For the first time since the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against institutions supporting Israeli apartheid, students from North America and Palestine came together in Ramallah to share their ideas and experiences. Consisting of eight days of travel and a four-day workshop, the North American student delegation spent their two weeks getting connected with the struggle in Palestine in order to better articulate the BDS movement in their respective cities. The visiting students met face to face with those who are living and resisting the systematic oppression of Palestinians by the state of Israel.
The travel portion brought the students nearly everywhere giving them a chance to see the distinct realities of what it is to be a Palestinian; be it in Hebron living next to violent settlers, in Haifa where they live as second class citizens or the Negev where a majority of Palestinian villages are not recognized by the state and therefore do not receive basic services such as running water. All the while the group respected the boycott as much as possible booking all accommodations and transportation with Palestinian businesses in every city, even those within Israel.
Aside from personal connections, they attended several meetings with Palestinian organizations like Badil – Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (also instrumental in the BDS campaign), Baladna (developmental and capacity building agency for Arab-Palestinian youth in Israel) and Adalah and Addameer (two rights-based organizations working mostly in the court system), solidifying direct lines of cooperation for future campaigns on and off campus. They also met with some Israeli activists working from within on promoting the boycott, the right to return, refusal to serve in the military and corporate complicity.
The delegation consisted of representatives from Palestinian-youth community and student organizations from three Palestinian universities and several cities within Israel, which totaled around 25 with their North American counterparts.
The obvious non-represented group of students were those from universities in besieged Gaza to whom we spoke via an all-too-short video conference session in Birzeit University. Their message was clear in that they felt that the cruel military blockade needed to be dealt with as an urgent matter however that talking about the BDS campaign was a way in which this could be done without efforts being spread too thin on certain specific issues.
The workshops themselves had their positive and negative sides in so far that the challenges faced and achievements gained on Palestinian and North American campuses are quite different. The discussions resulted less in concrete plans and strategies, but much more in an understanding and future direction between the youth Palestine solidarity movement from the inside and abroad. Some of the biggest challenges Palestinian student activists faced were the seeming impossibility of running a successful boycott in some areas where the Palestinian economy is totally dominated by Israel (Birzeit University being the only exception) and the opposition from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has considerable influence on campuses, to any Gaza solidarity work due to the political situation. However unlike in North America students in Palestine do have a large base of support in nonpartisan civil society and the community at large that the visiting students are trying so hard to build in their own countries.
In stark opposition to the coming together that was the delegation, the group as a whole was given a tour of the apartheid wall by the Stop the Wall campaign and was able to see the land confiscations and strategic settlement expansions that accompany it. Due to the fact that this construction is ongoing, it gave the group a collective sense of what will happen if Israel’s racist polices of apartheid are not opposed.
The group also met with other Palestinians instrumental in the BDS campaign such as Omar Barghouti. The delegation was only the first of others that will be sure to follow in the near future now that the foundations are laid.
Doug Smith is a Montreal based student organizer, writer and activist currently working in solidarity with the Palestinian call for BDS on campus as well as in the community.