The Fifth Column: Nobody should buy this occupation

“We urge Ireland to support any legislation that will help enforce differentiation between Israel per se and the settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”

February 9, 2018 08:34
4 minute read.
A Palestinian demonstrator jumps over a burning tire in a protest in Bethlehem, January 2018

A Palestinian demonstrator jumps over a burning tire in a protest in Bethlehem, January 2018. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)

Personally, I do not partake in the BDS movement, nor does the organization I work for. Amnesty’s reason is simply because BDS calls for an end to the occupation, while Amnesty holds no position on the occupation in and of itself. For myself, I don’t partake in BDS because I believe that at the end of the day Israelis will have a lot to do with bringing about the solution to this conflict, and once BDS enters the conversation, with most Israelis at least, things become very unproductive. Because then, rather than talk about the occupation and the atrocities that take place within it, the conversation becomes one of the legitimacy of BDS and the motives thereof. And that – to me – is an entirely uninteresting conversation.

I do not, however, nor does Amnesty International, oppose the concept of BDS either. A boycott is a very legitimate and common form of social protest. A few years back, there was a wave of anti-LGBTI legislation in Russia. During this time, many around the world, myself included, protested this legislation by boycotting Russian vodka. While I’m sure this did not make the Russian authorities particularly happy, I don’t recall being accused of “anti-Russianism,” or however you might choose to refer to racism toward the Russian people. Which is good, because a large part of my family comes from Russia.

In fact, calling to boycott Russia seems to be a theme in my family. My father fondly recalls his days of activism in Betar in the States, where in their efforts for the release of the Prisoners of Zion they would call for the boycott of the Bolshoi Ballet whenever it came to town. But Israel, as we’ve come to expect, is very quick to draw the racism card, and if you boycott Israel in protest of its government’s actions – you must be an antisemite.

This all puts those of us who would like to see everything going on under the occupation end, and also don’t consider ourselves anti-Israeli, feel a little bit in a bind. Those who support occupation, namely those who believe in “Greater Israel,” seem very knowledgeable in telling us what is and what is not (well, mostly what is not) a legitimate form of protest. But not seeking their approval, I will say that one excellent one is the banning of settlement products by other countries.

The Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, according to international law. Clear and simple. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits countries from moving population into territories occupied in a war. The construction of these settlements has gone hand-in-hand with land grabbing, home demolition and the forced eviction of many Palestinians. Their existence comes with security arrangements that create a living hell for Palestinians, severe restrictions of movement, and the diversion of Palestinian natural resources (especially water) for the benefit of the settlements.

A big part of the settlement enterprise is settlement businesses – a multi-million dollar establishment both fueling and normalizing this monstrosity, at the further expense of the Palestinian population.

Ironically, while Israel itself does not see the settlements as Israeli (Israel has never formally annexed this land as it did in the Golan Heights, but rather holds them under martial law, excluding east Jerusalem), it requires the rest of the world to do so. In particular, in trade agreements, in which it insists to refer to settlement products as Israeli.

The Irish parliament has recently been debating a bill that would ban trade in products originating in Israel’s settlements. A week earlier, the Danish parliament voted to exclude settlements from its bilateral trade agreement with Israel, and expressed support for a blacklist of companies investing in the occupied territories, being formulated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the case of the Irish law, most encouraging was a letter by prominent Israelis in support of the ban. “We urge Ireland to support any legislation that will help enforce differentiation between Israel per se and the settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and east Jerusalem,” they state in the letter.

I’d like to ask readers to take a moment and look at the names signed on this letter, and recognize and respect the sacrifice they make by signing this bold letter, as well as the pain and humility that are involved in asking a foreign parliament to vote against our own. This is what defiance looks like, and thank God there are still enough people who are willing to defy. Are you?

The signatories are:

Former members of Knesset Uri Avnery, Roman Bronfman, Prof. Naomi Hazan, Yael Dayan and Tzali Reshef, former speaker of the Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency Avraham Burg; former ambassadors Prof. Elie Barnavi, Ilan Baruch and Erela Hadar, former ambassador and former director-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry Dr.

Alon Liel; former attorney-general and former acting Supreme Court justice Michael Ben-Yair; former head of the Civil Service Commission Prof. Itzhak Galnoor; Israel Prize recipients Prof. David Harel, sculptor Dani Karavan, photojournalist Alex Levac, filmmaker Prof. Yehuda Judd Ne’eman, Prof. Zeev Sternhell and designer David Tartakover, and EMET Prize laureate artist Miki Kratsman.

The writer is the director of Amnesty International Israel, and formerly worked for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Greenpeace and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer. He can be reached at

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