by Sarah Edgcumbe
Between January 1st 2022 and 25th November 2022, Israeli forces killed 199 Palestinian civilians, including 47 children, and at least 15 women. Perhaps the most high profile killing occurred in May 2022, when Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head by Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) whilst covering a story in the Occupied West Bank. She was wearing a press vest at the time, marking her clearly identifiable as both a journalist and a target. Others present at the time, including a colleague who was injured, made it clear that there were no Palestinian fighters near them when they were targeted by direct fire. This incident was, in effect, a continuation of Israel’s deliberate policy of targeting journalists as a means of shutting down any reporting which can contradict the Israeli state narrative – and, once more, Israel escaped without repercussions.
The fact that Shireen’s death was pegged as an ‘accident’ by so many within the international community fails to account for the ongoing Israeli repression of journalists and the media in Palestine. According to the International Federation of Journalists, during the first half of 2022, at least 479 violations of media and journalist rights were recorded, pointing to ‘a clear attempt by Israel to silence media reporting on the ground.’ This violent, often fatal, repression has been documented over the years in films such as 5 Broken Cameras, and The Last Picture (viewer discretion is particularly advised regarding the latter – it is one of the hardest films I have ever watched). Israel’s utter disregard for Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with them has been crystal clear for decades.
At the time of writing, Israel’s most recent victim was eighteen-year-old Mahmoud Al-Saadi, a resident of a refugee camp in Jenin, in the Occupied West Bank. Top of his class, Mahmoud was merely undertaking the everyday routine of walking to school when he was shot in the stomach by Israeli forces and killed. This is Israeli settler colonialism in practice: home demolitions; violent, terrifying arrests with no accompanying charges; administrative detention and obstruction of legal representation; torture; humiliation at checkpoints, within communities, and inside family homes; and an ever-tightening stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. What Amnesty International recognised as apartheid in February 2022, others label ethnic cleansing. Whichever of these two positions we align ourselves with, neither is acceptable, yet without significant international intervention, the situation is only going to dramatically worsen for Palestinians as a result of recent Israeli elections.
On the 1st November 2022, in what can only be described as a catastrophic blow to Palestinians, left-leaning Israelis, and human rights activists everywhere, disgraced former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu somehow deflected charges such as bribery and fraud and regained power. He and his allies took the significant majority of votes, while the left-wing Meretz party failed to secure any seats in the Knesset for the first time in thirty years. While at the time of writing Netanyahu is still in talks with three other extreme right parties to form his coalition government, an extremely concerning development has already occurred with the appointment of Ben Gvir to the position of National Security Minister.
Gvir is objectively a disgusting human. A settler residing in the Occupied West Bank, he has been filmed unashamedly encouraging fellow settlers to shoot any Palestinians who throw stones at them. Given the fact that Israeli settlers often wander around carrying semi-automatic weapons and are frequently responsible for reprehensible acts of violence against the Palestinians, this was no empty rhetoric. In 2007 Gvir was convicted of racist incitement against Arabs, and backing a group which sought to strip all Arab-Israelis of their citizenship. This group, led by Meir Kahane, was designated a terrorist organisation by both Israel and the U.S., yet Gvir now holds a key position within the Israeli government, and one that wields inordinate power over the lives of Palestinians.
Gvir’s incendiary political intentions include expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestine, forcible deportation of Palestinians, and introduction of the death penalty for any Palestinians found guilty of killing Israelis. Given the prevailing Israeli political culture of dehumanising Palestinians, absence of fair trial, related proceedings, or any kind of justice for Palestinians in Israel, combined with their legal and moral right to resist occupation, his intention to formally legalise murder is horrifying. Worryingly, Gvir set this introduction of the death penalty for Palestinians as a condition for bringing his political faction into Netanyahu’s coalition. It is glaringly obvious then, that life, already grindingly precarious and unpredictable for Palestinians, is going to get much worse in the coming months and years.
In response to Israel’s further decline to the far-right, as evidenced in November’s elections, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an organisation from the usually overly-cautious humanitarian and development sphere, behaved admirably and took a public stand. The NRC’s Secretary General publicly stated on the 2nd November that ‘the vicious cycle of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory will not stop unless Israel ends its occupation.’ He empathised with the Palestinians, whom he noted have had ‘no respite’, before warning that given the nature of the new Israeli government, further oppression is likely. The NRC’s actions glow like a candle against a pitch-black background of organisational and business acquiescence, apathy, and cowardice. Too few organisations and businesses have taken a stand for Palestinians, despite the increasing trend of such bodies claiming to be ethically-oriented. The NRC’s statement will hopefully set a precedent for others to follow suit, but much more action is also urgently needed.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a Palestinian-led movement for ‘freedom, justice, and equality’ that has been working hard to raise awareness and encourage both individuals and organisations / groups to take substantive, affirmative action for decades. BDS campaigns have proved successful in the past, most notably in helping to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. The situation in Palestine is no more complicated than that which black South Africans endured from the 1940s to the early 1990s, and so, given the rapid slide of Israel to the far-right, BDS is more important now than ever.
Too many so-called ethical businesses and organisations have failed to engage with the BDS campaign for various reasons including fear of (baselessly) being accused of anti-semitism; fear of being perceived as too controversial by donors or clients; unwillingness to opt for potentially more expensive alternative products to those made in Israel, which, heaven-forbid, would impact their profit margins; or simply a misguided desire to remain neutral. Where organisations and businesses which present themselves as having an ethical ethos do not engage with BDS, they fail to adhere to their own purported values, but they also do a great disservice to the Palestinians, for whom nothing will change for the better without significant international support. We must be under no illusion though – pushing for BDS with employers, universities, and colleges can be a difficult conversation to have.
A recent employer – an organisation who make a great deal of noise about how ethics is the centre of their whole operation – took great offence when I asked that the existing human resources platform Monday.com be replaced with one that is not based in Israel, and thus does not fund occupation and all the violence it entails. The conversation did not go well, as those who are asked to put their money where their mouth is often respond with defensiveness, derision, or even anger. After my departure, an email was sent from the Directors to remaining staff which stated that the decision to use Monday.com
‘is not only an ethical but also a pragmatic choice, because we have nothing to hide… it is for this reason and not to share information on your leave days with the Mossad, that we decided to acquire the best collaborative software on the market (Hi Bob and Monday).’
I am sharing this anecdote for two reasons. The first is to illustrate that many organisations and businesses will indeed be resistant to joining the BDS movement because their preference is to quietly go about placing profit before people. The Palestinian people, to be precise. The dismissive reduction of my concern coupled with the belittling of the BDS movement will likely be just one script variation of a commonly-themed response. The unfortunate reality is that within a capitalist hegemonic environment, ethics sells, but BDS does not.
Together, we can change that. By demanding that our employers, organisations, universities, and businesses more generally engage in BDS, we can shift popular opinion, narratives, and standards. If organisations and businesses are going to attempt to attract business based upon grand claims of ethical piety, we must demand that they uphold their values, no matter how complicated, how potentially uncomfortable, and regardless of any dent in profit. By insisting upon consistency in terms of international response to apartheid and what ethics mean in terms of business, we can push the bar higher.
Israel’s new government is the most far-right the country has ever had. The implications of this for Palestinians will be terrible; they will pay a far higher price than any CEOs or Directors ever will if they take a stand. And what does BDS aim to achieve? Merely Israel’s compliance with international law – BDS should be a no-brainer.
Featured image “Handala” by pockets23 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
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