and often vulnerable populations, technology that is marketed to prison authorities, immigration and border police, and military regimes across the globe. Despite their claims to social responsibility, HP companies are deeply involved in systems of oppression worldwide.
In Israel/ Palestine, HP companies manage the Israeli government’s population registry and biometric ID systems, used to segregate, restrict, and control the movements of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem. In the context of the Israel’s discrimination between “Jewish nationals” who enjoy full civil rights and non-Jewish Israeli citizens who do not, this high-tech, biometrically facilitated, population control system more deeply entrenches the segregation and civil inequality experienced by Palestinians living in their own homeland.
In the occupied Palestinian territories, HP companies develop and maintain the notorious “Basel System,” a biometric access control system installed in Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank and Gaza used to monitor and restrict the movements of Palestinians based on their religion and ethnicity. At such checkpoints in the West Bank, millions of Palestinians living under military occupation must submit to lengthy waits as well as the mandatory biometric scanning, while Israeli residents of neighboring illegal settlements pass through freely without scanning or similar delays.
There are clear parallels between HP’s biometric access control system as currently employed to confine and control Palestinian movement in Israel/ Palestine and the racist passbook ID system used by South Africa’s apartheid government, for which the U.S.-based Polaroid Corporation provided imaging services. In the 1970s, there was a boycott and divestment campaign targeting Polaroid for its complicity in South African apartheid. The campaign was eventually successful, andPolaroid’s dramatic 1977 withdrawal from South Africa increased pressure on other complicit companies across the globe, accelerating international efforts to end South African apartheid. Leaders of the Polaroid boycott and divestment campaign, such as Caroline Hunter, the Polaroid employee who discovered her company’s role in South Africa and helped launch the boycott campaign, are today calling for a boycott of HP companies.
HP companies also provide services and technology for some of the largest illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and provide services and hardware to the Israeli prison system that incarcerates Palestinian children and hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners. Hewlett-Packard companies supply computers for the Israeli Ministry of Defense and equip the Israeli Navy with hardware and the information technology infrastructure that enables the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip serving to collectively punish 1.7 million Palestinians confined to the tiny coastal enclave because of their religion and ethnicity.
In the U.S. HP companies provide the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with prisoner data access and control systems and is a major player in the U.S. prison-industrial complex. HP companies also provide technology to the US Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency used to track and detain Latino and other immigrants, disrupting the lives of millions within vulnerable immigrant communities.
HP split into two companies, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), in late 2015, and other spin-offs are expected. The various HP companies bid on contracts together, and share governance, supply chains, and technologies with one another. Despite HP’s longstanding financial exploitation of the brutal system of segregation experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, none of the HP spin-offs or emerging business segments has publicly condemned or denounced HP’s complicity in Palestinian human rights abuses. This is presumably because the various HP companies benefit by association with the Hewlett-Packard name, one of the world’s most valuable brands.
There is strong support for the anti-HP Global BDS Week of Action in Europe, North America and across the globe. Stephanie Westbrook, national coordinator of BDS Italy, told Mondoweiss, “As a company that has its hands in just about every aspect of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, HP is a national focus for BDS Italy. Major cities throughout the country will be mobilizing for the week of action, with events ranging from checkpoints on main squares to initiatives at Italian universities. The international week of action will serve to drive home the message that HP needs to pull the plug on Israeli apartheid.” Efforts in North America include the launching of the HP-Free Church initiative by Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA), a faith-based boycott of HP products that builds on previous HP-divestment resolutions passed by U.S. denominations including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the Alliance of Baptists.