Hind Awwad, national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), recently toured Europe to support the growing worldwide campaign. The movement aims to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel, and calls for respect for the rights of Palestine refugees. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviewed Hind Awwad in Bern, Switzerland.
Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?
Hind Awwad: I work as a coordinator for the BNC in Palestine. I am a third-generation Palestinian refugee. My grandparents come from Lifta which was ethnically cleansed in 1948. My grandfather’s house is still there. I have visited it. I went to college in the US and was active for justice in Palestine groups. Our Caterpillar campaign brought awareness to campus. The college announced it did not hold shares in Caterpillar. After graduation I came back to Palestine and I contacted the BNC to find out if I could contribute to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
AN: As BNC coordinator you are in touch with activists around the globe. Can you discuss the development of the BDS movement?
HA: I think it is growing at a pace that is surprising, in a positive way. It took the South African BDS campaign 25 years to achieve what we achieved in five years. That is what South Africans and anti-apartheid activists tell us. And we see [new tactics] of BDS activities by the young generation with flash mobs, actions in supermarkets, dances and songs. It takes the BDS campaign to new levels. A growing number of Palestinian trade unions signed the BDS call [and] trade unions in France, Scotland and Ireland are considering ending their relationship with the Israeli Histradut trade union.
Students are active on campuses in the UK and the US. The students of the University of California at Berkeley made us very proud with their amazing fight for divestment of university funds from General Electric and United Technologies. Palestinian youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in 1948 [historic Palestine] closely followed the events at Berkeley. Another important development is possibly my favorite. Recently, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced [the cessation of] speaking tours of Israeli officials to the UK and the US, because of the protests they expect.
AN: Are there BDS activities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 1948 or what is now called Israel?
HA: It is important to note that boycotts are not new to Palestinians, especially during the first intifada they played a more prominent role. My favorite part is the student BDS activities. For example, Birzeit University has no Israeli goods on its campus. All Palestinian universities adhere to the principles of an academic boycott. In April, an initiative was launched by all student councils in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian youth groups in the diaspora to end their involvement in normalization projects that dilute our rights. It was a united stand, a start to work together, an initial step. There is also a new boycott campaign in Bethlehem.
The majority of Palestinian student groups in Israel support the academic and cultural boycott. A boycott of Israeli products in Israel is not feasible.
AN: How does the Palestinian Authority (PA) respond to the BDS movement?
HA: One has to look at it in perspective. The PA is unelected. It is there because of the US. It does not represent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It is complicit in Israel’s oppression. It is a sub-contractor of the occupation.
The PA has engaged in a small part of the boycott of settlement products. It is the only part the Oslo accords allow for. It is a step in the right direction. If the PA had a different stand, all governments would react differently. But civil society says Israel is the oppressor, not the settlements. It is clear to people that the PA should be dismantled, especially since [its response to] the Goldstone report on Gaza.
The PA is strict on customs; they sometimes destroy whole shipments of goods. They stopped the selling of Israeli mobile phone cards, although in some areas in the OPT you can only use Israeli phones. The goals of the PA boycott of settlement products are not realistic.
AN: What do the international BDS activities mean to Palestinians?
HA: I think the BDS campaign has done a lot … it has ended the Israeli left’s domination of the discourse which was limited to the occupation, dismissing the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the rights of the refugees. BDS has allowed us to set the terms of the discourse and define our rights. We work towards a complete rights-based solution. It keeps us going. It shows there is hope in the midst of home demolitions, land confiscations, violations of rights and discrimination in Israel. Every victory of the BDS movement feels like we are a step closer. We are not alone in ending the oppression. It has a huge impact.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.