The duty to support the BDS movement

Nurit Peled-Elhanan.

EP laureate  of the Skharov prize for human rights and the freedom of speech


On the 15th of April 2015 the Israeli supreme court approved the bill defining as criminal offense the call to boycott Israeli institutions and organizations or people who cooperate with the occupation. People who call for boycott of settlements products or support the BDS are liable to stand trial in Israel. On the 16th of April the court approved the bill allowing the state to confiscate Palestinian houses and assets in East Jerusalem if they choose to live elsewhere for more than 3 months. This law, which has allowed Israel to confiscate most of Palestinian property since 1948 is called “the law of assets of absentees.” It is time the world knows that all Palestinian “absentees” are not absent but present and that robbing them of their assets and land is a crime against humanity.

But Palestinian “absentees” can also be present according to Israeli law. That is why  Israel ignores about 180 villages where people who are legally defined as “present absentees” live, and denies them infrastructure, electricity and water. These villages are constantly harassed and destroyed by Israeli authorities,  their crops and herds are constantly poisoned, and their houses are constantly demolished, and all this in order to overtake their lands.

These are only few examples of the life of Palestinians who are the citizens of Israel. Israel, that has succeeded in advertising itself as a democracy while maintaining an apartheid ethnocratic regime, depriving half of its dominated population of basic necessities such as water in the summer and electricity in winter time, is speedily turning into a fascist state, where the freedom of choice, of speech, of movement and of affiliation is being all but effaced, and the right of ownership is not respected if you are not a Jew. Non-Jews have been living in a “state of exception” for 67 years. Giorgio Agamben said in 2003: “The state of Israel is a good example of how when the state of exception is prolonged then all democratic institutions collapse. This is what happened in the Weimar republic“[1]

The sociologist Stanely Cohen wrote a few years ago, about the shameful silence and complicity of Israeli universities in the face of injustice, of torture, and of murder of Palestinians.  These universities, that confiscated Palestinian lands for their buildings, financed by rich Americans or Australians, don’t react in any ways when Palestinians are being evicted from their homes, expelled from their city of Jerusalem or tortured in any way, nor when their children are deliberately run over by settlers’ cars.

Israeli industry prospers because of the occupation of Palestine by violating all international laws and decisions. But not only Israel and its companies profit from this illegal practices. As the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine prove[2], all Western countries do, and in, that they violate international laws and decision that bear their signature. Therefore opposing them, fighting them and denouncing them is a legal and just action and cannot be considered unlawful. Stephane Hessel  – the late president of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, the man who was called “the conscience of the 20th century” and one of the drafters of the human rights chart in 1947 – calls in his best – selling book Indignez Vous (2011), (in English Time for Rage) young people all over  the  world to rage against the dominion of money and corrupt politics, against the corrosion of human rights and the deceitful corrupting media, against the rising of fascism at the 21st century of which the Israeli regime of occupation is the most staggering example. To oppose the existing order, says Hessel, is the moral duty of the young. Stephane Hessel, like all the members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine of which I was a member along with world-known jurists and freedom fighters, Nobel prize laureates and public figures, supported the BDS without reservation, for the simple reason that to support the BDS movement is to support justice.

The fight for justice should address two main issues: evil and the denial of evil. It should press an incessant stream of charges against Israel  and its collaborators  in the International Criminal Court, for violating the international law and sustaining an apartheid state where apartheid racist crimes are committed daily; and it should press charges against those who profit from the occupation of Palestine and do not oppose it. In this group we can find most department stores in the west, institutions who profit from Israeli settlement products such as Soda Stream or Ahava and people who enjoy Israeli services and goods produced in the settlements. These passive supporters help Israel not only to violate international law, but to violate its own law of human dignity and freedom, and to violate Jewish creeds regarding the way foreigners, slaves and other dependent people should be treated. The crime of indifference, of  silence and of collaboration should be exposed and punished. As Bertrand Russell said Silence in the face of evil is a crime against humanity and to fight this silence people of outstanding indignation and commitment are needed. Since the great institutions of the world fail to help the victims and punish the criminals, it is the duty of civil society.

1520 Palestinian children were killed in the last 13 years by |Israeli forces, armed by the Western world, 6000 Palestinian children who have been wounded and maimed by bombs sold to Israel during these years.

In the onslaught on Gaza that has just ended, as in previous ones, the Israeli army was targeting  the most crowded area in the world with the most ferocious and frequently illegal weapons that exterminate whole families, caused maximal localized damage, and not minimal collateral damage as Israeli propaganda has it, using weapons that cut children to pieces or burn them up completely. The outcome of the attack is more than 2000 dead 600 of whom are old people and children and 200 women 20,000 people handicap, blind, paraplegic, and many more with brain damages or 100% burns; media personnel and university professors, paramedics and doctors were assassinated, 50,000 houses, 200 schools, more than 200 mosques,17 hospitals and rehabilitation centres destroyed deliberately, leaving more than 600,000 people destitute without homes or means of livelihood, and 1,8 million people – the entire population of the Gaza Strip – with hardly any electricity, water and waste water infrastructures, not to mention medical supplies, food or freedom,  just because they belong to a certain racial, religious or cultural group. This is not a war. This is sociocide – “the destruction of culture, decimation of indigenous economy, forced imposition of new forms of socio political organization, selective citizen rights. Israel is guilty of the killing of a society’s capacity to survive and to reproduce itself, […]of killing, and wounding of its members[…] deprive people of the  basic needs for survival, wellness, identity, freedom, security, against violence, economic sustainability against starvation and illness; And depriving them of  autonomy  – to be a master of their own house.”[i]

300,000 Palestinian children cannot attend school in Gaza, drowning in sewage, and dying a slow death deprived of their basic human rights to health, food and education; for years now life in Gaza has been worse than the worst ghetto, and sanitation in Gaza is perilous. Gaza has been without a sewage system or electricity or clean drinking water for over five years now because Israel has destroyed its electricity power plants and does not let it be rebuilt, in spite of Israel’s declarations that it does. I believe you have all seen the photographs from this and last winter in which Gazans are seen navigating their way in streets that had become rivers of sewage, carrying their children on their shoulders to school that way, going to work or to the market up to their knees or waist in dirty contaminated muddy waste water. These conditions cause disease, plagues and shortage of any possible kind. In the 2008-2009 raids and in the last merciless attack of summer 2014, which Palestinian and international doctors claim was the most vicious and violent they have ever witnessed in the history of Israeli aggression against Gaza, doctors and experts revealed the use of weapons unknown until now. Soldiers who come out of Gaza say it is a laboratory for all sorts of lethal weapons. I myself saw children and adults full of holes and wounds with no shrapnel in their bodies. Whole familes without legs, burned up babies, a girl whose eyes were erased. Children and adults that are no more than lifeless pieces of flesh, with broken spines and burnt out brains. I saw a woman whose leg exploded and a young man whose inner organs burst out.

According to Dr. Haitham Al  Hassan – Chairman of the Department of General Surgery at Makassed Hospital, and a vascular surgery specialist , and also according to  Dr. Mads Gilbert who treated Gazan patients during the  2008–2009 Israeli raid and again this time, and according to Dr. Erik Fosse, who treated the wounded in Gaza during the  2008–2009 Israeli raid, the unusual wounds were caused by DIME bombs that are prohibited in crowded areas.  However, Dr. Haitham Al  Hassan said, the bombs and their content will probably disappear in the sand by the time the international community gets a permission from the perpetrators to send its committees and observers to look for it. Unfortunately the wounds will not heal as fast. Many of  the survivors, say the doctors, can hardly be cured because of the multiple infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and ruin their immunity system. Makkased hospital which I visited during the 2014 Israeli pogrom in Gaza, spent around half a million dollars every month just for medication, in their attempt to cure these people. No doubt, this is a profitable business for some people.

In other parts of occupied Palestine hundreds of children are gassed or shit-showered by the Israeli army every week in their homes, in their schools and on the street, more than 500 small children were abducted from their homes this month, interrogated in the most cruel conditions, coerced to give false confessions, and incarcerated in Israeli military prisons, cut off their parents and families, traumatized for life, for nothing but throwing stones or crossing a road for Jews only, or entering their village on the way from school through a hole in the apartheid wall. This is defined by UNICEF as severe child abuse. And let us not forget hundreds of refugee children who are thrown in an Israeli jail for the crime of being black and wanting to live.

These children and their parents can never be heard in any court or tribunal in the world. Their discourse has no validity in the Western Judicial system. Their sentence is always already formulated. They are criminals by the very fact that they are Palestinians. And this fact alone allows their oppressors to treat them as beings “who are forcibly denied all social or legal status, and whose lives are dispensable with impunity” (Agamben).

Israel holds two systems of justice and two sets of values: one for selected Jews and one for non-Jews, especially Palestinians and African asylum seekers.  These laws make it possible for the dominant group – the Jewish one – to rob Palestinian lands, demolish their houses, break up their families , incarcerate their children and torture them as much as the secret services see fit without any legal intervention. This is the meaning of the Jewish Democracy which, as our ministers repeat endlessly, is first Jewish and only then democratic. This is the meaning of Jewish Israeli nationalism that has developed from a liberating nationalism of a persecuted minority to an oppressive-racist one, from the nationalism of Ghandi and Mandela to the nationalism of totalitarian tyrants; a nationalism that preaches the purity of race and the eradication of alien elements, the  protection of  the father land from foreigners, whether they are the indigenous natives of the land, or starving asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. Only a few months ago the law against infiltration has passed in the Knesset, a law that allows the state to incarcerate refugees and their children for 3 year before deporting them back to die in the hell from which they escaped. Many of the deported people have died since their deportation, many were killed, the last one a few days ago by Daesh. This man who was expelled by fanatic Jews for not being Jewish was killed by fanatic Muslims for not being a Muslim. Let us remember it was the great pious Jewish scholar Prof. Yeshayahu Leibovitch who said: National Judaism has with Judaism what National Socialism had with Socialism.

What drives Israeli behaviour is pure colonialist nationalist racism that should be treated as such. But Instead of incriminating this criminal state, Israel sustains this regime of occupation and oppression with the full support of Europe and the USA to whom such practices of cleansing, dispossession and eradication are not foreign. Let us remember that Europe has exterminated many millions of indigenous people and Both north and south Americas  that exterminated well over 20 million indigenous people are  not lagging far behind it.

Therefore the question is who will be the judges once the charges against Israeli apartheid and sociocide are accepted? The jailors of Guantanamo? The French who have made the occupation Kosher with their approval of the collaboration of Veolia, the Swiss who have signed some profitable accords with Israeli weapon industry , the British and the German who succeeded in preventung  Palestine from being  accepted to the council of olive growers?

However, even more important than bringing the criminals to trial is the fact that there are people who care. People who survived Auschwitz often say that one of the most exasperating things was the knowledge that nobody knew their suffering, nobody saw their misery. Western countries in general have never been interested in human suffering, especially when it happens in their own back or front yard, and have always classified it under Politics. Hardly anyone today really studies or teaches about Palestinian or any other human suffering caused by Western greed and megalomania. Therefore knowing  that there is a movement that is aware of their misery and is fighting for their lives, for their dignity and their freedom is an incentive for  Palestinians and Israeli activists alike, who resist Israeli evil, to go on fighting and to keep on living. As the attorney of the RTP concluded in the tribunal’s final session: “For anyone on the receiving end of daily brutality, the knowledge of international support for the struggle towards self-determination provides enduring invigoration. Solidarity helps to break down the natural feelings of isolation and an uncaring world.”

As of now, using the feeble excuse that one cannot criticize Israel without being called anti-Semitic and that Europe owes it to the Jewish people to stand by it no matter what in order to atone for its crimes, the West denies its responsibility to the oppressive powerful regime of apartheid in Israel and behaves as if it doesn’t exist. Let me say two things to these people. First there is nothing Jewish in the cruel racist conduct of Israel  towards Palestinians so criticizing it is not Anti  Jewish, on the contrary. The most illustrious Jewish thinkers are and always have been denouncing Israeli ruthless domination of Palestine. Albert Einstein was one of them. Hanna Arendt another, and Stephane Hessel was another, to name but a few. Many distinguished rabbis and Jewish scholars are in this group today. The second thing is: ladies and gentlemen you cannot afford using this excuse anymore when children are being slaughtered, you cannot afford worrying about what other people call you when a holocaust is raging. Just like I cannot afford being afraid of people who call me a traitor for standing up with the oppressed, although many more people have died for being called traitors than for being called anti-Semitic.  In fact no one has ever died for being called anti-Semitic or even for being an anti-Semite, but children and their parents and grandparents are dying as I write because they are called Palestinians, not for any other reason, just like the Jews were exterminated just because they were called Jews. And the world that had turned its back to the Jews then is turning its back to the Palestinians now.

Israel has reached an unimaginable peak of evil. And indeed many people all over the world find it hard to imagine that this is so. Israel is still treated by the world as a “special case,” and the question is WHY? Why is it that in other cases the war criminals are dragged to court and the victims are invited to give testimony, while in this case, the victims are being constantly blamed for their own misery and the perpetrators enjoy full impunity? Why, Instead of punishing the war criminals who rule over  Israel and Palestine like gangsters against all international laws and conventions – razing whole neighbourhoods and  murdering the wives and children of their enemy commanders, inflicting collective punishment on millions of people for pure revenge, states from the European Union did all they could to prevent the victims from pressing charges against their tormentors? Why, instead of wondering what kind of racist education brings up nice Jewish boys and girls to become cold hearted unscrupulous murderers in uniform, the EP supervises, controls and censors the education system of the victims, and does not even look into that of the perpetrators. Israeli children are inculcated the most blatant fundamental sort of racism, whose best pupils are now raging in our streets, harassing, beating and in one case even burning a Palestinian boy alive, with the encouragement of inciting rabbis, ministers, the prime-minister and members of the Knesset. This racism is the ground on which Israeli soldiers and pilots are brought up to believe Palestinian children are not human beings like us but a problem that should be eliminated. But this does not seem to interest the international community. Why is it that instead of providing the oppressed with means of livelihood and protection, instead of fighting for their freedom and basic human rights the Western enlightened world keeps arming their occupiers, take their oppressors into more partnerships after every massacre, upgrade their status in the European Union and put their representatives in committees for human rights – if that is not cynicism then what is???

People always say that the world, meaning the west, has not learned the lesson of the holocaust or of 9.11 for that matter. The lesson should have been Never Again Nowhere, to nobody. But it seems to me the world has learned another important lesson. It has learned that you can get away with exploitation, theft and mass murder as long as you exterminate the right people, the right race. When the victims are Palestinians the perpetrators get away with it and the world is silent. Israeli apartheid regime and its evil practices would not have been accepted by the West had it not been against Arabs. The international law is not unknown to these states but it is inapplicable when the victims are Arab Muslims. Arabs are the victims of this modern Western  anti-Semitism that has changed its target from Jews to Muslims. And the international law is very clear about the crime of Anti-Semitism.

Israel, with the help of the most illustrious institutions of the West, deprives Palestinians of their past and their future and forces them to live on their land with no monuments and none of their symbols in public spaces. The present for them is an unending harassment; their destiny is futurelessness.  “Being unpredictable, the future shrinks to survival.”(Johan gutlang).

The symbolic elimination of Palestinians as Ilan Pappe explains, their effacement from the narrative, from the economy and the culture, from schoolbooks and from maps, is the point where ethnic cleansing becomes genocidal. When you are eliminated from history books and the discourse of top politicians, there is always a danger that the next step would be physical elimination. All these crimes are committed with excuses derived from what the late sociologist Stanley Cohen called the Zionist kitsch. It is time to expose this kitch for what it is and call crime a crime, as the BDS movement does.

On 17 of March the citizens of Israel voted to continue the sociocide – not to say the genocide- of the Palestinian people, to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin citizens and to continue the ethnocide of many groups within the Israeli people. By this vote they have given their prime minister license to continue the destruction of Palestine and of Israel thereby. That is why I would like to dedicate my words to the 14 children who were kidnapped brutally by frightfully armed soldiers from different parts of East Jerusalem on the day of the elections and incarcerated in conditions condemned by UNICEF as child abuse. These and other such crimes against humanity are the Israeli way to tell the world that we shall go on practicing state terror for as long as the international community allows it. And so far it has allowed it. As the findings of the Russell tribunal prove, the international community will allow it as long as it profits from it. However, it seems that fortune is the only thing Western collaborators are interested in. Luckily for us, they have no ideology, no vision and no other interest except to get richer and more powerful. And these can be fought through BDS.

The state of Israel that has been showing the utmost contempt to any international law, decision or stature, has proven by the law against the call for boycott to what extent the BDS movement has succeeded in frightening the Lords of the holy land. There could be no greater prize than that.


[1] [1] Giorgio Agamben. The State of Exception – Der Ausnahmezustand. Lecture at European Graduate School. August 2003. Transcription by: Anton Pulvirenti

[i] Johan Gutland:


International Social Forum Tunisia, 25.3.2015

Nurit Peled-Elhanan – The Russell Tribunal on Palestine


Thank you for inviting me to speak at the international social forum here in Tunisia. It is very symbolic that our conference should be held here, in the country that started the Arab spring and has never stopped struggling for democracy and freedom. It is very symbolic for me personally because 42 years ago my father Matti Peled came here disguised as a woman, with a false French passport to meet Yassar Arafat and to start talking about peace. Unfortunately Neither my father’s efforts nor the Arab spring have pierced the iron mental walls of Israel –   the country that advertises itself as the only democracy in the ME while holding 4 million people captive in inhuman conditions, with no civil or human rights, a country whose governments and army – which means most of its citizens – commit crimes against humanity every day, every hour.

Only a week ago the Israeli public has voted again for a regime of terror. A week ago the Israeli people, infested with fear and with hate and poisoned by threats of another  immanent holocaust, instigated by an unscrupulous cynical prime minister who brought them to the worst economic and social state the country has ever known, and yet managed to  incite them to follow his criminal ways. Israel was declared a few weeks ago as first among the OECD nations in poverty and in the gap between the richest and the poorest but neither poverty nor the interminable dominion of Death, could defy the indoctrination of racism and fear, that led to the results of the last elections. Israeli elections last week showed the world once again that cheap and brutal propaganda can heat up ignorant oppressed people to elect their own usurpers to be their governors. It is not the first time in History that racist propaganda incites miserable fearful crowds to forget their own troubles and direct their frustration and hate towards their neighbours but it is as always a symptom of a very sick and miserable society. As an educator I can tell you that the sadism of Israeli leaders, their megalomania and their colonialist greed nourish Israeli education and media in order to make all Israeli citizens accomplices. Israeli  children are educated to Ignorance and heterophobia which are the best ingredients for the making of heinous murderous mobs. They know nothing about their immediate neighbours – the Palestinians, and nothing about the Middle East in general. The Arab spring was presented to them as a catastrophe, and since most of them do not speak or read any other language except for the small restricted creole-language of Hebrew, they have no other sources of information except their education and their media propaganda. After being mind- infected  for 15 long years with the poison of hate and fear towards everyone who is different, they are good and ready to become the soldiers you all saw in Gaza and in checkpoints. Yet the World supervises and criticizes Palestinian education and media while leaving Israeli indoctrination to its own devices and Israeli media and political talk  – that is nothing short of incitement to murder – un-touched.  The elections last week and the repeated onslaughts on Gaza, endorsed if not condoned by the enlightened western world , that left tens of thousands of children without homes and without access to proper education, without limbs and without water, without any form of normal life and without hope, prove to all the world how successful Israeli education and propaganda are.

The citizens of Israel voted to continue the sociocide – not to say the genocide- of the Palestinian people, to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin citizens and to continue the ethnocide of many groups within the Israeli people. By this vote they have given their prime minister license to continue the destruction of Palestine and of Israel thereby. That is why I would like to dedicate my words to the 14 children who were kidnapped brutally by frightfully armed soldiers from different parts of East Jerusalem on the day of the elections and incarcerated in conditions condemned by UNICEF as child abuse. These and other such crimes against humanity are the Israeli way to tell the world that we shall go on practicing state terror for as long as the international community allows it. And so far it has allowed it. As the findings of the Russell tribunal prove, the international community will allow it as long as it profits from it. There is not one Western state that does not profit from the occupation of Palestine and from the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. However, it seems that fortune is the only thing Western collaborators are interested in. Luckily for us, they have no ideology, no vision and no other interest except to get richer and more powerful. And these can be fought through BDS.

However, in this bleak picture we do have a ray of hope, a gleam of the regional spring in the shape of the joint list of Muslim, Christian and Jews, pious, nationalists and communists that have come together and became the third biggest party in Israel. These people, who put aside their differences in order to commit themselves  to democracy, to human rights and to equality, are the first blossom of our spring. For the first time in the History of the state of Israel we have politicians who have never killed or wounded  anyone, who never stole lands or demolished houses, never bombed whole cities and never incarcerated children. These people may be called leaders.

Netanyahu’s victory is a call for endless war not only on Palestine but on Democracy, on  human rights and on international law; but our call should be the call of outrage and solidarity against evil. Indignez Vous said our beloved Stephane Hessel and this call – the call of outrage that has already won the battle in several places throughout History  – should guide us all. Let us remember that we have the power to say no and to influence others to say no as the great success of the BDS movement has proven so far.  With joint efforts, we can drag the criminals to the Hague, and tear down the walls – both physical and mental – between countries and people. I call from this stage to all of you, the flowers of the Arab spring and the citizens of the free world, help us overthrow the regime of racism and death and free the children of Palestine and Israel of a life that is not worth living. Un monde solidaire est possible.

I would like to end this speech with some lines from the Turkish poet Nazim Ikhmet translated by Pete Seeger:

I ask for nothing for myself

For I am dead for I am dead

All that I ask is that for peace you fight today

So that the children of the world

Can live and grow and laugh and play.

Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan