Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) and Israel’s Battle for Legitimacy

BDS and Israel’s Battle for Legitimacy

Do we want the rule of jungle to override the Declarations of Human Rights?

By Samah Sabawi

(Excerpts from a speech presented at the first National BDS Conference in Australia October 2010.)

Israeli propagandists attacking the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement often claim that pro-Palestinian activists hide behind words like International Humanitarian Law to promote a hidden agenda aimed at demonizing and deligitmizing Israel. But there is no hidden agenda. We are explicit and clear in what we say and what we call for. We don’t hide behind International Humanitarian Law we stand by it. This is precisely why Israeli propagandists have good reason to worry. Israel knows that its fight to legitimize its behavior cannot be won for as long as the BDS movement continues to expose its violations of IHL. So it is pushing back with its army of lawyers and experts in an effort to exonerate itself of accountability, redefine the rules of IHL and undermine international bodies and institutions. If Israel succeeds, Palestinians will not be the only ones to suffer. The implications of legitimizing Israel’s behavior will have far reaching affects on all citizens of this globe.

In calling on Israel to comply with its obligations under IHL, the BDS movement highlights the strength of the Palestinian cause. Palestinians don’t need to negotiate for rights they are already entitled to, they need to demand these rights. The right of return, the right to citizenship, the right to equality, the right to self determination, the right to live free from occupation, the right to education, the right to freedom of movement, the right to security the right to fair trials etc, these are all non-negotiable human rights Palestinians are already entitled to under IHL.

BDS activists and Palestinian solidarity groups have taken note of that, but we have to be aware that time is precious and we must move fast. Right now, Israel is fighting a ferocious battle, headed by its best lawyers, military experts, politicians and academics to redefine the rule of law. This is especially dangerous because of the close ties they share with countries fighting ‘the war on terror’ such as Canada, Australia, the US, Britain and others who have a vested interest in rolling back international law and eliminating any protection their non-state foes and the civilians they kill maybe entitled to.

Jeff Helper wrote about this in his article The Second Battle of Gaza: Israel’s Undermining of International Law where he identified some of the leading Israeli figures who feature prominently in this campaign. One of them is Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy and “practical ethics” at Tel Aviv University who wrote in Haaretz in 2009 “We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad…What we are doing is becoming the law”.

Another prominent Israeli figure involved in this campaign is former head of Israel’s International Law Division in the Military Advocate General’s office, Daniel Reisner who told Yotam Feldman of Haaretz “International law develops through its violation… an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries”. Reisner gave an example of how Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations was initially viewed by most governments and international bodies as illegal; but now it is “in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”

We see the laws changing in many western democracies as we adopt new ways of dealing with alleged ‘terror’ suspects and anti-war protestors. Recent examples include the FBI raids of homes of anti-war activists in the US, the Canadian Police brutalizing citizens during the G20 protests in Toronto and the WikiLeaks evidence of war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan. Our governments are violating our civil rights, and the rights of the civilians in the countries where they are waging war. Our world is changing. Kasher and the Israeli military establishment know this. The more often so called western democracies apply principles that originated in Israel in places like Afghanistan and Iraq as well as domestically under the cover of a ‘war on terror’ the more chance there is that these new principles will become valuable parts of IHL.

Today, Israel stands in violation of 65 UN Resolutions on issues related to Palestinians refugees, Jerusalem, its borders, its assaults on its neighbors; its violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, its building of illegal colonies and its refusal to abide by the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

As the definition of ‘terror’ stretches, and as the ‘war on terror’ spreads Israel’s campaign to undermine IHL will have a terrible impact on the people of the world. We need these laws to protect us. They are not just some abstract notion that affects someone else in a faraway country. These are laws that touch our lives as civilians everywhere on this planet.

Make no mistake about it, oppression spreads. Powerful states are only too happy to allow Israel to redefine the rules of engagement so they too can practice impunity in their own wars. We the people of the world will be left to pay the heavy price. Do we want to be deprived protection as civilians in times of war? Do we want to be denied fair trials? Do we want to be robbed of our civil liberties? Do we want the rule of jungle to override the Universal Declarations of Human Rights? Do we want to legitimize Israel’s behavior? Today the BDS campaign is not only at the forefront of the battle for Palestinian rights, it is at the forefront of standing up for the rule of International Humanitarian Law.

– Samah Sabawi is a writer playwright and poet. She was born in Gaza and is currently residing in Melbourne Australia.

One thought on “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) and Israel’s Battle for Legitimacy

  1. loewdabulla says:

    “Apartheid Israel:” An Arab Muslim soldier in the IDF
    http://www.zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2010/10/21/apartheid-israel-an-arab-muslim-soldier-in-the-idf/
    Oct 21, 2010
    A staple lie of the “Apartheid Israel” myth makers is that Israeli Arabs or Muslims do not serve in the IDF, and therefore are not admitted to Israeli society. This is a particularly diabolical sort of lie, since it takes advantage of a feature of Israeli democracy. Military service is voluntary for Israeli Arabs, so that nobody would be forced to fight against their own kin. Many Israeli Arabs and Muslims serve in the IDF. Many Israeli Arabs do not serve because they hate the state. Nonetheless, they are not prosecuted. If those who do not serve feel that they are discriminated against because they did not serve, it is their own responsibility. Israeli Arabs have a radical political leadership that does not represent their interests, and calls on the Palestinian authority to halt peace negotiations with Israel, for example.

    Democracy is a participatory sport. It is difficult to maintain democracy if a portion of the citizens do not recognize the state. A large percentage of Israeli Arabs quietly vote for Zionist parties, go to the army and do all the things that are expected of citizens.

    Israel’s Druze citizens serve in the IDF, and many have served with distinction and bravery. Bedouin are the original Arabs and of course they are Muslims, Israeli Bedouin also serve in the IDF, and Bedouin enlistment has increased markedly in recent years. Ismail Khaldi is one of many Israeli Bedouin who served in the IDF, and Hassan Ka’bia reached the rank of Lt.-Col. Both now work in the Israeli foreign service (See also: Druze and Bedouin in the IDF).

    Israel is also proud of its women combat soldiers and of its first Arab woman combat soldier, Eleanor Joseph.

    Nonetheless, “everyone knows” that Israel is an apartheid country, and that Arabs do not serve in the IDF. They did not find this out from al-Jazeera or the al-Qaeda journal Insight, but in the most respected and supposedly respectable journals. Israel-bashing has become fashionable and profitable. Facts do not matter. The Washington Post, for example, has declared that Arabs do not serve in the IDF. They refused to be persuaded otherwise, even after they were sent a photo of Christian Arab IDF soldiers celebrating Christmas (See: Washington Post: Unbearable lightness of lying about Israel).

    The obsession of foreign media with the lie that Israeli Arabs do not serve in the IDF might account for the counter obsession of Israeli media in recent years, to report about every Arab or Muslim who serves in the IDF.

    This story of Hisham abu Varia, an Arab Muslim IDF officer adds to what we already know, but it should not be surprising by now. Hisham abu Varia is a bit unusual because he comes from a town in the north. The story also exposes the enormous social pressure in Israeli Arab and in Muslim society against integration and service in the IDF. After this story reached Muslim Indonesia, an Indonesian journal asked “brother” Hisham Abu Varia what had gotten into his head. They cannot understand the concept that in a democracy, citizens do their duty.

    Israel does not practice apartheid against Israeli Arabs and Muslims. Muslims and Arabs have been practicing apartheid against Jews. It is part of an old tradition. (See: Arab Jews)

    Hat tip: Pro Israel Bay bloggers: “You must give back to the country you live off” Second Lieutenant Hisham Abu Varia.

    Everyone should read the whole story, not least those who are sure that all Muslims are hate-filled terrorists. Remember: Hisham abu Varia is a Muslim:

    …Nothing appears unusual with the officer seated in the car on the way to Sakhnin. No one would guess that the redheaded man, a second lieutenant, is not your average soldier. Nothing can disclose the fact that Hisham Abu Varia is a Muslim and that we’re driving to his hometown.

    “Isn’t it a problem for you to enter the city with your uniform?,” I ask him, as we near the city’s entrance.

    On the last Land Day, 60,000 people attended a mass rally here and waved flags of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and assassinated commander Imad Mughniyeh.

    “I come in here with my uniform and weapon and they respect me,” he answers. “I’m only afraid during Land Day and don’t do it. In my neighborhood, Wadi Safa, each person lives his life and has his own opinions. They can’t bear extremists.”Hisham Abu Varia was born 26 years ago to Khaled, a building contractor and Hania, a housewife – parents to 14 children. At the age of 10 he was already busy doing manual work, from fruit picking to construction work. After high school he worked for two years installing roofs. He gave his earnings to his parents who paid for his brother’s medicine studies in Russia.

    “I didn’t really have a childhood,” he says, not the least bit sentimental. “Now I’m making up for it. I allow myself to have fun.”

    The decision to join the army started as a child’s impulse. One of his brothers-in-law had been taking him to IDF ceremonies. Abu Varia loved looking at the soldiers standing neatly in rows and after seeing the tank exhibition in Rahat he decided he wanted to become part of the Israel Defense Forces. He was 23 at the time and worked as a teacher.

    Hisham was also inspired by one of his older brothers – the first of the family to join the army and among the few Arab-Israelis to complete three years of service. “He was a role model to me and many others because of his integrity and conviction to do what he thought was right. A brave man not influenced by other people’s opinions.” Sadly, Hisham’s brother died of a sudden heart attack a year ago.

    At his home we are greeted by Hisham’s father and one of his brothers. The mother, a diabetic who is still mourning the loss of her son, got out of bed to shake our hands as we entered the living room. On the room’s walls are pictures of the family and a hand-made embroidery showcasing the 99 names of Allah in gold letters.

    ‘Arabs influenced by radicals’
    “The army is the entry pass into the Israeli society,” Hisham explains. “The Arab sector thinks it’s second rate here, but to get privileges one has to give and not just receive. The state protects its citizens even if they don’t serve – my parents live off income support. You must contribute to the country you live off. What other country would have an Arab Knesset member, who is being paid by the state, promoting the interests of the Islamic movement and screwing the promotion of the sector it is supposed to represent?”

    Many people think the State discriminates against the Arabs.

    “The Arab sector is like a herd. It doesn’t think by itself and is affected by various radical movements. Most youngsters don’t have anything to do with themselves. They run around the streets, wasting their time and that’s only if they finished school. Service in the army is educating, it gives you structure, order – that’s what young people are missing here.”

    When I ask how his parents responded to his choice, Hisham’s father Khaled replies: “I pushed him to do it,” but Hisham corrects: “My father had reservations in the beginning, but I knew what I wanted. Most Arab enlisters sign up not in order to serve but because they are fed up with their lives. They have no clue what an army is,” he says and notes most drop out. “They didn’t expect it to be hard or either couldn’t handle the peer pressure.”

    Did you get harsh responses outside the family?

    “Not too many. Swears here and there, but mostly from kids. People here accept it and even ask my dad how to talk their kids into enlisting.”

    But while Hisham is being photographed his brother tells a different story. “It wasn’t easy for him. He was very close to dropping out six months into it. His best friends cut contact with him and the girl he wanted to marry left him,” he says and adds he wasn’t in favor of his brother’s choice. However, when Hisham decided that’s what he wanted, his brother stood by him. “A person must follow his heart,” he says. He then becomes quiet, smoking his cigarette. “Say, why don’t you do a story about our problems – how we live here, our difficulties, our deprivation?”

    ‘I Always wanted to learn Hebrew.’ Hisham in Sakhnin

    After the shoot is over Hisham says that the few Arabs who join the army take off their uniform before they enter the city. “I was also afraid at first. The Arab sector has a lot of potential in terms of enlistment but there are two obstacles: The Islamic movement and the social obstacle, the pressure from the environment. I also get looks in the street.

    “Three of my best friends, who went through school with me, turned their backs on me. It was too hard to bear. If the army made the whole sector enlist, many would do it, if not all.”

    Hisham’s parents set two conditions. “That if I join the army I won’t quit and that first of all I get my BA. So I went to study what you Jews don’t study and don’t know – Hebrew language,” he says laughing. “And Middle Eastern studies.”

    Why Hebrew of all languages?

    “Since the age of six I wanted to learn the language. I love it. I also know Aramaic,” he adds. “During officers’ course we were sent to guard communities in Shvut Rachel and were invited to take part in a Passover seder. The hosts had no idea of my background and there I was sitting at the table reading from the haggadah. When they realized who I was they stood up and applauded me.”

    This population is very hostile to the Arab sector.

    “They don’t hate the Arab-Israelis but those outside Israel who want to do harm. In any case I was brought up to respect any place I am a guest in. I came there for a military assignment and I performed it to the best of my ability.”

    And how did the soldiers welcome you?

    “Most of my company consisted of religious guys. At first they thought I was a Druze, and when I said I was from Sakhnin they were shocked and asked me what I was doing there.”

    What did you say?

    “That it was my right and that I was capable. I also gave a whole lecture about factions within Judaism. I studied up on the Hassidic movement and haredim for an entire week. It was very interesting. I got an honorary notation.
    ‘Life altering visit’.

    Recently Hisham returned from a visit to Poland, where he toured the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. He became the first Arab-Israeli to visit Poland as part of an IDF program.

    “I knew the word Holocaust, I knew that the Nazis murdered Jews but nothing more than that,” he admits. “In Majdanek there was a moment I thought that all those involved in the Jewish-Arab conflict should come here to see what was done to the Jewish people and leave them alone.”

    In Birkenau, he says, he asked to pray in Arabic. “I had chills all over my body. I asked God to have mercy on all the victims. I didn’t expect what I saw there. An oven which was loaded with two men and a woman, because the woman had more fat, making it burn better.

    Crematorium in Auschwitz (Photo: AP)

    “I kept asking myself where was everyone? Where was the United States, the Arab countries? If the Germans had won the Arabs would have been murdered as well. I saw the photos of the victims and felt part of them. There was a Holocaust survivor with us who showed us where she was raped, where all her family had been murdered before her very eyes. She cried and we cried with her. It was a life altering visit.”

    Later in the day we visit Hisham’s close friend Ghaleb, owner of the peace restaurant in Sakhnin. “It’s natural in the sector that if someone goes to the army or the police he is viewed as a traitor,” he explains. “They might not tell it to your face but that’s what they feel.”

    Before we part ways, I ask Hisham about his plans for the future. “To reach the highest rank I can,” he answers without hesitation, “and the get my masters in anthropology. It’s because of the service. In the army everyone is equal, but there is no other place that gathers such different people with such different cultural backgrounds who still manage to live together. That’s what interests me the most.”

What do you think about this article?