Cross-posted from Consortium News
Amid the impending collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry's Israel-Palestine negotiations for a two-state solution, Israel appears determined to expand settlements in the West Bank while Palestinians are ratcheting up international pressure in pursuit of their human rights.
In a new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Ali Abunimah sees surprising hope in the possibility of a democratic one-state solution achieved through growing global support for a boycott-divestment movement targeting what he calls Israeli "apartheid" in Palestine.
DB: Please let me begin, Ali, by asking you, are people better off now than 20 years ago in Occupied Palestine? How would you evaluate the situation?
AA: I started The Battle for Justice in Palestine with a very short sentence: "The Palestinians are winning." And that might sound really out-of-touch given the fact that in so many ways Palestinians are actually worse off today than they were 20 years ago, after 20 years of the so-called Oslo Peace Process. And I chronicle that in the book, from the siege of Gaza, which you know, has absolutely devastated the economy there, devastated the foundations of civilized life, to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Bedouins in the Negev, to the catastrophe facing Palestinian refugees in Syria. You might think that I'm out-of-touch.
But the story I tell in this book is, I think in terms of the public debate and public understanding of the real roots of the violence and conflict in Palestine, things have never been better in many ways. There is an incredibly vibrant and growing movement for justice in Palestine that's like nothing I have seen in 20 years. And so in this book I wanted to lay out some of the realities that really offer hope, that there is a path forward. And we are very much on it. And that's what I hope The Battle for Justice in Palestine offers.
DB: Talk a little bit about where one finds the hope. Clearly, in the everyday, daily situation, we've got the Israelis continually being supported by the U.S. government, although the U.S. government says, "No, you shouldn't expand those settlements" or "No, that's wrong. Don't knock down those houses. It's not going to help." So we have that continuing, but what are the counter-balances to the extraordinary oppression that continues to exist in the isolated Gaza Strip? What are the counter balances? What are the emerging forces that give you hope?
AA: Well, a few years ago when Barack Obama was elected I wrote a piece, looking forward, predicting what I thought would happen in the next few years, and I said two things: One is that there was going to be no two-state solution. And, the peace process would go absolutely nowhere, and I was right about that. I guess that's not too hard to be right about.
The other thing I said is that this was not going to remain static, and those who support justice in Palestine would have options. And a main option in North America and in many parts of the world for people who are fed up with this, is to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. And, so a major change is that this movement is a real force now. It's a much more significant force than John Kerry's peace negotiations.
And you can see that in the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu devoted one-third of his recent speech at the AIPAC Israel lobby conference, to attacking the BDS Movement. This is a real factor on campuses all over the country. I was at the University of Michigan a few weeks ago, when there was the largest-ever attendance at any student government meeting. Thousands of people were there, either in person or watching on video feed, when divestment was being debated.
And when that vote was lost because the students chickened out, in a sense, there was this spontaneous rally of hundreds of people. And I thought to myself, I have seen this kind of energy and mobilization before but it has always been around a military attack, Operation Cast Lead, or some other atrocity, the war in Lebanon. And then it has gradually died down and dissipated. What is different now is that this is a sustained movement.
People in power, institutions in power are being forced to react. They are being forced, they feel, to condemn the ethical movement that students are leading. And they are being forced to try and stamp this out through censorship, rather than to address it.
But you know what? That's always how it's been. As powerful institutions, they don't take the right side, they don't take the ethical side. They have to be pushed and pressured and fought into doing the right thing eventually. And I think the critical mass that I'm seeing on campuses is just like something I've never seen. But it's much bigger than that. And yet that's just one of the places that I think we see things changing.
DB: This movement that's happening, in terms of the boycott and divestment movement, it is interesting that it's taking hold in spite of what is quite a bit of repression happening on the campuses against the students and the teachers, right? This is not an easy row.
AA: It's a lot of repression. And, I write about this in the book that since 2010 the Israel lobby and pro-Israel organizations have spent millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, in trying to repress Palestine solidarity activism on campuses and particularly the BDS movement. And they are not just targeting activists, they are also targeting educators and teachers and professors in the institutions themselves. And one of the major groups in this campaign is something called The David Project, which is founded by a really extreme, pro-Israel Islamophobe.
They actually recommend accusing professors who teach about Palestine, accusing them of academic malpractice. And trying to bring in all of the disciplinary proceedings against students, against teachers. And we've seen that in a big way. We saw it in the Irvine 11 trial where the University of California, Irvine, colluded with Orange County prosecutors to bring their own students to trial. For what? For protesting against the Israeli ambassador. We've seen the abusive use of U.S. civil rights law to try and stifle activism on campus.
And just in the past few weeks we've seen absolutely astonishing acts of censorship and repression. For the first time, Northeastern University in Boston, it became the first U.S. university to have the distinction of banning outright a Students for Justice in Palestine group. And just last week, the spoken word poet and activist, Rami Nashashibi -- an event that he was having at Washington University in St. Louis was canceled and they tried to tell him what he could and could not speak about.