“Boycotts for political reasons are a legitimate tool that falls under the protection of freedom of political expression,” a Haaretz editorial declared recently (“Entry prohibited to critics,” January 17). This was written following the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee’s approval for the second and third readings of a bill that would prohibit the granting of entry visas or residency permits to foreign citizens who call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements.
Therefore, I invoke the authoritative statement by Haaretz to call upon Israeli citizens who belong to the peace camp to appeal to the international community to impose a boycott on Israel.
I am not a foreign citizen, and it is not to foreigners I am appealing. I don’t know if I am breaking any of the nondemocratic, illegitimate laws that are being passed in Israel in order to deny me and those who share my opinions – all of us Israelis – our freedom of expression, and our human and political endeavor to act.
However, I do know this: I am connected body and soul to this country, where I was born 72 years ago and to which I gave my best years in professional and public office, and I am still not willing to break free of it. Honestly, I do not have any other country.
As an Israeli citizen and a woman engaged in public life, I declare that the state does not respect my basic right to live according to my conscience. The Judaism it is forcing upon me is not my Judaism. Furthermore, the nationalist and racist fanaticism of the government (led by its interior, culture and education ministers) is becoming more and more extreme, and contrary to the values I hold most dear. These iniquities are an internal concern of Israeli society and I have the right – and for now, at least, also the possibility – to fight for their correction from within society.
However, the fact that Israel consistently violates the conventions of international humanitarian law also justifies intervention by the international community.
These conventions did not come into being so that every individual country and its citizens could do with them as they saw fit. They were written in the wake of lessons learned from World War II, during the course of which millions of civilians were killed, arrested, expelled and displaced from their homes. They were intended to reduce harm, and to protect the civilian populations living in occupied lands.
Israel is holding the territories of the West Bank and controlling the fate of the millions of its Arab residents through occupation and military government. By doing so, it is violating all the basic principles of these conventions. It is settling its own citizens in those territories; destroying the property of individuals and communities there; expropriating public and private land for its own needs and the needs of its citizens; and consistently and systematically imposing collective, punitive measures on the Palestinians. It is restricting their freedom of movement and civic activity, and incarcerating tens of thousands of them in prisons in its sovereign territory: some 1 million Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli security forces since 1967, via military law or with no trial at all.
All these violations of human rights have been carried out not in times of war and not in the course of just a year or two, but rather during 50 of the near-69 years of Israel’s existence. You don’t need to be a lawyer or military expert to understand that this systematic policy has no legal or security justification: open eyes and common sense are enough to comprehend that it is driven by ideological reasons – be they hidden and deceptive (like before), or explicit and callous as they are now.
So, as an Israeli citizen and a woman who is engaged in public life here, I have long seen it as my right and duty to open my eyes and look – and also to document these illegal blows to people’s lives, property, dignity and freedom that my country and its soldiers, authorities and officials are delivering only a few kilometers from my home.
And in recent years – in face of the indifference of most Israeli citizens – I have also seen it as my right and duty to issue a call to violate the orders and laws involved in delivering these blows. I also disobey those orders and laws myself: For example, I visit Palestinians in the territories, despite the red signs prohibiting me from doing so; and occasionally I smuggle a Palestinian worker to his job, a woman and her children to the beach, or family members to a relative in an Israeli hospital.
Yet while I do these things wholeheartedly and willingly – for political and moral reasons, and the desire to help persecuted people who are in distress – it is with a huge amount of emotional difficulty and pain that I make this call for Israelis to appeal to the international community to impose a boycott. Furthermore, I am doing this only for political-pragmatic reasons.
That’s because Israel is not the country that most deserves to be hit by a boycott. In the 20th and 21st centuries, there were and still are sinners a hundred times worse. Some of the greatest atrocities of the modern era were perpetrated by a number of European countries in acts of slaughter, oppression and occupation in their colonies in Asia and Africa. And within its borders, the Soviet Union wiped out millions of people through murder, hunger and torture. Other horrors were perpetrated by the United States, which dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and used chemical weapons in Vietnam.
And today, if it were only possible to impose sanctions on China for its cruel violations of human rights, and on Russia for its barbaric involvement in Syria – that’s what should have been done. But it is not possible. These are global powers upon whom the world is dependent, not vice versa.
Israel, however, is a country whose economy is dependent on the world and its conduct. An economic boycott – or at least sanctions like those imposed on Iran – would almost certainly influence its policy. It would even influence public opinion, with daily life disrupted so that the public would finally need to think about the reality in which it lives – if not about the actual injustices, then at least about the powder keg it’s living next door to, and into which it keeps sending sparks.
And so the way would be paved for finding a peaceful solution. This is because it doesn’t matter where exactly justice lies in this conflict – there’s no doubt that the greater strength lies with Israel’s military might, not the Palestinians with their knife attacks and truck-rammings – Israel is the side that is determining the reality on the ground and altering it irreparably.
Yet it is fitting that the boycott call should come from within Israel – from those many good citizens who live here and are fearful for their fate and the fate of their country. Yes, the fate of their country, not the fate of the Palestinians – both its physical and moral fate, which is now in the hands of political forces who are leading it to its doom.
Yes, these citizens are good and many – even though they are a minority and the regime is leading their country with the support of the majority of its inhabitants, who elected it in democratic elections.
However, the minority is not obliged to respect this democracy. For not only is there nowhere in the world where the decision of the majority establishes a true basis for a democratic regime – and certainly not in a place where it determines the fate of millions of people who are not partners to it – but, even worse, it is liable to lead to disaster.
Indeed, these citizens can clearly see such a disaster already looming over their heads. Evidence of this can be found, for example, in the numerous articles being written on the pages of Haaretz: Gird your loins, they urge readers. Take to the streets, they beg – as if the streets still belonged to us.
But these are empty words. It seems we were not born to gird loins when faced with the violent public arena. So let’s take civic courage and come out with a quiet, sober call to the international community to impose a boycott on the State of Israel. Yes, the State of Israel, not only the settlements, because for a long time there have not been two economies: there is a single economy on both sides of the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders).
Let’s do this with one single, simple desire: to ensure our existence in this place. Because this, basically, is what we are talking about – our existence, our lives. Otherwise, it will not be a life for us for very long – for us, the few million – in an environment of tens of millions, where our leaders have determined that we must forever live by the sword.
If the cry to save Israel comes from our mouths, loud and clear and well-reasoned, there will be those who listen to it, even though we are a minority.
No reasonable person could accuse us of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. After all, we are Jews and Israelis, and as Jews and Israelis we wish to remain here – to stay here in order to live, not to die.
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