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Nathan Thrall’s deep dive into BDS, the Palestinians’ ‘last resort’

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A history that is often forgotten is that not too long ago Palestinians had a thriving civil society where union reps had voting spots in the government, the PLO. It was democracy, not perfect and not attached to any state and stationed in exile, but there was a process for any Palestinian to be a part of the bigger picture. After the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the leadership who was negotiating with Israel overnight disenfranchised these pillars of support.

But civil society did not disband or go home. They joined a fledging nonviolent movement that was cascading across the West Bank countryside in villages that protested Israel’s wall and settlements.  Eventually this rolled into the BDS movement, which is explored in depth in Nathan Thrall’s long read in the Guardian on the origins of the BDS movement. It’s sub-headlined: “Israel sees the international boycott campaign as an existential threat to the Jewish state. Palestinians regard it as their last resort.”

Nathan Thrall, at the Jerusalem Hotel, May 24, 2017. Photo by Phil Weiss

Thrall has the obligatory run down of the actors— who supports and who opposes, a web of grassroots campaigns with some degree of coordination with the powers that be—yet the piece is notable for how it doesn’t exaggerate the movement as a juggernaut. BDS supporters and detractors are still small in numbers. Even so Thrall captures how it is that they currently have more sway in the way people across the globe see Israel and the Palestinians than any other entity, including the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

The year the Palestinians first put out an organized call asking for activists abroad to cut ties with Israel, 2005, was also the year of the last Palestinian legislative elections, and was the end of the second Intifada where armed groups had failed to upend the occupation. This dovetailed with the increasingly popular view that the Oslo Peace Accord’s promise of the creation of a Palestinian state was doomed from the get-go.  

Thrall writes, “The nonviolent activism of the second intifada was a prelude to what would become a worldwide boycott campaign.”

That set up leads into Thrall’s first BDS activist interviewee and instigator of the movement, Sami Awad, a nonviolent activist from Bethlehem who has a bookshelf filled with Gandhi and Mandela:

“Sami Awad was sent by his parents to Kansas in order to continue his studies. When he returned to Bethlehem in 1996, it had been transformed by the Oslo peace process. Tens of thousands of PLO officials and fighters had moved from exile in the Arab world to the West Bank and Gaza, and were now functionaries in the newly established Palestinian administration. A culture of resistance had been replaced by one of coexistence. A peace industry now flourished, as foreign funds flowed in to finance dialogue groups, NGOs and people-to-people initiatives. Awad, like most Palestinians, was optimistic that peace was on the horizon.


When the second intifada erupted, in September 2000, with Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli invasions and missile attacks, the dialogue and peacemaking activities of groups such as Holy Land Trust came to a halt. For Awad, the focus was now on nonviolent resistance, which was then neither popular nor simple. It was the bloodiest period of Israeli-Palestinian fighting since the 1948 war. More than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed. The militarisation of the intifada had made it dangerous to confront Israel in any manner, including peacefully.”

While the BDS movement has resulted in a few key large scale contracts between corporations and Israel coming to an end, as well as headliners refusing to play in Tel Aviv, there certainly is no looming recession or economic impact. Thrall notes Israeli foreign trade has actually grown since the BDS movement has been around.

What is concerning to Israel is how BDS has changed the parameters of Israel’s moral terms. This is the view of Yossi “Kuper” Kuperwasser, who was at the helm of Israel’s government anti-BDS agency during its formative years. Kuperwasser is a character that is not often represented in reporting in that he is against BDS but has a strong sense of its mechanics. One of his more impactful quotes explains that underneath the BDS campaign is a gambit by Palestinian campaigners:

“’The Palestinians are taking a very big risk,’ he said. ‘Because, in my mind, there is a good chance that the world will deny their conceptual framework. People will say: ‘This is what the Palestinians want?! We are totally against it … They are crazy; they want Israel to disappear.’ If that happens, he added, the Palestinians won’t even get a West Bank-Gaza state, which he believes the PLO still sees as merely the first stage toward liberating all of Palestine.”

The report couldn’t be more timely. Support for the two-state solution has reached a two decade low, dropping below 50 percent among Israelis and Palestinians, according to the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (TSC) Tel Aviv University, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. 

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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26 Responses

  1. John O on August 16, 2018, 1:28 pm

    The Guardian – slowly but surely, under Kath Viner’s editorship, is starting to kick Israel hard. An item from its website today (16 August); hopefully, in the print edition tomorrow:

  2. ErikEast on August 16, 2018, 3:01 pm

    I was pleasantly surprised to read Thrall’s excellent article. I was surprised because their coverage of the Labour-‘antisemitism’ row, which has Israel at its core, has been terribly biased against the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
    I wonder how The Guardian’s gatekeeper, Jonathan Freedland took the publication of piece that for once doesn’t cast BDS as some sort of anti-Jewish crusade.

    • Bumblebye on August 16, 2018, 5:31 pm

      Probably on his holidays! Normal service will resume on his return.

  3. eljay on August 16, 2018, 3:11 pm

    … Thrall has the obligatory run down of the actors …

    Thrall also makes several references to “Jewish diaspora” / “diaspora Jews” as if (inadvertently?) to legitimize the Zionist notion that every person in the world – every citizen of every homeland throughout the world – who has chosen to embrace the religion-based identity of Jewish:
    – is actually an Ancient Israelite driven from his “ancient / ancestral / historic homeland”; and,
    – is therefore entitled to “return” to – and to partake in Jewish supremacism in – a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.

  4. Blaine Coleman on August 16, 2018, 3:39 pm

    Good review, showing the profound impact of the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the racist state of Israel. However, the BDS movement had its first campus victory several years earlier than the review has mentioned — in 2003.

    The Student Council of Wayne State University voted for total divestment against all companies doing business in Israel:

    “WSU Student Council Votes for Divestiture”
    Arab American News
    April 26, 2003


  5. Bumblebye on August 16, 2018, 5:37 pm

    Something to give british zionists (and israelis?) conniptions – Labour’s new regional director for the West Midlands is – da da dum – UK based Palestinian (!) Fadel Takrouri, chair of the British Arab Federation!

  6. annie on August 16, 2018, 9:25 pm

    great review allison

    • dionissis_mitropoulos on August 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

      I liked it too –and i also thought of saying hi after long time!

      • annie on August 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

        hi dionissis! did you post by another name before?

      • dionissis_mitropoulos on August 18, 2018, 1:37 pm

        God you don’t even remember me! Yes, i was posting here around 2012 under the same screen name (it’s my real name) but without the underscore. I belonged to the Israel advocacy cohorts at the time (uncoordinated), though i believe i was far more classy than them in my hasbara even then :)

        I am reformed now :)

      • Mooser on August 18, 2018, 4:45 pm

        “though i believe i was far more classy than them in my hasbara even then”

        I remember you then, sans underscore, and you were, far more classy. And look where it led you!

      • Talkback on August 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

        dm: “I am reformed now :)”

        What changed your opinion? :)

      • dionissis_mitropoulos on August 18, 2018, 6:53 pm

        Mooser i looked for sardela pasti in the archives, but there are no archives for the time being. I remembered him (her?) from then.

      • dionissis_mitropoulos on August 18, 2018, 7:28 pm

        Hi Talkback. The major reason is that i don’t believe anymore as i believed then that the Israelis are willing to make any concession in order to get peace via the two state solution, as Israel advocates claim and as they dupe people to believe. They are not as eager as they present themselves, and as far as East Jerusalem is concerned they definitely don’t intend to give it all to the Palestinians — which would be strange if they really were ready to make any sacrifice for a secure two state solution, as they let hang in the air.

      • Talkback on August 19, 2018, 3:07 am


        Interesting. Thanky you! Maybe we should all be focussing more about that.

  7. Boris on August 16, 2018, 9:57 pm

    I like this passage:

    When the second intifada erupted …

    You know – “erupted” – like a volcano, spontaneously,.


    • echinococcus on August 17, 2018, 2:15 am

      Tovarischtsch Boris is making it a habit to ask the right questions:

      When the second intifada erupted …
      You know – “erupted” – like a volcano, spontaneously

      He’s right. It was triggered very deliberately by a certain Charon, who later enraged a good many people by dying in his bed.

    • Talkback on August 17, 2018, 3:26 am

      Boris: “volcano, spontaneously,”

      A volcano doesn’t erupt spontaneously. It’s the result of years or decades of tremendous “oppression”.

      • Misterioso on August 17, 2018, 9:45 am


        Right on!! Excellent response to Boris’s blather!!!

  8. brent on August 17, 2018, 11:05 am

    The humanist segment of Judaism is probably the single most valuable component of the world’s quest for peace which necessarily starts in Jerusalem. It’s questionable for Palestinians to rely on BDS to achieve their aspirations, which will necessarily involve positive neighborly relations. Some do not yet get that the blowback from suicide attacks and bombs harmed not only their interests but humanity’s as well, or they don’t care. I believe its time for it to be understood the original PLO position, a secular democratic state is in humanity’s interest and not to stand in the way. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

    • Mooser on August 17, 2018, 1:23 pm

      “The humanist segment of Judaism is probably the single most valuable component of the world’s quest for peace which necessarily starts in Jerusalem.”

      Brent, that’s beautiful! I must be part of this! Could you give me a link to some organizations which represent “the humanist segment of Judaism” and are “the single most valuable component of the world’s quest for peace which necessarily starts in Jerusalem” so I can contribute or read their websites?

      Just a name or two would do, I’ll find the websites and donation box.

      And that “quest for peace starts in Jerusalem” brought tears to my eyes. You must mean going back to the original status of Jerusalem as a “Corpus separatum”. That would be wonderful!

    • dionissis_mitropoulos on August 17, 2018, 11:12 pm

      Hi brent

      You said:

      “the world’s quest for peace … necessarily starts in Jerusalem”

      I agree. The occupation of east Jerusalem by Israel, and especially the Temple Mount which houses the Al Aqsa mosque compound, is an affront to the dignity of all the Muslim world. From Al Qaeda and ISIS to moderate Muslim leaders to the simple Muslim on the street, the issue of east Jerusalem resonates heavily and the demand for its return to Muslim hands is clear. Unfortunately Israel is very intransigent on this issue. As a result, the world’s quest for peace that you spoke in the beginning, is blocked by Israel’s intransigence. Here is a relevant comment of mine at the New York Times:

      “The grievances of various Muslim groups are various, but, based on what they say, it is quite clear that #1 grievance is the help that the West provides to the Israeli occupation. Every single prominent terrorist has expressed this grievance, and even Isis recruits by promising the liberation of Jerusalem. The occupation of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is a grievance not just of fanatic Muslims, but also of moderate leaders like Turkey’s Erdogan (Turkey is a NATO member). Even Israel’s best ally in the region, the King of Jordan, said recently (during Trump’s address to Muslims) that the Israel/Palestine conflict “has driven radicalism and instability beyond our region [the Middle East] and into the Muslim world[Muslims in the West included].” And he concluded that the “international community has a direct interest in a just peace.”.

      In other words, he is telling us that if the conflict of Israel with Palestine is not solved, some Muslims in the West will be getting radicalized, and that means we will be having more Manchester bombings. Hence, it is a matter of “direct” interest of the West to see the Israel/Palestine conflict solved.

      Does this mean that the conflict is the only factor causing terrorism? No. But it means that resolving the conflict is a necessary condition for stopping terrorism. For as long as the conflict persists, and the West is seen as favoring Israel, terrorism will persist, even if Isis is defeated in the Middle East.”

    • Mooser on August 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

      “The humanist segment of Judaism is probably the single most valuable component of the world’s quest for peace which necessarily starts in Jerusalem.”

      That’s right! The humanist segment of Judaism is the Pole Star which the needles of all men’s moral compasses point to when she shimmies on down the line.

  9. echinococcus on August 17, 2018, 9:24 pm

    Thrall has also captured exactly the dominant disease, and I mean the pest, that has almost killed Palestine:

    A culture of resistance had been replaced by one of coexistence… Awad, like most Palestinians, was optimistic that peace was on the horizon

    But otherwise he sounds as unaware of the huge catastrophe he is reporting in this paragraph as are the Western colonials.

  10. Maghlawatan on August 19, 2018, 6:20 am

    I don’t think BDS is the last resort. Jews are a minority in Eretz Israel hashlemah.
    And I disagree with Israelis who think antisemitism can be used to justify apartheid. There was a lot of sympathy for Jews but it does not cover cruelty, assholes or nihilism.

  11. DaBakr on August 19, 2018, 3:44 pm

    The triumph of BS. Congrats.

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