How the Boycott Hurts Palestinians

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Palestinians had worked alongside Jews at the SodaStream factory: Mishor Adumim industrial park, Jan. 30, 2014, before the company had to move. The picture shows a female worker wearing blue clothing and a lilac headscarf, packaging.
Palestinians had worked alongside Jews at the SodaStream factory: Mishor Adumim industrial park, Jan. 30, 2014, before the company had to move.Credit: AFP

Thirty-four year old Samir is busy slicing wood on his ban saw for a kitchen cabinet  he is building for neighbors in the Beitar Ilit sttlement across the road. 

The planks of wood were imported from Sweden and purchased in Israel. They are stacked in his carpentry workshop on the muddy main street in the village of Husan, in the Jerusalem hills near Bethlehem. "I have clients from Beitar and Gilo, and if I could make contacts in Efrat, I would," he says in fluent Hebrew, referring to nearby Jewish settlements. "We trust each other. It is not about politics; it is about cooperation for survival."

Outside, workshops, construction supply depots, garages and stores all have signs in Arabic and Hebrew, and they are relatively busy with contractor customers, both Israeli and Palestinian. A young, bearded Haredi man drives his van away from a gas station after filling up. Nobody looks twice.

The BDS movement in Europe and the United States, which includes activist groups and student unions, has been stepping up calls to cut off Israel in the fields of culture, business and education, in order to protest the occupation. 

But why are they not calling on Palestinians in the West Bank to take part on a local level - to cut contacts with Israelis, and stop buying Israeli goods and services? It might sound like a logical move, but it is here, in the West Bank, that the boycott movement loses its logic.

The push by BDS leaders has made the boycott the most fashionable way for Europeans and Americans to protest against the Israeli occupation. But for Palestinians, this is a problem, to say the least.

How much contact do boycott proponents have with average Palestinians, not those who work in offices in Ramallah? If they were to come to Husan and dozens of other villages like it in the West Bank, the European and American activists would find that Palestinian entrepreneurs and workers want and need more contact with Israelis, not less.

"We small-time entrepreneurs in Palestine cannot survive without working with Israelis, and the benefits are mutual," Samir states. "For us, the boycott, the moukata'a, is ridiculous. Nobody here likes the Israeli occupation, but cutting ties would be a death wish."

It appears to many Palestinians - and to this journalist - that most BDS proponents in the West either have never been to Israel and Palestine, or do not know much about the ties between the two peoples that exist for better or worse. Or perhaps they care more about trying to damage Israel than they do about improving Palestinians' lives.

In his busy building supply depot in Husan, Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Shushe, 51, sells materials and tools made in Hebron, Palestine's industrial capital, as well as in Israel,  Europe, China and India. Supplies are imported through Israel and Jordan.

"We have relationships and mutual interests with Israelis from Beitar and elsewhere," he explains in careful English. "We must nurture these relationships and commercial exchanges. You know, the occupation is very difficult, and I wish it would end tomorrow. But even if it did, we would maintain and grow the same relationships.  Our future is with Israelis - for me, my wife and my seven children."

He adds with a trace of anger, "The boycott is absolutely not the way to end the occupation. The people in Europe and the U.S. don't know what they are talking about." I'm inclined to believe he's right. 

Two older men arrive - contractors from Gilo, I am told. They are clean-shaven, without skullcaps, and are not carrying pistols – not visibly, at least. Coffee is poured immediately, cigarettes lit, and conversation flows, all in fluent Arabic. The gestures are very clear: These Palestinians and native Arabic-speaking Israeli Jews are very comfortable with each other. I wonder what the boycott proponents would think of this little scene.

In fact, what would Palestinian Authority officials say? My friend Nadal, who works in Ramallah, but is from the Husan/Gush Etzion area, says PA officials are in a very uncomfortable position.

"Because the boycott, the moukata'a, has become the focus of the fight against the occupation, the PA feels forced to support it, even though they know that so many Palestinians would starve without work with Israel," he says. "They certainly cannot make statements against the boycott."

How to solve this situation? Bring the boycott advocates to Palestine, to villages like Husan. Here, they could speak to hundreds of Palestinian contractors and workers, ordinary people who want an end to the occupation, yes, but who also want more access to work with Israelis.

Samir and his family, and others like them, would be hurt more than Israelis would by a boycott. Enabling their economic survival is more important than winning politically correct propaganda points for international media consumption. The international community has – or must find - other tools to pressure Israel to ease or end the military occupation of the West Bank. Focus on these other means, and let the boycott fade away.
    
Brett Kline is originally from New York but has worked as a France Télévisions and print media journalist in Paris for years. He visits Israel and Palestine often.

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