Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights is the first book to document the monumental rise of the BDS movement. The book begins with a quote from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “Besiege your siege… there is no other way”.
Yet even the author, Omar Barghouti, could never have envisioned the speed with which the BDS siege would spread. It is worth remembering that the call by the African National Congress for an academic boycott of South Africa was made in 1958, taking 42 years before it was adopted by the United Nations. The call for BDS by 171 Palestinian civil society organisations was made on 9 July 2005.
Since then BDS has been supported by Desmond Tutu, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Mike Leigh, Judith Butler, Arundhati Roy and most recently Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
In March 2011 the University of Johannesburg severed all links with Israel. In April 2011 Veolia, a French company involved in the building of a tramway linking illegal settlements, was dumped from a £1 billion contract in Wimbledon.
The book is divided into 16 chapters that tackle different aspects of the history of arguments for and against BDS and strategies for the movement today.
The first two chapters, Why Now and Why BDS, outline the three demands of the movement: end the occupation of Arab lands since 1967 and dismantle the Wall, recognise the rights of Arabs within Israel to full equality and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. BDS does not offer a solution to the conflict. While individual members are one-state or two-state supporters it is not a precondition to being part of the movement.
Barghouti does what only the finest writers can do. He shifts smoothly between the local, anecdotal stories of BDS struggles to a broader, general analysis of the movement.
Another strong theme is the promotion of Palestinian agency. Barghouti is scathingly dismissive of “unelected, unrepresentative, unprincipled and visionless Palestinian ‘leadership'” and so-called mediation groups, and argues that, “peace without justice is equivalent to institutionalising injustice”.
His reference to the Israeli left and their feelings of betrayal after Palestinians were so impertinent as to take their own initiative is also equally informative.
Barghouti’s book is the first to document the growing movement that will most likely define Palestinian and international politics in the decades to come. It has the potential to become a piece of history itself. Barghouti is right: “Our South Africa moment has finally arrived”
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