The decision by the board of the Olympia Food Coop to not buy Israeli made goods and boycott them is a positive and important contribution towards ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is part of a global grassroots boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure the United States and Israel to fundamentally change their policies. I strongly support this courageous and important decision made by consensus by the Olympia Food Coop board on July, 15th, 2010.
Since, 1967, when Israel seized and occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Israel has continued to expand colonial settlements of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, depriving Palestinians of more and more of their land as well as subjecting them to military occupation. In Gaza, although Israel withdrew their settlements in 2005, they have since 2006, blockaded Gaza by sea, air and land. This blockade has made it impossible for most of the 1.4 million people in Gaza to meet their daily needs. On December 27th, 2008, Israel invaded Gaza, killing over 1400 residents there and further devastating the land and infrastructure. Massive war crimes were committed by Israel. The Israel destruction was totally disproportionate to any attacks from Gaza against Israel. This was documented in the U.N. report commonly referred to as the Goldstone report. This May 31st, 2010, the Israeli military (IDF) brutally attacked the Gaza peace flotilla, which were bringing food and humanitarian aid to Gaza. The IDF killed nine people on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.
Israel with U.S. support has continued to take Palestinian land, humiliate and oppress Palestinian people and refuse to accept a fully functioning and independent Palestinian society and state. Israel has served U.S. imperialist needs in the Middle East by attacking movements and governments, e.g., Egypt under President Nasser, who have tried to assert independence from U.S. domination.
Israel depends on U.S. military support for its consistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights. Just as the apartheid government in South Africa felt free to oppress the black majority as long as it had U.S. support, so does the Israeli government consider itself “free” to act with impunity. The strength and potential of the BDS movement, particularly in the United States is that it will force U.S. policy in the Middle East to become increasingly exposed and understood by the population here, and to undermine U.S. supported Israeli aggression.
The boycott of Israeli goods by the Olympia Food Coop is a step towards shaking the self-confidence of the Israeli elites and population that they can act with impunity and will always be supported by the United States. Hopefully, these boycotts will spread to other food coops, grocery stores and other places where Israeli goods are sold. Hopefully we will also develop successful organized boycotts against U.S. companies such as Motorola who are integrally involved in supporting and profiting from the Israeli occupation. The developing movement to pressure institutions such as the TIAA-CREF Pension fund and U.S. universities to sell their holdings in Israeli companies and perhaps, even more importantly, complicit U.S. companies can play a major role in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
For this movement to be successful, we need to have a long run strategy that builds grassroots power and popular understanding about Israel, and U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. There are no shortcuts. That has been one weakness of the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. We are justifiably, so outraged by what Israel does against Palestinians that we do not methodically and effectively and sustainably counter the pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian stance of the majority of the population in the United States. It will be a long struggle but can be successful.
There is a growing openness to a new and different narrative. The recent Israeli aggressions create some real opportunities to change popular understanding about the justness of the Palestinian cause, and in the longer run, U.S. policy. The boycott of Israeli goods by the Olympia Food Coop and the organized reaction against this decision gives us a real opportunity to explain the history of the struggle in Palestine-Israel, and the justness of the Palestinian cause.
These are some of the arguments I have been trying to deal with in supporting Palestine and the related food coop boycott of Israeli goods.
1. Israel is just defending itself by its military attacks in the West Bank and Gaza, e.g. Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 because of Palestinian rocket or suicide attacks against Israelis.
My response—First, the context is of a horrific Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and its turning Gaza into the largest prison in the world. This is the fundamental issue and much of Palestinian armed actions are being done out of weakness and to resist the Israeli occupation. The Israeli response in Gaza is collective punishment of the entire population which is illegal by international law and immoral, and totally disproportionate to any harm being done to Israelis.
2. The claim that Palestinians, particularly Hamas, want to drive Israel and Israelis into the sea. It is not clear that this is Hamas policy. Hamas has recently said they wouldn’t recognize Israel but that is very different from sating that it has committed itself to fighting a war to destroy Israel. Since being elected as the government of Gaza in 2006, they have waged very few attacks against Israeli civilians. More importantly, if there was an economically and politically independent Palestinian nation, not controlled by Israel, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and full rights to its water, land, resources, airspace, and development, the focus of Palestinians will be to develop this society, not to attack Israel. Those who would want to militarily attack Israel under these conditions would have little popular support by Palestinian society. Moreover, Israel is not in danger of being militarily defeated; it has the most powerful military in the middle East with 200-300 nuclear weapons.
3. A contentious issue is that the boycott that the Food Coop board voted for, stated that the boycott would not end until the Israeli occupation ended and Palestinians had the right of return. What this means is that Israel would have to ends its occupation of the Palestinian land it seized in the 1967 war. It also means that Palestinians who were forced out of what became Israel’s 1948 borders, inside the so-called Green Line, would have the right to return together with their descendants to Israel. Zionism has been on a Jewish dominated state and society, and where any Jewish person from around the world has a right to move to Israel. On the other hand, Palestinians who were forced out in 1948 cannot even visit Israel, much less move back. If most Palestinians, whose origins are from inside Israel, moved back, within 20 years Jewish people might be a minority within Israel. The right of Palestinians to return follows international laws and most concepts of morality so needs to be supported. A possible resolution might be to assert the principle of the right of Palestinians to return with offers of money, or permanent residence in other countries such as the United States to those Palestinians who agree not to move back permanently to Israel. This might preserve a Jewish majority in Israel although the right of Jewish people to return to Israel before Palestinians would also have to be modified. Hopefully, over time, with these two nations of Palestine and Israel living in peace, much of the hostility between these Semitic people could be overcome and good relations and even one nation, perhaps a binational Palestine-Israel could emerge.
4. A fourth claim is that here are two equally just sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, in this conflict and we shouldn’t take sides, and that the boycott of Israeli goods is taking the Palestinian side. I am reminded by a wise comment by Khader Hamide, a Palestinian-American whom the United States was trying to deport, when he was asked to comment on this perspective. Hamide said “that Palestinians are losing their lives and their land while Israelis are losing their humanity by the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.” Palestinians are the oppressed group, and the U.S. and Israel are the main oppressors.
We Should Take Sides in favor of the boycott and Palestine. Doing nothing is taking sides in favor of the status quo. The Olympia Food Coop has taken a stand by deciding to boycott Israeli goods. Thank You! Let us all take steps big and small that further Palestinian self-determination and justice, and that increase the numbers and power of those committed to ending the Israeli occupation of all of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Note: For more information on this campaign and to get involved, please check out the website of the very impressive group, Olympia BDS, (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment for an End to the Occupation of Palestine)