ON MY 70th birthday, I received a gift from Yitzhak Rabin: he signed the document recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people, after many decades of denial. He also recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as its representative. I had demanded this, almost alone, for many years.
Three days later, the Oslo agreement was signed on the White House lawn.
This week I received another gift of similar magnitude, obviously in anticipation of my 90th birthday, which is due in less than two months.
No less an institution than the European Union has declared what practically amounts to a total boycott of the settlements, 15 years after Gush Shalom, the peace organization to which I belong, had issued a call for such a boycott.
The European decision says that no Israeli institution or corporation which has any direct or indirect connection with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights will receive any contract, grant, prize or suchlike from the EU or any member state. To assure compliance, every contract between Israelis and the EU will contain a paragraph stating that the settlements are not part of Israel.
A friend of mine sent me a message consisting of one word: Mabrouk (Congratulations, in Arabic).
If all this sounds a bit megalomaniac, please make allowances. I am just happy.
WHEN WE decided to organize our boycott in 1998, we had several interconnected aims in mind.
A boycott is an eminently democratic instrument, a form of non-violent resistance. Every single individual can decide for himself or herself whether to join the boycott or not.
Also, every individual can decide whether to boycott all the enterprises on the recommended list, or exclude some. Some of our supporters refused to boycott the Golan settlements, which they considered different from the others, some refused to boycott the East Jerusalemites. A famous artist declared that he was quite unable to live without the excellent Golan wines.
Many enterprises in the settlements did not go there for ideological reasons -- capitalists are not generally known for their ideological fervor -- but because the Israeli government gave them (stolen) land for free, as well as all kinds of grants, exemption from taxes and other incentives. It made economic sense for a corporation to sell their very high-priced site in Tel Aviv and get free land in Ariel. A boycott may counterbalance these gains.
Contrary to getting out into the streets and joining a demonstration, not buying something in the supermarket is a private affair. In a demonstration, one may get tear-gassed, water-cannoned or clubbed. One exposes oneself and may be put on a list somewhere or even dismissed from a government job.
Everybody can boycott. One doesn't need to join an organization, sign a petition, identify oneself. Yet one has the satisfaction of doing something useful, in accordance with one's convictions.
But our main purpose was conceptual. For decades, successive Israeli governments have striven to eradicate the Green Line from the map and the minds of the people. The main aim of the boycott was to reinstitute the real borders of Israel in the public mind.
We distributed many thousands of copies of the list of settlement enterprises, all on request.
The Israeli government paid us the unique compliment of enacting a special law that penalizes all calls for a boycott of the settlers' products. Every person who feels harmed by such a call can demand unlimited compensation, without having to prove any actual damage. This could amount to millions of dollars.
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