palestinian farmer
Palestinian olive farmer displays damage caused to his olive trees by Israeli settlers. Photo courtesy of the Palestinian Solidarity Project.

As settler attacks against Palestinians continue, a former Israeli Prime Minister has noted that the movement to hold Israel to account is growing.

Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Ehud Barak observed that “the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement is developing,” and that Israel is increasingly finding itself isolated on the world stage. Barak was Israel’s Prime Minister from 1999 to 2001.

Just days after Barak’s comments were printed, two different Palestinian villages in the West Bank were attacked by Israeli settlers, a common occurrence according to the United Nations.

Dozens of mature olive trees were felled overnight on January 10 in the central West Bank village of Yasuf, which is located between the Israeli settlements of Rehelim and Kfar Tapuach. That same evening dozens more olive trees were found destroyed in the south Hebron Hills.

For the more than 80,000 Palestinian farmers who derive their income from the olive groves, the destruction of the olive trees is the destruction of their livelihood. It is also a common occurrence.

Nearly 11,000 olive trees or saplings were destroyed by Israeli settlers in 2013, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says, a trend which continued into 2014.

According to OCHA, each week in 2014 there were an average of six incidents of settler violence against Palestinians or their property. 329 cases were recorded in total.

These attacks seem to take place with the tacit permission of the Israeli army. Over a nine year period, only 7.4 percent of investigations into settler attacks against Palestinians resulted in indictments, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din says. Many more attacks are never even reported.

“The Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law,” local activist Montana Mellett notes. “Their presence means violence against the Palestinian people, and the settlements can only exist because of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands.”

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967. The occupation is considered illegal under international law, and has been condemned by dozens of UN resolutions. International human rights groups have also repeatedly documented systemic violations of rights by the Israeli military in the occupied territories.

“The global boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel is in response to this continued violation of international and human rights law,” Mellett told Arthur. “Not only are Palestinians subjected to a violent and humiliating military occupation, but they are also forced to live under a legal system reminiscent to apartheid South Africa.”

As Israeli settlements have gone up in the West Bank, a system of massive concrete walls, military checkpoints, and settler-only roads have carved out sections of territory, making most of it off-limits to the Palestinians who had previously lived there. Instead, the Palestinian population has been forced into 70 isolated cantons, and the more than 500 military checkpoints in the West Bank ensure that there is no physical movement between the areas without Israeli permission.

“Only 12% of the West Bank has been reserved for Palestinians, which is actually 1% less than what was reserved for Black South Africans under apartheid there,” Mellett explained. “In fact, if you look at a map of the territory that Palestinians control, it is eerily similar to a map of the South African Bantustans.”

Graffiti near the Israeli Separation Wall. Photo by Justin McIntosh, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Graffiti near the Israeli Separation Wall. Photo by Justin McIntosh, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s not just the global solidarity activists who see Israel as an apartheid state though. Numerous Israeli leaders, including Ehud Barak, have spoken about Israel’s apartheid situation.

In 2010, Barak spoke about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, noting that “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

In his recent interview with Haaretz, Barak once again made comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa after being asked if he thought that a boycott was developing against his country as it once had against white rule in South Africa.

“Look at Israel’s standing in the community of labor organizations worldwide – it’s a very grim situation,” the former Prime Minister responded. “That will continue with consumer organizations, pension funds, the universities.”

Indeed, the BDS movement has been gaining strength. The list of BDS victories is long and growing, and activists have convinced numerous companies to cut ties with the Israeli government. Numerous student unions across Canada and the world, including Trent’s, have also adopted policies advocating the boycott of and divestment from Israel.

The BDS campaign, which targets Israeli institutions and not individuals, is in response to a 2005 call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations. It demands that Israel ends the occupation of Palestinian lands, guarantees equal rights for all residents of Israel, and respects the right of refugees to return to their homes.

As part of their Divestment Week, the student group OPIRG will be hosting a panel discussion about the BDS campaign on Wednesday, January 28, from 5-7pm in the Champlain Living Learning Commons. Trent Professor Anne Meneley, whose work focuses on Palestinian olive oil production, will be one of the speakers.

“For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination,” Mellett says. “Divesting from Israel is a peaceful and non-violent means to promote peace and equality for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”