Ros Elliot, Duncan Shipley-Smith and Harsha Prabhu
Do you remember acting against Apartheid? South Africa and Australia were politically and economically close but as the campaigns for international isolation of South Africa intensified in the 1970s and 80s, Australia placed itself firmly in the anti-apartheid camp, implementing an oil, trade and arms embargo, as well as sport boycotts, against South Africa.
Apartheid is still being imposed, as stated by the United Nations, but this time it’s by Israel against the people of Arab heritage whose soil the state of Israel now occupies. International trade boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) are now being called for to pressure Israel to cease this apartheid and to bring freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.
The BDS Conference opened in Byron on a cold and windy Sunday night but what the participants had to say warmed the hearts and minds of those who had gathered at Ewingsdale Hall.
Samah Sabawi, Palestinian writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright, was the keynote speaker. Ms Sabawi deconstructed many myths surrounding the historical narrative of a region troubled by conflict for more than six decades. She graphically detailed the dispossession of Palestinian people from their lands from 1948 onwards, imperilled by the Zionist occupation of Palestine, which led to the expulsion of more than 250,000 Palestinian people and the ethnic cleansing of 425 villages. ‘Palestine was wiped off the map and our people were literally thrown into the sea’, said Samah.
More Palestinian lands were annexed during the six-day war of 1967. Ms Sabawi pointed out that UN Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw from the annexed lands, but ‘Israel was not interested then and is not interested now. Indeed, Israel is the only state that refuses to declare where its borders are,’ she said.
She went on to say that any talk of a two-state solution is made complicated by the continuing illegal expansion of Israeli settlements. ‘Today, more than half a million settlers live in the occupied lands, with a matrix of apartheid walls and 570 checkpoints.’
The main theme of her presentation centred around the human rights-based approach manifest in Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against apartheid Israel. The three key demands of BDS were: an end to the 1967 occupation; an end to the system of apartheid; and a recognition of the right of return of refugees, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Quoting from Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Ms Sabawi presented a convincing argument for the moral validity of the BDS movement saying ‘moral right over military might’.
In addition, Omar Barghouti’s video presentation explored the international legal basis for the boycott call, its precedents and core elements of freedom, justice and equality. ‘Any self-respecting liberal should be able to support this,’ said Mr Barghouti.
Mr Barghouti also said: ‘Palestinian peaceful resistance inspired the Arab Spring, which in turn inspired the Occupy Movement. That’s why we say: Occupy Wall St, Not Palestine.’
Both Ms Sabawi and Mr Barghouti applauded the decisions of the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church in the US to divest from American companies profiting from the occupation. Mr Barghouti also pointed out that the BDS movement was still young, that it took more than 30 years for the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa to make an impact. He also mentioned that many Jewish groups, both within Israel and outside, supported BDS, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which has over 110,000 members.
While economic boycott was important, so were academic and cultural boycotts of apartheid Israel, with a growing list of luminaries adding their support, including Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Naomi Klein, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Gill Scott Herron and Snoop Dog.
Byron Greens councillor Tom Tabart was also present, promising to bring up the BDS issue for discussion with his party. So was Marika Kontellis, Greens councillor from Marrickville City Council. Marrickville council voted to support BDS, but had to recant after a firestorm of protest in the media, much of it orchestrated by the Murdoch press. Said Marika: ‘There was no fuss when we boycotted Burma and raised the East Timor flag, but this was evidently different’. She called for an awareness-raising campaign in solidarity with Palestine.
The evening ended with some heart-wrenching verse by Ms Sabawi. Phil Monsour, Australian-Palestinian troubadour, sang Our day is surely coming, while on the screen we saw people who had the names of the villages they were displaced from written in the palms of their hands.
For more information on BDS and what companies and products to boycott see http://www.australiansforpalestine.net//
Byron Friends of Palestine can be contacted via Facebook or by e-mail: [email protected]