No justice no (chick) peas: the local campaign to boycott Israeli goods
At the 2001 NGO forum against racism in Durban South Africa, 3,000 international organizations signed on to Article 425 advocating “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.” In July 2005, 171 members of Palestinian Civil Society—including political parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations—created the global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, calling for "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights" for Occupied Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinian refugees abroad.
To explain how it came to this involves detailing over 60 years of brutal violations of international law. Such acts have included the expulsion of nearly an entire population and the systematic economic, political, and cultural subjugation of those remaining. While this history is hotly debated, the reality of over 7.4 million refugees and internally displaced people speaks for itself.
It was this reality that prompted over 3,000 NGOs and 171 Palestinian organizations to call for BDS, demanding the boycott of all Israeli products and institutions including cultural and academic, as well as the divestment from and sanctions of the Israeli state. And it is in response to this call that BDS Philly was formed by a coalition of local activists working on issues of justice in Israel-Palestine and their allies. Together they are embarking on a consumer boycott campaign targeting both Sabra and Tribe hummus under the slogan “No Justice No (Chick) Peas!” The official launch date for the campaign is October 21, 2010.
Life in Palestine
The fabric of day-to-day life in the West Bank and Gaza is confined by the will of the Israeli state. The West Bank has been occupied since 1967, and while Israel technically “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005, it has been under siege since. In these regions the blistering economic conditions were not precipitated, as elsewhere, by the global financial crisis, but rather by a deliberately devised, finely tuned apparatus instituted by the Israeli government. Israel decides what is allowed in and out of the West Bank and Gaza, thereby crippling access to foreign markets and, more so in Gaza, to adequate food and medical supplies.
Israel controls other basic services, such as access to water for drinking and irrigation. After over 40 years of military occupation, Israel has yet to build advanced wastewater treatment plants. Sources of fresh water that used to be public have long since been staked out by private Israeli water companies and sold back to Palestinians at rates they can barely afford for themselves let alone their crops. As a result, poverty and unemployment continue to grip the West Bank and Gaza, where farming was once a sustainable industry. Furthermore, Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall annex much of the most arable land, and Israeli goods flood Palestinian markets further damaging the already crippled manufacturing sector.
At its will, the Israeli government can detain, torture, and kill Palestinians with impunity. According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, “Israel holds hundreds of Palestinians for months and years under administrative orders, without prosecuting them” a policy constituting a “grave infringement of human rights, in breach of international humanitarian law.” Palestinians are routinely killed, struck with bombs, automatic weapons, knives, and tear gas canisters, at the hands of Israeli soldiers as well as by settlers living in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Within the state of Israel, where about 20% of the population is indigenous, Palestinians are systematically discriminated against through laws favoring their Jewish counterparts. Economic, educational, political, and social inequalities are stark: The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education notes that the Israeli government spends an average of $192 per year on each Arab student compared to $1,100 per Jewish student. Arab workers earn 29% less than Jewish workers, and when it comes to land ownership, the laws are stacked: Arab-Israelis continue to see their historic homes confiscated in the name of the settler movement, one that only continues to pick up speed.
Of over 3 million Palestinians living as refugees abroad, more than 45% experience food insecurities. With many living in refugee camps in countries neighboring Israel, Palestinian refugees have no actual citizenship and are thereby unable to reap the benefits of statehood—international mobility, protection of local laws and court systems, etc. Though originally from what is now Israel, the Israeli government denies these refugees the right to return to their homeland, or to reunite with their families.
The aforementioned realities of Palestinian life paint only a partial picture of Israel’s human rights abuses, all of which coalesce to produce the overwhelming need for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. When governments fail, ordinary citizens must act.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
In response to the blatant violations of international law committed by Israel against Palestinians, the BDS movement seeks to delegitimize these policies in support of a just resolution. The BDS movement is a nonviolent affront to a government created and sustained through violence
The BDS movement is not the first tactic, but rather the most recent in a string of tactics aimed at putting an end to Israel’s human rights violations. Appeals by the international community, such as hundreds of United Nations’ resolutions calling on the state of Israel to abide by international law, have failed to redirect Israel’s agenda. Rather, the state of Israel is more steadfast than ever in its policies against Palestinians. Publicly, Israeli politicians deny or play-down the realities of Palestinian life. When asked if Israel could show more concern for the problems of the Palestinian people in Gaza, prominent Israeli politician Tzipi Livni replied, “I know that there is no humanitarian crisis.” Meanwhile, local and international peace activists are being stifled, such as peaceful protesters in the West Bank and international activists on aid missions to Gaza.
But the BDS movement is making headway. Around the world, activists and organizations are responding to the call by Palestinian civil society to get Israel to “end its occupation and colonization of Arab lands, dismantle the Wall; recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”
Recent hallmarks of the global BDS movement include: Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods; Oakland, California, Swedish, Norwegian ad South African dockworkers refusal to dock and unload Israeli ships, and the refusal of celebrities and musicians such as Gil Scott Heron, the Pixies, Meg Ryan, Dustin Hoffman, and Santana to appear in Israel. In addition, this year the European Union ruled that products from Israeli settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not eligible for the trade benefits with European Union, and in 2009 Britain blocked the sale of spare parts for Israel’s fleet of missile gunships because they were used in the 2009 bombing of Gaza, revoking five of Israel’s arms licenses with the UK.
Why Boycott Sabra and Tribe?
Sabra and Tribe are two hummus companies with local distribution that both subsidize the Israeli government’s abusive policies against Palestinians. Both companies are subsidiaries of large Israeli corporations: Sabra operates under the Strauss Group and Tribe under Osem. Both the Strauss Group and Osem have ties to the Israeli government and military, with the Strauss group funding a brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and Osem supporting the Jewish National Fund (JNF in its present destruction of Bedoin villages in the Negev desert.
The Strauss Group and Osem are proud of these dealings. On its website, the Strauss group boasts of its 30-year support for the IDF’s Golani Brigade and Givati platoon, groups responsible for carrying out violations of international law. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, the Golani brigade is responsible for “abuse of Palestinians.” Breaking the Silence, a group composed of ex-Israeli soldiers, has documented numerous cases of IDF abuses, including a December 2005 incident in which a Golani Brigade officer was convicted of beating a Palestinian detainee and threatening to dismember him.
Osem partners with the JNF, an Israeli pseudo-governmental organization which has been responsible for illegal land acquisition and appropriation within Israel’s borders, as well as a tree planting campaign to cover up the remnants of Palestinian heritage within Israel. According to Hazem Jamjoum, the communications officer for the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Israeli government has “systematically subcontracted the JNF for the implementation of demographically engineering the land in [Israel].”
Along with supplying aid to the Israeli military and para-governmental organizations, both companies annually take part in a conference aimed at delineating Israeli domestic and foreign policies. Hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy as well as the Laudner School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, the Herzliya Conference conducts research and publishes on the subjects of "Israel's Foreign Relations", "Israel and the Arab World", "Patriotism and National Strength", "Radical Islam", and "Deterrence".
Participants of the Herzliya Conference include dozens of government representatives and advisors, as well as prominent members of the IDF. According to the hosts, "The annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security, which has become a key event for Israel’s political, military, intelligence, economic, and social leadership, is considered the center stage for the articulation of national policy."
With hands in both the Israeli government and military, Sabra and Tribe hummus are prime targets for a local BDS campaign.
Critics of the BDS movement have labeled it a thinly veiled attempt to procure Israel’s demise. Other critics worry that the BDS movement will hurt Israeli workers, depriving innocent people of their livelihoods. But in reality, the BDS movement is intended to hold Israel accountable to the very international laws that it has already signed on to. In no way is the BDS movement an attack on Israel’s citizenry, but rather the policies of its government.
With regards to Israeli workers, it is true that workers who manufacture goods for export may be adversely affected, but by and large these workers are themselves operating under a system of slave labor within the Israeli state. Industries that had previously employed Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank—such as construction, agriculture, and elderly care—are now filled with systematically exploited migrant workers from Southeast Asia. These workers, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, are forced to pay exorbitant fees, are overworked, denied wages and deported at will.
Rather than Israeli workers, what will suffer most from BDS are the policies behind Israel’s international-law violations. In the end, Israeli and Palestinian workers alike will benefit, as Israel aligns itself with justice and international investment flocks back in their direction.
The Philly Connection
Each year, the state of Pennsylvania sends roughly 126 million dollars in federal tax revenue to the state of Israel, primarily in the form of military equipment. As Pennsylvanians, our tax dollars go towards checkpoints in the West Bank, bulldozers in East Jerusalem, and bombs in Gaza. While not in our name, what the state of Israel does is subsidized by us. Not only could our dollars be put to better use at home—towards public schools, libraries and healthcare—what they are currently funding constitutes numerous violations of international humanitarian law.
What You Can Do
While we may not as easily be able to redirect federal funding, we can redirect our consumer behavior and make a statement with our wallets. In persuading local businesses to de-shelve Israeli products we are telling Washington and the world that we will not support these crimes.
In this campaign, making a difference is as simple as buying hummus from a company other than Sabra or Tribe, or making your own (see below). If a store stocks Sabra or Tribe, ask the manager to deshelve. Together we can hold Israel to account, one chickpea at a time.
No Justice, No (chick) peas! Hummus Recipe
By Kate Zaidan
- 2 c. cooked chickpeas?
- 1/4 c. lemon juice ?
- 3 cloves garlic?1 cup tahini (adjusted to taste, but you want it creamy) ?
- salt to taste
- dash cumin
Blend in food processor until creamy. Enjoy!