Last night I attended a Public Meeting at ULU under the banner "Boycott Apartheid Israel." In very short time, Mikey has prepared an excellent write-up of the evening's events. I had the dubious fortune to be seated on the floor immediately next to the panel and heard some heckles/comments which Mikey did not. I shall therefore add these additional observances by way of a comment to this post.
On behalf of Oli and Jonny's Blog I'd like to thank Mikey for his write-up, which I include below with his permission:
The notes are not designed to be a word for word transcript but are taken from hand written notes I made at the meeting.
PUBLIC MEETING, Wednesday 25th January, University of London Union
This meeting was called by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) to renew calls for a boycott of Israel and to support the Uxbridge Seven who have a court action pending in relation to Carmel-Agrexco and the picket they carried out. We need direct action and we therefore call for a boycott of all Israeli companies to help the Palestinians in their fight against colonisation, occupation and settlement.
The speakers include
Sandy Hale, from the Uxbridge Seven
Dr Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian writer and academic
Lena Green, someone who has recently been in the occupied territories and an ISM activist
Uri Davis, an academic who will be an expert witness in the court case and will be arguing that the business of Carmel Agrexco is not legal as the company is sustaining illegal settlements that is a crime of the apartheid state of Israel.
Sue Blackwell from the campaign for an academic boycott of Israel centred around three universities – Bar Ilan, Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign
Sandy Hale – Uxbridge Seven
I believe a boycott is both viable and justified against Israel. I finished school in 2004 and travelled to the West Bank with the ISM. The actions were focussed on helping communities in their struggle against the apartheid wall. There was little the Palestinians could do apart from protest and little we could do apart from show solidarity. We trespassed on land stolen by the wall, but we were met with tear gas from the IDF. It was this sort of thing.
Israel does not listen to criticism or indeed to international law. I was there when the International Court of Justice declared the wall illegal and said it had to come down. We thought the wall would come down but it continued to be built. America vetoes UN resolutions against Israel so there is little that can be done through that channel.
If sanctions can not come through and official routes then in order to help the Palestinians direct actions need to be taken. We started off calling for direct action against companies that visibly support Israel such as Marks & Spencer and Caterpillar and have moved on to other companies. The boycott gives the campaign some political momentum. It is the most and least we can do.
Dr Ghada Karmi
I am a Palestinian. I have been a Palestinian activist for more years than I can remember. I wanted to come to express my support for the Uxbridge Seven and everyone who has helped their case.
I want to make a few remarks about the importance of the boycott of Israel.
Last year I was working in Ramallah. This was interesting but my motives for going was to see if the activities that I had been carrying out for many years was the right thing to do and the best thing to do.
I came to the conclusion that in so far as direct aid for Palestinians there was an awful lot of direct aid. There was a lot of money, non government organisations and people doing good and looking after all aspects of Palestinian life. This is fine from a humanitarian sense but not fine from a political sense. There is no political context to this aid. In the case of Palestine this is inexcusable.
If you don't attack the policies that bring about these conditions then you are left with the effects. Donors may keep giving money until they get compassion fatigue. It is very clear that the best policy for people to help the Palestinians is to attack the cause of what is hurting them.
There are only a small number of us active in the Palestinian cause and we must therefore focus our efforts on something useful. The best way we can employ ourselves, not the only way, but a really focussed way is to attack the Israeli end of this equation. I do not mean that it is necessary to enlist in the militia and take on soldiers. What I mean is by attacking the outside support. Israel gets away with it because they are allowed to get away with it by the British Government, the Americans and the EU. Also many misguided Jews who believe by supporting Israel they are doing something moral and fine also support Israel.
How do you weaken support for Israel?
The most intelligent way of doing this is to boycott Israel in all ways. I know of a doctor who refused to take part in a medical conference because it was held in Jerusalem. It does not matter what it is – If it is in sport, in medicine, a literary conference or anything Israel must boycotted. Israel must get the message that it is persona non grata in all fields. I suggest we all try and co-ordinate with our professional associations or trade unions to boycott Israel in whatever fields we work in and this is the right way of helping the Palestinians.
(This speech was very long winded and wordy and I may well have missed a number of her points about her experiences in the West Bank. Any omissions by my part are not on purpose – It was just quite difficult to get down. I believe however I have the main points.)
I spent six months in Palestine collecting evidence for the court case involving Carmel-Agrexco. Carmel-Agrexco is 50% state owned and is a company that exports fruit from Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Uxbridge Seven defendants have been prosecuted for trespass and blocking the entrance to Carmel-Agrexco. The defence case includes matters that the company is acting illegally. It is selling fruit claiming it was made in Israel when it was made in the occupied territories. The other defence is that Israel is an Apartheid state and the occupation is illegal.
I was in the Jordan Valley which is cut off from the rest of the West Bank both geographically and psychologically as well. The land covers one third of the West Bank. There are no big population centres in the Jordan Valley with the exception of Jericho which is on the fringes. The Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank can not get into the Jordan Valley easily due to cheque points. The occupation has led to economic stagnation in the area.
The distribution of land and what land can be used for is starkly different between the Palestinians and the settlers. A lot of settlers who have left Gaza will be moving to the Jordan Valley. Palestinians are at risk particularly through the demolition of their homes that are in illegal areas. Houses there are made of wood, plastic and a few sheets of metal and even these houses are demolished. Even in the legal areas, the areas Palestinians are allowed to live on are tightly defined. A Palestinian man had to move some trees he had planted a few meters because they deemed to be illegal. This restriction on where Palestinians can live creates problems for them. Someone showed me their family house with 2 rooms and 10 adults living in it as the children had grown into adults and elder relations were also living there. The difficult living conditions mean that the natural population growth is restricted.
By contrast settlers obtain grants, subsidies and loans to move there. A spokesman for Israel stated the wanted to double the number of settlers and provide them with grants for agricultural development. Many of the settlers that have left Gaza will likely move to the Jordan Valley. Settlements have roads, water, electricity and are protected by the Israeli forces. The settlements also have the infrastructure of a local government. There is a massive agricultural industry that the settlers are able to carry out. I was told that the vast majority of this produce is exported via Carmel-Agrexco.
Access to water for Palestinians is denied and soldiers often protect the water wells. We saw a young girl on a donkey and she was going to a well to steal a couple of litres of water as this is all that she could carry and she risked imprisonment by doing so. Palestinian wells have dried up due to deeper settler wells nearby.
There was one well that got polluted in 1982 as sewage from the settlers goes into the ground at the same level as the well. Last year they got permission to build a new well but in the interim over one thousand people who had relied on that well had to obtain water by going on a cart to Jericho and bringing back water in black tanks. By midway this water was warm and not safe for drinking.
The Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley is Bedouin. It is made up of refugees from 1948. They are often moved due their houses continually getting demolished. I asked one family where they would live if their house got demolished. They said they would live in a tent provided by the Red Crescent. I asked where they woiuld put that tent and they responded that they would put it in the same place as they have nowhere else to go..
People who live in the Jordan Valley either work in the settlements on low pay and bad conditions or they try and produce their own agricultural products. Given the shortage of water some of the Palestinian farmers are so desperate that they irrigate their crops with sewage water. If the farmers do manage to produce crops then it becomes difficult to sell. They can take the crops to Jericho to sell. However by the time they get there, Jericho often already have so much agricultural products already and the prices they achieve for the produce is so low that it means it is not economical to harvest.
Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley do have another option. They can sell their produce through Carmel-Agrexco. Some farmers I spoke to are no longer prepared to do this. The quality grading, sizing and packaging required make it to expensive. Furthermore Carmel-Agrexco pay different amounts for produce from the settlers as opposed to by the Palestinians. There was one case where Palestinian farmers who sod their produce through a shady person claiming to represent Carmel-Agrexco told the farmers that the ship had sunk and therefore would not pay them for their goods. Their was one land over that was ripped off by $150,000 by this person.
It is for this reason that the UK case is so important. Palestinian farmers can not get Carmel-Agrexco into court. We can in the UK.
It was a powerful experience being in the Jordan Valley and noting the vast difference in the standard of living between Palestinians and the settlers.
Why are we still calling for a boycott when there is a positive process going on for the Palestinians? Today there is an election, but 2/3 of the Palestinians do no live in the occupied territories and can not vote. 5 million Palestinians live in the Diaspora, in camps or in the land called Israel. 1/3 live under military occupation and 2/3 are the disenfranchised. In the election, only one candidate, Israel's favoured candidate was allowed free movement. Others couldn't move freely and some were detained. Hamas couldn't even campaign in East Jerusalem. Israel refuses to negotiate with a government that includes Hamas. So much for a free election.
Israel still control Gaza by land, sea and air and have reserved the right to invade Gaza at will and they do. Members of Al Quds Brigade have been killed and the area in the north of Gaza is routinely bombed. Now sonic booms occur over Gaza from low flying F16's that create shock waves, break windows and cause panic.
There were 8,000 settlers that occupied 40% of the land in Gaza. They have gone but the 1.3 million Palestinians left in the Gaza ghetto can not move back to the land they were ethnically cleansed from. Last year nearly 13,000 settlers moved into the West Bank. This is nearly twice as many as the amount that were evacuated from Gaza.
Palestinians in Gaza are prevented from having an education. It is very difficult for Gaza students to study at Birzeit or one of the eight Palestinian universities as they can't get there due to the separation. Students are separated from their colleges by the apartheid wall.
When the AUT passed motions to boycott Israel, the Israelis had the chutzpah to complain about academic freedom (Sue pronounced the word "chutzpah" by pronouncing the first part as one would pronounce the first part of the word "chuck"). What about academic freedom for Palestinians? Palestinians are even prevented from using roads.
At Haifa university, Professor Arnon Sofer who is an expert on the demographic threat held a conference on the matter i.e. the issue that Palestinians were having too many babies. Can you imagine if this happened in Birmingham? A conference on whether an ethnic group were having too many babies? There would be uproar and pickets. There were some picketers to this conference but they got arrested. Not surprisingly, not a single Arab attended that conference. Then there is the case against Dr. David Bukay from the Department of Political Science who made a comment that "Arabs are only interested in sex and alcohol".
The reason why we are boycotting The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is that bulldozers were sent in to destroy houses on Palestinian land to build dormitories. The Jerusalem District Court may have ruled that this was legal but I don't give a toss what the Jerusalem District Courts says as the occupation is illegal.
I make no apology for the campaign to boycott all of Israel. In universities we will be doing our bit to keep the campaign going.
A senior politician in the State of Israel had an opinion piece in Haaretz that there is a number of ways of assassinating an individual. This could be done by hanging, by shooting, by poisoning etc. There are also a number of ways of assassinating a people. Genocide can be perpetrated in a number of ways. This is in particular reference to the policies of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza.
A standard objection by Zionist apologists to the boycott is that of "singling out". They argue that whilst Israel may not be devoid of blemish, there is no need to single them out.
There are two reasons for singling out Israel. One is unjustified and the other is valid.
The first argument is racism. Racism is defined in international law and I believe the Israeli position is sound. Racism may be rife in Israel but the position on racism in Israel is not that different from say Indonesia, the United States or the United Kingdom. To single out Israel for racism should be avoided. This is not the case with the second argument that of apartheid.
With apartheid there is nothing in common with other countries. The State of Israel is the only member of the United Nations that uses legislative machinery to impose apartheid laws.
People may object to the concept of a Jewish state, but you can't argue against it as the United Nations accepted the principal and therefore the Jewish state is legally legitimate.
The issue for me is what Israel claims it has the right to do. The state claims the right to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians and to legislate to that effect. In Israel 93% of land is reserved for Jewish use. If a state makes apartheid claims in the name of the Jewish state then that claim has to be resisted.
In South Africa the Anti Apartheid boycotts and education did a lot to stop the apartheid situation as well as the armed resistance by part of the ANC. Suicide attacks in my opinion are not armed resistance. Boycotts are something that ought to be carried out urgently in order to reduce the pain of the Palestinians.
There are differences between South Africa and Israel. In South Africa they legislated the whole hog to include petty apartheid. Any visitor to South Africa had apartheid hit them in the face – Toilets for whites, toilets for non whites, parks for whites, parks for non whites, queues for whites and queues for non whites. This was the petty apartheid. In Israel apartheid is at the core of their land policy. 93% of land is reserved for Jews only in law and non Jews can only purchase 7% of the land. B'tselem published an article on the apartheid water situation. Back to the land if we look at pre 1967 Israel, the situation is worse. 20% of the population are legally restricted to 2.5% of the land. In Israel there is no petty apartheid. There are not separate queuyes for Jews and queues for non Jews. There are not segregated parks etc although there are parks built on old Palestinian villages. Israel is an apartheid regime.
We must divest from Israel and we must boycott Israel. This call is conditional until the apartheid government removes its apartheid laws and obeys all United Resolutions including resolution 181.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions. We want to campaign for a free Palestine. We must do everything we can to help the Uxbridge Seven.
Sue mentioned that today the Palestinians have gone to vote. The voting is an act of resistance against occupation. Every day that the Palestinians get to school and get to work is an act of resistance as they are showing they have rights.
The Palestinians have called to the grass roots of the international community to tell the world what has happened and to defend their rights. There were concerns that the Palestinians may be against the boycott but I have not come across any. The Palestinians want Israel to be a pariah state and to end the illegal occupation.
The International Court of Justice has ruled that the wall is illegal and must be dismantled. The settlements are also illegal and must be dismantled. Nothing has happened so the Palestinians are calling for the international community to boycott Israel. This is the only answer as far as the Palestinian people are concerned.
We must make this issue as important as the boycott campaign by the anti apartheid movement was for South Africa. For the young people in the room you must support Palestinian rights as in ten to fifteen years time, you may well get asked what you did to help and support the Palestinian struggle.
In Britain we took up the boycott campaign initially to boycott Israeli goods and only goods or firms that we could prove were directly assisting Israel such as Caterpillar.
All over the UK every Sunday there are people on streets outside supermarkets talking to people and giving out leaflets in favour of the boycott. This is grass roots stuff. If we can do this at grass roots level then the government might change their policy and impose sanctions if they are worried about the electorate. The EU is mealy mouthed - they take no action.
We need to build a mass movement. Why are we selling arms to an illegal occupier? Why are we trading with this regime? The financial world is fragile. If confidence starts to be threatened then things can happen quickly.
In America they are looking at divestment. Churches here are also ooking at divestment. We must look to trade unions where they have pension funds and union funds and get them to divest.
I don't think the situation for the Palestinians has ever been more urgent than it is today.
Ethnic cleansing and genocide is happening to Palestinians.
Palestinians will be in ghettos in Bantustans and forced to beg for work at whatever wage they can get.
We have got to do all we can to ensure that the Palestinians are not continued being ethnically cleansed from their own land.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry has stated that the large settlements will stand and Jerusalem will be the unified capital of Israel.
We have to take action urgently. We have to give the Palestinians our support.
I'm an academic and support BRICUP. I am also someone raised in a national liberation movement and I understand the plight of the Palestinians. In an apartheid state racism is produced in a much more acute way than in other societies. It may not be equivalent but they feed off each other. We should not lose sight of the intersection between apartheid and racism. I want to remind everyone that what takes place in Palestine is as important as what takes place in London.
(The questioner was interrupted and told to give a question but he did not really have one)
My name is Ben and I'm an Iraqi, a Jew and a Muslim. My question is to Uri. Every single Muslim country that has Shariah law is an apartheid country. Woman are second class citizens. Jews, Christians and Buddhists are also second class citizens. What do you say to that?
The question was about how Palestinians can appeal to Israeli courts. Unfortunately I could not hear this questioner to note the exact point.
The moderator asked Uri Davis to respond.
Responding to the first questioner. I apologize for insinuating it is an either/or equation. I have worked for twenty years in the UK and I am a resident of Israel. There is an intersectionality between racism and apartheid. It is not necessarily either/or. The bottom line is a political decision needs to be taken and it is the correct political decision that we should take a page out of the book of the ANC movement.
Responding to the second questioner. I need time to reflect on this question. However to my knowledge citizenship is not denied under Shariah law. Ben interrupted to state that the Arabs in Israel have a vote. Uri then responded – Only 20% of them – most have been denationalised. Ben then responded – What about me? I am a refugee from Iraq. There are 150,000 of us at least. There was quite a bit of uproar at this point and calls to move on.
Responding to the third questioner. I believe apartheid can be defeated through the legal system.
There is talk of genocide. Rwanda and Sudan – that was genocide. I hear talk of Israeli atrocities. Where is the evidence? I do not see the evidence. If you are going to carry out a boycott a lot of public life may grind to a halt. Israel is a thriving economy and produce such things as components for mobile phones and computers. You talk of the wall as an apartheid wall but it is keeping people alive. More money is granted to the Palestinians by the G8 than to the African states. There was quite a bit of uproar going on in this speech and the moderators were told to move on.
This particular questioner made a number of disjointed comments as follows.
We are surrounded by Zionists designed to undermine the Palestinian people.
People who live in Palestine are Palestinians.
September the 11th is not the issue. The issue is the ten billion pounds of aid from America to sustain Israel.
I want to ask about the boycott of Israel. Is this the boycott of any activity of Israel? Does it include the assistance the Israelis have given to Jordanians? Does it include the aid the Israelis have provided to the Rwandans? Does it include aid Israel offered to Iran?
There was quite a bit of uproar going on through this and the questioner was asked by someone in the audience if he had finished. The questioner responded that he had not even started. This caused more commotion. The questioner then said the point is that as the votes in the election seem to show the Palestinian people prefer blood thirsty murder to the rule of law. This caused further commotion.
Amnesty International have published papers accusing Israel of war crimes. What about the school girl that was shot thirteen times by the IDF? You can not pretend these things do not exist. The United Nations special raconteur has called it "transfer". Transfer is a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. If you do not start treating Palestinians as human beings and giving the Palestinians the same rights as people in this room then it will be on your conscience.
To the sixth questioner. I want to talk directly to you. What is your name? The questioner responded – Jack. Uri then asked if that was his real name. The questioned retorted that "Do you want me to show you my passport". Uri asked him where he lived. The questioner responded that it was not relevant. Uri then said: 'Can you accept that collective punishment is wrong? That the sins of the parents are not something that children should be blamed for?'. The original questioner responded that he could accept this.
Uri then said that we could condemn suicide bombings tohether and that we could also condemn war crimes together. If you put list of all the crimes, the war criminals Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz would rate much higher on the list than the suicide bombers that would be at the bottom. This statement was greeted by applause from the audience. The original questioner said he could not accept that. At this point someone from the audience stood up pointing at the questioner and said "You, you shit". The original questioner responding to this man said "thank you". There was some more commotion and calls to move on.
We Arabs has suffered too long. This boycott, what is it about? I have asked many times before but never got a response. Do you want 242 or 191 or all the land of the original Palestine? What is the goal? We can camouflage it and say it is about the occupation but what really is it that you want?
We want to create a situation for the Palestinians to be able to exercise their rights to self determination. One state may be being forced on the world given the situation but it is up to the Palestinians to decide what they want as a state and what they will negotiate.
The pannel then summed up:
In so far as the academic boycott we have so far asked for narrow stuff. We want the Hebrew University to give back the land they took. We want Haifa University to respect academic freedom. In Haifa there was an MA student who wrote a thesis claiming that 200 people had been killed by the Haganah at the commencement of Israel. For his research he interviewed many people. The university was subsequently threatened with libel for this thesis. The university dropped him like a hot cake. Ilan Pappe then got involved and then the university picked on Pappe as well and tried to sack him.
I (Mikey) raised a point that the information about Pappe was factually inaccurate and if it went back on the AUT web site they would likely be the subject of a law suit initiated by Mischcon de Reya on behalf of Haifa University.
Sue responded that it is all up on her web site but it was up to the AUT what they wanted to do. She then continued:
It is not constructive to boycott individuals, it is not a boycott of Israeli academics or Jewish academics but just a boycott of Israeli universities.
There has been four law suits and I have received death threats about this boycott but I am not giving up.
No one predicted the date the Berlin Wall would come down or the date of the release of Nelson Mandela and no one can put a date on the success of the campaign we are promoting. We don't know when the apartheid wall will come down but it will definitely not come down if we don't campaign against it.
Betty is the General Secretary of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in the UK and is relatively restrained in what she can say. I am an ordinary resident in Israel and I am not restrained in my answer. I will continue to campaign for a boycott whilst all the apartheid laws surrounding the JNF land and the administrative and other apartheid laws are removed. Until that time we should continue to boycott and divest from Israel.
Just because some people come along to intimidate us and take photos, we should not forget that we have many supporters from all walks of life. Thank you Uxbridge Seven.
The meeting then concluded but it was interesting to note someone at the back of the room shout out that there was a further meeting where Zionist were not invited to and were not welcome.