I don’t know who essentially is pushing the Palestinians towards this story of an economic boycott of Israel; to the best of my knowledge, the Palestinians aren’t the ones setting the economic boycott of Israel in motion on their own and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is trying to rest on its momentum and not to lead it. The BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is at the forefront leading the boycott, and as such it is hurting Palestinians a lot more than it is hurting Israel. To be sure, there are interested Palestinian parties, like Mustafa Barghouti, who ran from one dictatorial regime to become deputy under the auspices of the BDS movement and acts on its behalf to exacerbate and aggravate the boycott of Israel. To my mind, Barghouti can attain good results from his perspective with great ease in Norway, for example, but he would not even dare to enter refugee camps and suggest to the people living there that they launch a boycott against Israel.
Palestinian workers today are building homes in the settlements. They’re proud to build for Jews, and there’s no one to help find them alternative work.
Abu Mazen, head of the PA, hasn’t a clue about whom to target with this particular boycott. How can one impose a boycott on settlement products as long as one’s fellow citizens and nationals are the ones building the very same settlements?
Two weeks ago, I visited Birzeit, north of Ramallah, and saw a large sticker on the entrance to a store testifying the store was ‘purified’ of Israeli products. I entered and approached the refrigerated section where the ice creams were kept, and I was taken aback upon seeing an ice cream labelled ‘Strauss’. I inquired if there was a Palestinian company called ‘Strauss’, given that the sticker on the door of the business announced that the premises had been purified of Israeli products, and he answered no, the product was Israeli. When I asked why the sticker was affixed there, the store owner looked at me and said, ‘You know what? We, the Palestinians, like stickers just like the Israelis.’ To this day, you can find bumper stickers on Israeli vehicles that say, ‘The nation is with Gush Katif . . .’ (a former Israeli settlement bloc in Gaza forcibly evacuated in 2005).
In Ramallah last June, four Palestinian police officers assembled around a stall in the Souk upon which were displayed containers of grapes. One of the police officers asked the owner of the stall, ‘What is this?’ He replied, ‘Grapes.’ The policeman inquired further, ‘Where did you acquire them?’ Typically, there are no grapes in the PA territories in June; they are only to be found in the Jordan Rift Valley or in other particularly hot climate areas. The vendor replied, ‘I don’t know, a seller came by and sold me them.’ The policeman continued, ‘Do you have a permit?’ The vendor affirmed, ‘Yes, here is the permit form from the Palestinian Customs Authority.’ The police officer, hardening somewhat with his interrogation inquired, ‘But this is Israeli merchandise!’ To which the vendor returned, ‘How do you know?’ The policeman showed the vendor that the name ‘David’ something-or-other was printed on each container of grapes—on a sticker of course. The vendor did not understand what the problem was and so volunteered to remove all the offending stickers from the grape containers, thereby converting them instantaneously into Palestinian grapes. Everyone present, even I, attended to the task of removing stickers from the offending containers.
So, with all due respect, which boycott are we speaking about? It is very difficult to impose a boycott. People in refugee camps enter a grocery store and ask for a bottle of Coca Cola an Israeli product because in the territories it is claimed Israeli Coke tastes better and contains more gas and less sugar than Palestinian cola brands. Israeli cigarettes are also sold; the storeowner hides them, because, should the PCA turn up, they will confiscate everything. When customers arrive and the store proprietor knows who they are, he brings out a pack of Israeli ‘Time’ cigarettes. I have frequented every road in the territories from the north and up to Hebron in the south, and never once did I look for an Israeli product without being able to find it. This is a political and not an economic matter. Therefore, I don’t think that Israel needs to get swept up in every item on the Palestinian political menu, which, to my mind, is more akin to child’s play than something to be taken seriously. Should Israel wish to punish Mahmoud Abbas—and why not?—I have no problem with that. But ensure that it distances itself from harming the beleaguered ones—from isolated citizens that don’t have alternative solutions. I know about thousands of Palestinians who are already prepared to confront Israel tomorrow, and I also know that internally, Palestinians today loathe the PA even more than their hatred for the State of Israel. Yes there are terrorists that want to return the world to the chaos and abyss of the Biblical creation story and to be the agents of damage, not only to the Israeli population, but to the Palestinian populace as well. I am aware of Palestinians who want to murder me, even prior to their desire to murder any Jew, but there is nothing to be done. We live here, we will continue to live here and we don’t have anywhere else to live—neither the Palestinians, nor the Israelis.
The ‘Protective Edge’ operation exacted great damage on the Hamas movement. I think that it also paved a way for me, not only vis-á-vis the PA, but also in relation to Egypt’s conduct. The steps Egypt is taking today against Hamas are steps Israel would never dare to take; ergo, Hamas finds itself in an awkward and embarrassing bind. Indeed, she bides her time waiting for some terrorist of any sort to decide to run over a Jew with a vehicle and then Hamas will point to him as a hero, but if the job of Hamas is limited solely to conferring blessings upon terrorists, that’s all well and fine, the important thing is to afford people in the Gaza Strip the opportunity to live in the manner of their own choosing and not to allow Hamas to compel Iranian policies on their own brethren.
Last week I went to the Soda Stream factory in Mashour Adumim. I found that 500 Palestinian workers were almost fired and another 400 were on their way to be fired, I asked Basel Ja’afar (a 25 year old who was fired last year) ‘If you will face one of the activists of the BDS, what will you tell him?’ Basel answered, ‘I will ask him what is the alternative?’
Basel used to earm 6000 NIS a month at Soda Stream, and now, under the PA, only 1450 NIS a month is available.
Bassam Eid is a Human Rights Activist and Analyst of Palestinian/Arab Affairs.