BDS: Thinking Outside the PLO Box

‘The tragedy of Gaza was not enough to wake the PLO up from its slumber.’

By Samah Sabawi

Three months ago, the world stood still for one rare moment of absolute clarity as it grasped the implication of Israel’s imprisonment of a civilian population and its use of aid and medicine as a political bargaining chip and a means of collective punishment. That moment of clarity and world sympathy was what the Palestinians needed to break the siege of Gaza. That moment was squandered by a Palestinian leadership still chasing its own tail much to the amusement of its enemies, frustration of its friends and utter disappointment of the people it claims to represent.

Anger cannot begin to describe the feelings of tens of thousands of families who are crammed into tents erected on the rubble of what was their home as they watch the endless bickering and shuffling back and forth of their leaders who don’t seem to get the gravity of their predicament. And while tons of food aid rots in Egypt prevented by Israel from entering into the Strip, while Egypt and the PA continue to dance the tango with Israeli officials, while Hamas continues to tighten its hold over the strip by silencing its opponents, and while the world loses that moment of great clarity, a transformation must and is taking place not only in the scarred minds of the Gaza population but also in the West Bank and in the minds of Palestinians everywhere.

Palestinians, once united and represented by the PLO are beginning to realize that they are now divided by that exact process that the PLO has lead them into. This being the Peace Process which yielded the Palestinian Authority – a government forced to function under the grip of occupation and forced to cater to the whim of its occupier. A government without a state to govern that is incapable of protecting and providing security or in the case of Gaza even basic necessities for its people.

While Gaza was in flames, the most that the PA could do was threaten to cut off talks with Israel. This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic given that the Israeli government has not had any meaningful talks with the PA and plans to continue to ignore their annoying whimpers. Persisting with their futile effort to stop Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, Ahmed Qurei, head of the PA negotiating team, said the Israeli raid threatened to sabotage the peace process and it “places obstacles and creates difficulties for the negotiators.” Qurei only needs to take a look around him in the West Bank to see that the “peace process” itself is what is sabotaging the peace and allowing Israel to continue to expand its colonial enterprise while maintaining the illusion that they are negotiating with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Hamas – the democratically elected government in Gaza has resisted all pressures aimed to lessen its control even for the sake of saving what is left of an impoverished traumatized strip. Their claims to be the resistance movement that is on a higher moral ground than the PA’s Fatah faction is made murky by their irrational nonstrategic behavior and their seeming lack of concern for the well being of their opponents. Recent Human Rights Watch reports claim violations of human rights by Hamas against those accused of being Fatah supporters or collaborators with Israeli forces.

In their struggle for domination and leadership of an authority created under Israeli occupation, and dependent for its salaries and livelihood on the blessings of Israel and the international community, both Hamas and Fatah have become unwitting partners in the tools of Israeli oppression. Palestinians know they cannot afford to lose any more time. Every day brings them more ethnic cleansing, more home demolitions, more checkpoints and more erosion of their human rights. Seeing that the tragedy of Gaza was not enough to wake the PLO up from its deep slumber and seeing that the death, destruction and starvation was not enough to motivate Hamas and Fatah to put aside their differences, Palestinians are left with one brilliant light of hope in their dark sky – and it is one ignited by Palestinian Civil Society.

So far, 170 Palestinian Civil Society organizations have joined a unified call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. Using the South African model of ending apartheid, Palestinian Civil Society seems to have gotten what the PLO did not see: The Palestinian struggle is better embodied in a civil rights movement that calls for concrete non-violent action. A movement that doesn’t begin with deciding who leads a state not yet conceived, but one that starts at the grass roots level, demanding freedom and human rights first. Only a free and vibrant society can have power over its destiny, can hold real elections and can be free to make its own democratic choices.

The BDS movement promises to inspire people around the world to join hands at the grass roots level with Palestinian Civil Society and to put real pressure on Israel to re-examine its racist apartheid like policies and its occupation of a people who have yearned for nothing more than what many in the world enjoy, their freedom!

– Samah Sabawi is a Canadian Palestinian writer and activist. She contributed this article to

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