Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – Surgery with a Hammer

There is an organized international movement in support of Palestinian rights that goes under the moniker of BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions).

There is a great deal to be said in support of the goals of the movement, at least a moderate interpretation of those goals.

In the struggle for control for the land that is now Israel, Palestinian civilians have gotten the short end of the stick. Many were intentionally and unintentionally dispossessed of their homes in 1948, and those that Palestinians that have no other option (many) have lived in poverty in overt refugee camps and ghettos since. (How that continues is a morally difficult question, morally difficult for what it implies about Israeli policies, morally difficult for what it implies about Arab states that continue to deny resident Palestinians citizenship. Its also morally difficult for many historical choices by various Palestinian leadership.)

Those that were dispossessed were not afforded the right to return to land that they resided on following the 1947-49 war(s), were not permitted to contest title for abandoned land in Israeli courts, and land that had been vacant for  only two-three years was declared “abandoned” and expropriated by the Israeli state.

The events of 1947-49 and 50-51 institutionalization are described by Palestinians as the “nakba” (the catastrophe).

To make things worse, the children and grandchildren of the refugees continue to have no state, no self-governance, no sovereign borders. Israel continues to incrementally expropriate land, and continues to control the use of the land. In that sense, most Palestinians that I’ve spoken to describe the nakba as continuing, not historical, but present.

The goals of the BDS movement (stated in moderate terms) are:

1. End of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (no military presence, sovereign borders, self-governance)

2. Equal rights for Palestinians within Israel (conforming to democratic standards of equal due process under the law)

3. Right of return (or compensation) for forced takings of land, in conformity with the rule of law.

The moderately stated form of the demands of BDS, resulting in a two-state solution at the green line, with compensation to perfect title to all contested lands, even the right of return to any born within sovereign Israel,  makes sense.

It results in an “enough” Israel, sovereign, universally accepted internationally, in a state of relative peace.

Unfortunately, the actual goals of the BDS movement are NOT those moderate affirmations of law, but also stated in terms that functionally and overtly deny Israel’s right to exist, to self-govern.

For example, the term “occupation” is periodically used to refer to land in Israel itself, not only the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The term “equal rights for Palestinians within Israel” is periodically used to deny the right of Israel to establish immigration policies, particularly its invitation for “right of return” for all Jews to expedited citizenship to Israel.

Finally, and most importantly, the “Palestinian right of return” is used in a maximalist sense to describe the right of any descendant of any Palestinian anywhere (Israel, West Bank, East Bank) to live anywhere in “historic” Palestine.

Many western and Jewish western advocates of BDS also advocate for the adoption of a single/bi-national state. The single state is presented as a benevolent approach (relative to more punitive Palestinian declarations that Israeli Jews are interlopers and should go back where they came from).

The advocacy for the combination of single-state and BDS, amounts to urging a revolution, for the dissolution of Israel as Israel.

It may be desirable. If the majority of Israelis and of Palestinians think of themselves as one nation, AND they commit to permanently affording all equal rights in every inch of the new nation, AND they preserve the religious access to shrines, AND they construct a full functioning parliamentary democracy, then it may be a new democracy in more of the Middle East than currently exists.

But, it is only desirable if it is consented, if the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians are persuaded that it is better to to live in a single state than two, that a single state more fully optimizes the reality of self-governance, and with confident safety for citizens.

I don’t see it. There are large minorities in each community that regard the other as interloper, that think of their community as entitled to control the land, and are willing to enforce their claims violently (not through courts). If those minorities were incidental, then they would not consider terror or revolution, but the minorities are large, powerful, loud, violent, terrorizing (both Palestinian/Arab/Islamic and some Zionist/Jewish)

The application of BDS, especially in its Palestinian nationalist form, confirms to Zionist Israelis that they cannot relinquish their self-governance. The threat itself conveys the need.

In practice, only a “successful” BDS campaign, comprising a great deal of international force and isolation, could possibly convince Israelis to renounce their Zionist vision.

Ironically, that execution of non-violent force, functionally an ethnically defined shunning, instead convinces Israelis of the necessity for a Jewish haven from ethnically defined shunning. Although stated as an application of democratic principles, successful BDS ends up a fascism in the name of affirming democracy.

Ironically, the quiet, reconciliation approach between two national states that become good neighbors to good neighbors, might morph over time first to relaxed borders even open borders, then trade federation, then possibly federal government.

The BDS/single-state “success” is unlikely in a short surgical period. More likely it would take a very long time to “succeed”, and resort to abusive methods of dissent, resembling a blunt and destructive hammer, more than a concise minimally harming surgical knife.

Surgery results in no pain in a reasonably short period of time. Hammer shots to the head also results in no pain. One resulting in no pain from health restored . The other resulting in no pain from unconsciousness or death.

I very much hope that the idealist proponents of BDS do have some standards of “I will not go that far.” I’m not sure if that is the case though.

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6 Responses to Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – Surgery with a Hammer

  1. Larry says:

    This is ancient history, but let’s revisit it.

    The United Nations resolution 181, of November 1947 provided the legal basis for two states in the part of Palestine that was not the Arab state of Jordan. One was to be a Jewish state, it’s residents call Israel. The other an Arab state.

    The Arab state never got off the ground. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq invaded Palestine. The Jews fought back. Jordan took control of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which were supposed to be “corpus separatum,” under U.N. jurisdiction. Jordan also took control of part of what was supposed to have been the West Bank part of the Arab state. Similarly Egypt took control of part of Gaza, and Israel took some territory. Here’s is a map of the UN Partition plan. <a href=";, title="UN Partition Plan map"

    I think it would be wise to revisit the plan and respect what might be called the facts on the ground, and for the Palestinians to define one or two states in Gaza and the West Bank. (One or two because Hamas is the local governing authority in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority is the governing authority of the West Bank.) These would have to recognize Israel – which means no bombing of Sderot or other Israeli territory from Gaza, no bombing of northern Israeli territory from Hezbollah areas of Lebanon, no bombings from the West Bank.

    • There is only sporadic shelling occurring now from anywhere, and none identified from Hamas, any organization associated with Fatah, nor even Hezbollah.

      A couple rockets were fired by Islamic Jihad people in the last couple weeks, but they are few and far between.

      The steps to a peace deal are:
      1. Articulation of a proposal
      2. Passage by legislatures
      3. Ratification by plebiscite

      My impression was that Israel and Fatah/PA could have concluded articulating a proposal, that Fatah was willing, but in practice Israel was not.

      I think of that as a great tragedy, a great negligence.

      After a proposal was submitted for ratification, it would have been up to the people themselves whether they wanted continual war or a peace that involved large compromises. My sense is that people would have preferred the peace, Israelis and Palestinians alike, and that in that setting the fanatics on both sides would lose their hook.

      It didn’t happen.

      MANY are frustrated that it didn’t happen. Many are frustrated that the US has not pressed for it to happen beyond quiet recommendation.

      Some are happy it didn’t happen. Its a quandry.

      Don’t get too wrapped up in this. Its loaded with painful and some humorous ironies and confusions.

  2. yesspam says:

    Your statements about the BDS movement are nonsense. And I notice that you provide no evidence to back up your claims. The reason that BDS is so successful is precisely because it is so moderate.

  3. Lea Park says:

    “Finally, and most importantly, the ‘Palestinian right of return’ is used in a maximalist sense to describe the right of any descendant of any Palestinian anywhere (Israel, West Bank, East Bank) to live anywhere in “historic” Palestine.”

    Richard, I followed link from Mondoweis to here. Very clear essay. Thank you.

    A couple of comments: I think Omar B. is asking for Palestinian Right of Return that mirrors the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel. I think that’s reasonable, as a starting point for negotiations. Maybe both sides will have to agree to (re)define Right of Return in a way that honors the Holocaust, the Nakba, and their mutual history post-48.

    For example, can Palestinians really accept another influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants into Israel, as happened in the 1990’s when Russians whose Jewish ancestry, must less identification, was often marginal at best?

    With respect to sovereignty and consent:
    I’ve heard Jeff Halpers (ICAHD) say, as far back as 2006, that both peoples need separate sovereignty, that could in time develop into confederation, much as you describe. And I believe Hamas, Fatah, and Israel said all that any political solution must be submitted to referendum. Again, whatever people may want secretly in their hearts, all are acknowledging that no solution can be imposed from the top, even by an elected government.

    I myself now despair of a conventional 2-state solution. Having just come back from another trip to the area, and seeing Israeli settlements on every hilltop in the West Bank, and considering that some of these are now raising a second generation of folks for whom this is “home”– I can’t see untangling these populations. (I was also made aware recently that in 2010 a wall was built in the Israeli city of Lod, separating Arab-Israeli from Jewish-Israeli citizens.)

    So maybe that “one-state”, or confederation, is a-borning right now… in the civil rights struggle within Israel and the human rights struggle in Gaza and the West Bank, which are merging at the grass-roots level.

  4. Lea Park says:

    With regard to Right of Return, Citizenship, need for Protection,
    Jon Dillingham’s interview with Jonathan Cook is important:

    It seems clear that Israel itself is, in fact, a pluralistic society. But its majority is subject to a different set of citizenship laws than its non-Jewish minorities. Unless that is changed, the society will fracture further. A single set of fundamental laws for everyone would form the bedrock of the transition to a non-militarized society, a truly secure homeland for Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians alike, neither of whom will settle for anything less.

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