Talker: Hatice Sari
This month we reach to Palestine. We talked to Ibrahim Yousef who lives in Jarusalem. We spoke about BDS Movement and Palestine.
First of all can u introduce yourself...
My name is Ibrahim Yousef, I grew up in Europe, in Portugal more specifically but I never felt territorially bounded or with a particular national affiliation. I am one of the global South and the eastern Hemisphere, with roots in three different continents. This placed me in a peculiar position to understand the world. I grew up with a conflicted identity, not always a good thing, but 9/11 in a very odd way shifted my course and shaped the way I view the world today.
As the events unfolded in New York I was on my way to the UK to attend university, a period of deep change in my life. The backlash to 9/11 in Europe was fierce and particularly cruel to a teenager like myself. Muslims were routinely used as scapegoats in the media and their "loyalty" to mainstream societal values put to the test. At times the issue became so emotional that Muslims were externalized all together as if they had not been an integral part of the fabric of western society for all these decades. This flurry of attention demanded defensive reactions even from those Muslims like myself who did not have religion as their primary marker of identification. At the same time right-wing forces in the West were pushing a discourse of clash of civilizations to justify their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our governments delivered a stern and bloody message through the massacres witnessed on TV, you either fall in line or you will meet a similar fate. Overall, civil liberties in Europe eroded drastically with Muslims as primary targets.
All of this pushed me to reflect about my role in society and made me question assumptions of social conformity that I had internalized while growing up. Contemplating over the meaning of Al amr-i bil ma`ruf wa nahy-i `anil munkar and taking inspiration from those figures in history that stoop up for change in contexts of oppression like the Prophet pbuh did, I reoriented my life focus to achieving social justice. In many ways this meant to use my blessings (or privileges) to stand in solidarity with the oppressed no matter where or who they were, and ultimately to strive towards the embodiment of the sunnah in my character and actions despite my many weaknesses.
How did you get involved in the Palestinian cause?
With the above context in mind, I was drawn towards the Palestinian struggle for justice. In the words of the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, "because it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights." While I had written my first article on Palestine at the age of 16, it was at university that I had the opportunity to meaningfully engage. The struggle for me represented the double standards of our governments who were all too keen in preaching democracy and human rights while doing the exact opposite in their foreign policy. Like many people, I was frustrated at how Israel could get away with oppressing a whole people with total impunity. All the while, I saw how Islamophobia in the West benefitted Israel and how pro-Israel forces in the West were instigators of Islamophobia. My freedom became synonymous with the freedom of Palestinians. As a member of an indigenous group that struggled against colonization for centuries, I understood the Palestinian struggle in the first person.
And what about the BDS movement that you`re part of?
There is one reason why Israel has been allowed to pursue its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to sustain its racially exclusive settler-colonial apartheid state and this has been the inability and unwillingness of world governments to hold Israel accountable, in particular the US and Europe, who in fact have colluded and turned a blind eye to these violations and instead have rewarded Israel with a business-as-usual approach. Faced with the inability of governments to act and inspired by the citizen movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa in the 80s and 90s, Palestinian civil society representing all sectors within Palestine and the Diaspora, issued in 2005 a call to conscientious world citizens for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel until Palestinians achieve their rights. These rights are 1) the end of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 2) full equality for Palestinians inside Israel and; 3) the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties from where they were expelled during the Nakba and subsequent years.
This historic document (which can be read here) triggered a global movement for justice and rights for Palestinians. People from all walks of life around the world, including many Jews appalled by Israel`s policies and a few Israelis, responded to the Palestinian call and begun forwarding BDS campaigns in their countries. For example, consumers in Europe pressured their supermarkets not to sell Israeli products, especially those from illegal Israeli settlements. Students in the US called on their universities to divest funds from companies like Caterpillar and Motorolla that provide Israel with material support to sustain its military occupation. Academics have refused institutional collaborations with Israeli universities on the basis of their complicity with Israeli policies and refusal to speak out against them. Singers like Roger Waters of Pink Floyd or Elvis Costello, have refused to perform in Israel. Even some countries, like Turkey and Norway, have implemented partial sanctions on Israel like ending military cooperation or downgrading diplomatic relations.
All of these efforts put together are contributing to isolate Israel and thus impose costs on Israel`s persistent violations of international law. Where governments have failed, citizens are acting. Israel and its allies have recognized the power of BDS and are doing all they can to sabotage the movement by resorting to smear and distortions, albeit unsuccessfully given the movement`s strong anti-racist credentials and basis on human rights and international law. Even the President and Prime Minister of Israel and the US President have acknowledged the potential consequences of BDS on Israel and warned against the growing strength of the movement (in an attempt to salvage Israel`s undue privileges)
BDS is seen today as the most promising avenue for average individuals to stand in meaningful solidarity with Palestinians and affect change through direct action. Besides being effective, BDS is the course of action Palestinians themselves have asked from us.
How can Muslims take part in the BDS movement?
First of all it is important to learn about the BDS movement, understand its principles and values and its successes.
I recommend going through the movement`s website www.bdsmovement.net and to read the book "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" by Omar Barghouti available for purchase from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions-Omar-Barghouti/dp/1608461149
Second, search for BDS groups in your local area. One would be surprised with how many BDS groups already exist in so many countries. Join them or else if there aren’t any, form a group yourself or convince existing groups to take on BDS work.
Third and very importantly, do thorough research before launching any campaigns. Research is crucial because being able to convince the public with hard evidence is half way through to getting them to act. You can launch a campaign for example to convince your supermarket to stop stocking Israeli products or you can join an existing global campaign such as the one against US corporation Caterpillar supplying the Israeli military with bulldozers to destroy Palestinian houses. Some campaigns may run for years until there is progress, but BDS is a great tool to educate others about the realities in Palestine so it`s always a win-win even if there aren’t immediate results to see.
Finally, a word of caution, there is a tendency to see the Palestinian cause as charity, especially among Muslims. This perception couldn`t be further from reality. While no doubt there is material deprivation in Palestine, especially among the refugee population, liberation can only be achieved through action by addressing the root causes of the conflict. This is what BDS strives to do.