Boot on the other foot | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Boot on the other foot

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has projected itself to the world as a liberal democratic state, although it was founded on war, ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine and separation of remaining Palestinians from Israeli Jews. Israel traded on the false image in the West to secure uncritical backing from Western powers. For decades, however, Third World countries were not convinced, and along with the Soviet bloc courted and supported the Arabs.

Israel got away with projecting a positive image in spite of its violent birth because its early governments were left-leaning and Westerners did not look too closely at its bad behaviour.

Consequently, Israel was not punished for its participation in the 1956 Anglo-French war on Egypt and was celebrated after its 1967 conquest of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although the UN Security Council adopted resolution 242 in November 1967 calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory, no pressure was exerted on Israel when, instead, it began colonisation, violating international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population into occupied territory. Due to the failure of the West to intervene, there are today 600,000 Israelis squatting on land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that Palestinians need for their state.

Since the Likud party won the 1977 election by a landslide, Israel has grown increasingly right-wing, illiberal and repressive of Palestinians living under its rule. In recent years, Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have also cozied up to authoritarian rulers elsewhere, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. Even the Washington Post’s neoconservative commentator Robert Kagan has disparaged Netanyahu’s new best friends.

Having failed to end Israel’s 1967 occupation by means of armed resistance, the Palestinians have adopted peaceful political means which are rejected not only by Israel but also its Western allies. The first Intifada (1987-93) was the Palestinians’ initial effort to secure an end to Israel’s occupation through protest and civil disobedience. This ended with the 1993 Oslo accord which initiated a peace process that has collapsed due to Israel’s colonisation enterprise and the failure of Western powers to halt this land grab.

Instead of supporting the Palestinians’ latest effort to secure their rights with the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, Western liberal democrats in the US, Germany and France are doing their best to delegitimise and quash it.

On Nov.25, Human Rights Watch representative to Palestine and Israel Omar Shakir, a US citizen who documented Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Hamas abuses of Palestinians, was expelled for allegedly supporting BDS, which is illegal in Israel under a 2017 law. This was the first deportation although the organisation has been working in Israel for 30 years. Neither Shakir nor Human Rights Watch has backed BDS, although Human Rights Watch has urged international businesses to shun Israel’s illegal colonies.

In response to Shakir’s deportation, the organisation’s director Kenneth Roth stated, “Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses. This decision shows why the international community must reboot its approach to Israel’s deteriorating human rights record. A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure.” That pressure has never been forthcoming.

For decades Israel has routinely blocked entry of or expelled activists promoting Palestinian rights. In August this year, Israel refused to permit two US Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilham Omar, from conducting a tour by fellow legislators of Israel and the occupied territories.

Israel’s latest high profile target is Omar Barghouti, Palestinian BDS activist and academic who was born in Qatar, grew up in Egypt and studied in the US. In 1993 he married a Palestinian citizen of Israel, settled in Acre and earned MA and doctorate degrees from the University of Tel Aviv.

Israel’s Moroccan-born caretaker Interior Minister Aryeh Deri justified the deportation of Barghouti by saying, “This is a man who acts to harm the state, vilify it, and hence he must not enjoy the right to be a resident of Israel.”

In 2016, Israel revoked his travel document, preventing Barghouti from going abroad. After the country’s Supreme Court called for the renewal of this document, Barghouti travelled to the US where he received the Gandhi Peace Prize. This year he was denied entry to the US and UK. Barred from Britain, he spoke to the Labour party conference via video-link.

The BDS movement was formed by 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 with the aim of exerting non-violent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by ending the occupation of the 1967 territories, grants full equality of Palestinian citizens and accepts the right of return of Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948. The first BDS congress was held in 2007 at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The movement urges the exclusion of Israel from UN bodies and sports associations and a boycott of Israeli events and gatherings attended by Israelis. Germany’s parliament has adopted resolutions claiming BDS is “anti-Semitic” while the US Congress has tried to sanction BDS supporters.

Barghouti has countered the accusation of anti-Semitism by saying that BDS “opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism” and made the point that Jewish support for BDS is growing around the world.

Aware that the increasing global reach of BDS is eroding Israel’s moral authority, Prime Minister Netanyahu described the movement as “the greatest threat currently facing Israel... We are in the midst of a great struggle being waged against the state of Israel, an international campaign to blacken its name.” Unfortunately for Netanyahu, BDS does not “blacken its name.” Israel’s own actions do.

“The most dangerous thing that could happen to Israel is nonviolent resistance,” stated Iris Hefets, an Israeli woman who is on the board of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, a German group which backs BDS. She told Deutsche Welle, “This is the first time the Israeli government has encountered a movement over which it has no influence — and which is gaining in popularity... It’s about people who see an injustice, who discover their power and do something about it. What can Israel do about it? Nothing! Apart from totalitarian attempts to prevent it, and to influence politics.”

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