Omar Barghouti, one of the most charismatic Palestinian activists, has been subjected to the most intense interrogation by Israeli authorities. He is the outspoken co-founder of the BDS movement, member of the secretariat of the Boycott National Committee (BNC,) and a steering committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
Israeli forces kidnapped Omar 12 days ago to prevent him from travelling to the US to receive the prestigious Gandhi Peace Award. They are holding him with false, trumped-up charges as part of their current tactic to start lies and rumors to tarnish the image of BDS activists – and discredit the BDS movement.
This attack on Omar is not new, but part of Israel’s all-out legal, intelligence and propaganda war on the BDS movement which has intensified since 2016. This intensified focus on the BDS movement is a reaction to the increasing success of the non-violent BDS movement which has seen Israeli ships being prevented from docking at ports across the world, hundreds of artists and musicians refusing to perform in Israel and prominent South Africans freedom –fighters such as Ahmed Kathrada, Archbishop Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils aligning themselves with the BDS movement and declaring Israeli apartheid to be far worse than that endured by South Africans.
But it knows very well the success that BDS is achieving globally – and that BDS is the new-old tool of resistance used by the Palestinians, supported by international civil society, to bring Israel to justice and hold it accountable for all the crimes it has been committing against the Palestinian people, namely occupation, colonization and apartheid. This is a global movement with global supporters with a focus on eliminating oppression and injustice in Palestine, but with an address that goes far beyond Palestine and out of the reach of Israel’s usual barbaric tool of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass murder and collective punishment.
Omar’s statement and positions emanate from the movement’s defense of Palestinian human rights. Its slogans– freedom, equality and justice– pose a very serious threat to the racist foundation of Israel as “the state of the Jews”. Put differently to call for equality and return of refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, in accordance with UN resolution 194, as the BDS movement does, questions the very definition of the state of Israel, as made clear by the ESCWA report, which clearly states that it is an apartheid state. To be willing to recognize and accept the exclusivist and racist nature of the State is the precondition for being welcomed in Israel. There is no Israeli nationality, only a Jewish national character and not an Israeli one, which effectively excludes all Palestinians and “non-Jews” living in Israel from citizenship and statehood. This, as noted by the UN Committee on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, “encourages discrimination and accords second class status to [Israel’s] non-Jewish citizens.”
It is very obvious that the ruling Ashkenazi establishment has become fed up with the rising tsunami of the BDS movement. Last year’s Yediot Ahronot conference, which was attended by all spectrums of political life in Israel, reached the conclusion that the movement poses a” strategic” –if not an existential—threat to the Zionist project in the Middle east! Hence the extremist measures taken by the government and laws passed by the Knesset to fight BDS. One of those measures was “civil targeted killing” of BDS activists. Unsurprisingly, two weeks ago the Israeli Knesset passed a resolution to ban all foreign BDS activists and supporters from entering the country.
Interestingly, an in accordance with the apartheid South African experience, no Jewish activist has ever been subjected to the kind of treatment Palestinian activists experience at the hands of the authorities – the response to activism is also subsumed to the racist ideology that informs the political statements and actions of Israel and Israeli politicians.
A meaningful, just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question must include all Palestinians, including those in the West Bank and Gaza, those who remained in Israel, and the 1948 Palestinian refugees. The mechanism to redress this dispossession is not via a Bantustan a la apartheid South Africa as agreed to by the signatories of the Oslo Accords. Instead, a secular democratic state where all citizens are treated equally regardless of their religion, sex or color, is the only just and equitable solution that will end Israeli apartheid.
This is what Omar has been calling for – and what he continues to call for in his latest statement. This steadfastness of the BDS movement and its unwavering commitment to justice for all Palestinians is the real reason behind the false campaign against Omar; and this is why the BDS movement must, as Omar has called for – intensify its work, so that Israel is forced to comply with international law. More BDS is the way to end apartheid in Israel as apartheid was ended in South Africa.