The Sacramento Bee
The Elders' next move
By SAM BAHOUR
Common Ground News Service
Published Friday, Sep. 11, 2009
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- At long last, a spotlight is shining on Palestinian nonviolent efforts to throw off the Israeli occupation. A visit by a group of high profile "Elders" last month to the Palestinian village of Bil'in in the West Bank, and the barrier running through it, bathed our landscape in a moral clarity that is too rarely seen by the outside world. Each of the Elders is a powerful moral authority and includes figures like former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Mary Robinson of Ireland.
One after another, they reiterated that our destiny as Palestinians and Israelis is to live together in mutual respect, as equals. The Elders' online forum, via satellite, with Palestinians and Israelis from Jerusalem, Gaza, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, was a sign of their determination to build bridges between people - despite the walls, checkpoints and laws that Israel has deployed to separate Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps the time has come for the Elders to take the next step and endorse a measure that might just bring an end to the 42 years of Israeli occupation. It is one of the most powerful measures in the arsenal of nonviolent weapons: the boycott.
The boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign is a global movement calling on international civil society organizations and individuals all over the world to impose boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel as long as it refuses to remove the boot of military occupation from the necks of Palestinians.
It is clear that Palestinians cannot come to the negotiating table as fully empowered equals to discuss their future while their present is being stripped out from under them by settlement building. I am encouraged by President Obama's insistence that Israel freeze settlement activity, but nevertheless remain concerned that he will cave in to pressure to relax his position. Without support from the Obama administration, Palestinians will need a massive international movement on their behalf.
An international boycott could provide just that. It has been used effectively by nonviolent movements across the world. Similar campaigns have worked, from the beaches of India to the buses of Montgomery to the vineyards of California.
Palestinians, in fact, have a history of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Mubarak Awad led the way with his Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence until Israel deported him. In the last few years, villagers in Bil'in and Ni'ilin have been holding weekly protests of Israel's separation wall. In fact, the latter campaign has been a source of encouragement not only because of the villagers' perseverance, but because they have been joined by Israeli Jews who take a central role in the protest activities.
These nonviolent activists are not alone. The dual system of law imposed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza is generating the same sort of moral outrage that led millions to support a boycott against the apartheid government in South Africa. Crucially, courageous Israeli journalists are speaking out along with Professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University, who recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "(p)utting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians - my two boys included - does not grow up in an apartheid regime."
I know many Palestinian parents who would like nothing more than for their children to be able to play with the Gordon children as equals.
The Elders could do enormous good by speaking with the governments that supply Israel with armaments used to batter Palestinians in violation of international law. They have the moral integrity to remind politicians in Israel, and across the globe, of their obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. An endorsement by the Elders could also give impetus to the Palestinian leadership to embrace a full-fledged commitment to a sustained nonviolent strategy.
There is nothing inactive about nonviolence. It takes physical, mental and spiritual courage. An endorsement by the Elders might just jolt the world and highlight already existing nonviolent actions against the occupation.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio, who lives in the West Bank and met the Elders during their August trip to the Middle East. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service. Readers may send him e-mail at email@example.com.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
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