Palestinian boycott of Israel is misguided

By BASSAM EID
January 24, 2015 22:34




A PALESTINIAN supporter holds a protest leaflet advocating a boycott of Israel in France

A PALESTINIAN supporter holds a protest leaflet advocating a boycott of Israel in France. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I don’t know who’s actually pushing the Palestinians toward this idea of an economic boycott of Israel; to the best of my knowledge, Palestinians aren’t pushing it on their own, and neither is the Palestinian Authority, which is simply trying to exploit its momentum.

The BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) movement is one of the groups at the forefront of the boycott efforts, and to be sure, there are Palestinian parties involved with BDS, such as Mustafa Barghouti.

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However, while Barghouti can no doubt make good headway advancing the BDS cause in Norway, for example, he would not dare to enter refugee camps and suggest to the people living there that they launch a boycott against Israel – because then he would have to offer a viable alternative.

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in one of his televised interviews said that the Palestinians had never called for an economic boycott of Israel, but did call for a boycott of the settlements.

But even such a partial boycott could never succeed; how can one impose a boycott on settlement products when one’s fellow citizens and nationals are the ones building those very same settlements? Does Abbas have alternative employment opportunities to offer these people? Palestinian workers today are basically building homes in the settlements. They are proud of the fact they are continuing to build for Jews, and no one is about to find them an alternative to the type of work in which they are now engaged.

Suppose that the Palestinians launched a boycott campaign against Israel. Would it cause Israel any damage? What do we buy from Israel? Salt, pepper, milk, rice, flour. Do we buy planes from Israel? Tanks? Even if we wanted to, Israel certainly would sell them to us. So the truth is that politics aside, we are irrelevant to this story.

This is reason why, lip service aside, the PA is not trying to push the idea of a boycott.

TWO WEEKS ago, I visited the town of Bir Zeit, north of Ramallah, and saw a large sticker on the entrance to a store testifying that the store was purified of Israeli products – “purified,” not merely “free” of Israeli goods. I entered the store and approached the refrigerated section where the ice creams were kept – and was taken aback to see that the ice cream on display was labeled “Strauss.” I turned to the store’s proprietor and inquired whether there was a Palestinian company called “Strauss.” No, he replied, the product was Israeli.

When I asked about the sticker, the store owner looked at me and said: “You know what? We, the Palestinians, like stickers, just like the Israelis. To this day, you can find bumper stickers on Israeli vehicles that say “The nation is with Gush Katif.”

Let’s touch on another event, that took place in the center of Ramallah in June. Four Palestinian police officers assembled around a stall in the souk or market, in which were displayed containers of grapes.

One of the police officers asked the stall owner: “What is this?” To which the vendor replied: “Grapes.”

Policeman: “Where did you get them?” (Typically, there are no grapes in the PA territories in June; they are only to be found in the Jordan Rift Valley, or in other particularly hot areas.) Vendor: “I don’t know, a seller came by and sold them to me.”

Policeman: “Do you have a permit?” Vendor: “Yes, here’s the permit form from the Palestinian Customs Authority.”

The police officer, hardening somewhat with his interrogation, inquired: “But this is Israeli merchandise!” To which the vendor returned: “How do you know?” The policeman at this juncture pointed out to the vendor that each container of grapes had a sticker bearing the name David-something-or-other.

The vendor then volunteered to remove all the offending stickers and thereby convert his stock instantaneously into Palestinian grapes. Everyone present, including myself, attended to the task of removing the offending stickers.

SO, WITH all due respect, what boycott are we talking about, exactly? People in refugee camps go to the grocery store and buy large bottles of Coca Cola (incidentally an Israeli product) because in the PA territories it is claimed that it tastes better, contains more gas and less sugar than Palestinian cola brands. Israeli cigarettes are also sold in the stores there. In fact, the store owner hides them, because should the PA Customs Authority turn up, they’ll confiscate everything. The store owners know their customers by sight, and when a regular walks in, a package of his brand is magically produced.

I have frequented every road in the PA territories, from the north and down to Hebron in the south, and never once did it occur that I looked for an Israeli product and couldn’t find it.

There is no boycott, and from a personal standpoint I don’t believe in them as a method of activism.

In the end, this is a political and not an economic matter, and I don’t think that Israel needs to get swept away with every item listed on the Palestinian political agenda, many of which are to my mind more akin to child’s play than something to be taken seriously.

Should Israel wish to punish Mahmoud Abbas – and why not? I have no problem with that – it must ensure that it distances itself from harming the beleaguered ones, isolated citizens that don’t have alternative solutions.

I know there are thousands of Palestinians that are prepared to confront Israel tomorrow, but I also know that Palestinians today loathe the PA even more than they hate the State of Israel. Yes, there are those today that want to return the world to the chaos and abyss of the Biblical creation story, and to be agents of destruction not only to the Israeli population but to the Palestinian populace as well. I am aware of Palestinians who want to murder me even more than they desire to murder Jews – but there is nothing to be done. We live here, we will continue to live here and we don’t have anywhere else to live – neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis.

OPERATION PROTECTIVE Edge inflicted heavy damage on the Hamas movement, and I think that it also paved a way for me, not only vis-á-vis the PA, but also in relation to Egypt. Namely, the steps the latter is taking today against Hamas are steps Israel would never dare to take – ergo, Hamas finds itself in an awkward and greatly embarrassing bind. Indeed, it now spends its time waiting for some terrorist of any sort to decide to run over a Jew with a vehicle so it can point to him as a hero.

Hamas being limited to conferring blessings on terrorists is all well and good as far as Israel is concerned, but the important thing is to afford the people of the Gaza Strip the opportunity to live in the manner of their own choosing and not to allow Hamas to force Iranian policies on their own brethren.

Last week I went to the Soda Stream factory in Mishor Adumim, where I found out that 500 Palestinian workers had almost been fired and another 400 were on their way to being fired. I asked Basel Ja’afar (25), who got fired in 2014: “If you were face to face with one of the BDS activists, what would you say to him or her?” He answered, “I would ask him what the alternative is.”

Basel used to draw NIS 6,000 in monthly salary at Soda Stream, but now, under the PA, must get by on a salary of NIS 1,450.

The writer is a human rights activist and political commentator.


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