When I visited Israel in 2013, I found a stark disconnect between the pleasant portrayal from my childhood Hebrew school and the racist reality I actually encountered. I saw that Palestinians in Israel attended separate and unequal schools, had restricted access to 93 percent of the state’s land, and were forbidden from forming political parties advocating the separation of church and state.
Similar to how the United States’ establishment and expansion displaced masses of Native Americans, the founding of Israel in 1948 drove more than 700,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes. A Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem had me over for tea and explained how he fled his home during that brutal war. To this day, Israel forbids him from returning to his hometown.
With the group Jordan Valley Solidarity, I visited the occupied West Bank village of Hadidiya, where Palestinian farmers and herders had only a fraction of the daily water that the United Nations deems necessary. Adjacent to the village, Israeli settlers’ houses guzzled up plenty of water from restricted, locked-up water pipes. In the West Bank, the average Israeli consumes five times more water than the average Palestinian.
In the town of Khirbat Samra, I helped build a school out of dried mud bricks, alongside local adults and children. In August 2015, 10 Israeli military jeeps and two bulldozers came into the village and demolished the school, for procedural reasons: it is nearly impossible for Palestinians in the area to acquire building permits.
Over and over, I asked Palestinians what Americans could do to support them. They always replied: Boycott, Divest, Sanction! The idea is simple, modeled after the boycotts that helped end South Africa’s apartheid and America’s formal segregation. Around the world, communities, campuses, and families boycott Israeli products and divest from Israeli war profiteers.
Omar Barghouti co-founded the campaign back in 2005, and the vast majority of Palestinian organizations support it. It has become a global mass movement, attracting even the support of many Jews, such as myself.
The results have been remarkable. One website lists over 170 BDS victories in the United States alone. It is no wonder that Israel’s president called BDS a “strategic threat” and the intelligence minister called for “targeted civil eliminations,” meaning assassinations, of BDS leaders such as Mr. Barghouti. Israel feels pressured by the peaceful global movement.
I am honored to be organizing with Stanley Heller the Gandhi Peace Award ceremony on April 23, 2017, as a project leader for Promoting Enduring Peace. Mr. Barghouti will receive this award which has been given to, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Amy Goodman. This year’s co-winner is consumer and peace advocate Ralph Nader, who has been instrumental in passing landmark auto safety and environmental reforms, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Last month, authorities detained Mr. Barghouti and revoked his travel documents for alleged tax fraud. Looking at the history of the Israeli government’s threats and smears against Palestinian campaigners, Promoting Enduring Peace decided to present the award even though we were not sure if the judge in Israel would allow Mr. Bharghouti to travel to accept it.
On Wednesday, April 19, four days before the award ceremony, we learned that Mr. Barghouti would be allowed to come receive the award in person. He will speak after being introduced by Jewish Voice for Peace’s executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. If you are unsure how you feel about BDS, that is all the more reason to come hear Barghouti’s and Mr. Nader’s remarks.
The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 23, 2017, in room 114 of Yale’s Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, at 1 Prospect St, New Haven.