Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
EU Declares a Total Boycott of Israeli
Settlements Built on Palestinian Lands
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 22, 2013
A Gift from Europe
ON MY 70th
birthday, I received a gift from Yitzhak Rabin: he signed the document
recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people, after many decades of
denial. He also recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
as its representative. I had demanded this, almost alone, for many years.
Three days later, the Oslo agreement was signed on the White House
This week I received another gift of similar magnitude,
obviously in anticipation of my 90th birthday, which is due in less than
No less an institution than the European Union has
declared what practically amounts to a total boycott of the settlements,
15 years after Gush Shalom, the peace organization to which I belong, had
issued a call for such a boycott.
The European decision says that
no Israeli institution or corporation which has any direct or indirect
connection with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or
the Golan Heights will receive any contract, grant, prize or suchlike from
the EU or any member state. To assure compliance, every contract
between Israelis and the EU will contain a paragraph stating that the
settlements are not part of Israel.
A friend of mine sent me a
message consisting of one word: Mabrouk (Congratulations, in Arabic).
If all this sounds a bit megalomaniac, please make allowances. I am
WHEN WE decided to organize our boycott in 1998, we
had several interconnected aims in mind.
A boycott is an eminently
democratic instrument, a form of non-violent resistance.
single individual can decide for himself or herself whether to join the
boycott or not.
Also, every individual can decide whether to
boycott all the enterprises on the recommended list, or exclude some. Some
of our supporters refused to boycott the Golan settlements, which they
considered different from the others, some refused to boycott the East
Jerusalemites. A famous artist declared that he was quite unable to live
without the excellent Golan wines.
Many enterprises in the
settlements did not go there for ideological reasons – capitalists are not
generally known for their ideological fervor – but because the Israeli
government gave them (stolen) land for free, as well as all kinds of
grants, exemption from taxes and other incentives. It made economic sense
for a corporation to sell their very high-priced site in Tel Aviv and get
free land in Ariel. A boycott may counterbalance these gains.
Contrary to getting out into the streets and joining a demonstration, not
buying something in the supermarket is a private affair. In a
demonstration, one may get tear-gassed, water-cannoned or clubbed. One
exposes oneself and may be put on a list somewhere or even dismissed from
a government job.
Everybody can boycott. One doesn’t need to join
an organization, sign a petition, identify oneself. Yet one has the
satisfaction of doing something useful, in accordance with one’s
But our main purpose was conceptual. For decades,
successive Israeli governments have striven to eradicate the Green Line
from the map and the minds of the people. The main aim of the boycott was
to reinstitute the real borders of Israel in the public mind.
distributed many thousands of copies of the list of settlement
enterprises, all on request.
The Israeli government paid us the
unique compliment of enacting a special law that penalizes all calls for a
boycott of the settlers’ products. Every person who feels harmed by such a
call can demand unlimited compensation, without having to prove any actual
damage. This could amount to millions of dollars.
We asked the
Supreme Court to strike down this law, but the court has been dragging its
feet for several years already, obviously afraid of passing judgment.
YET WHILE we were doing this, the European Union did the opposite.
It practically helped to finance the settlements – the very settlements it
Actually, the new measures are not new at all.
The agreement between the EU and Israel exempts Israeli products from
European customs, as if Israel were a European country. Israel is already
a participant in the European football league, the Eurovision Song Contest
and other events and organizations. Israeli universities receive huge
research grants from Europe and take part in European scientific projects.
All these agreements are in principle restricted to Israel proper and
do not apply to the settlements. Yet for decades, the Brussels
super-government had consciously closed both its eyes.
I know, because I myself traveled to Brussels years ago, to
protest against this practice, explaining to commissioners, officials and
parliamentarians that they are in practice encouraging the settlements and
inducing companies to relocate there. I was given to understand that they
sympathize with our stand but are powerless, because several European
countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, block all attempts in the
Union to act against apparent Israeli interests.
It seems that
this obstacle has now been overcome. So I am happy.
the government received the news with consternation. Just a few days
earlier, they could not have dreamed that this was possible.
Israel, the European Union is an object of ridicule. Secure in the
knowledge that we have absolute control of US policy, we could treat the
EU with contempt, though it is our major trading partner. A large share of
Israeli exports, including military equipment, goes there.
Government leaders are now sputtering with rage. Not one single politician
has dared to speak in favor of the European decision. Right and Left are
united in condemning it. Binyamin Netanyahu declared that only Israel
would decide where its borders were, and this only in direct negotiations.
Never mind that he has obstructed significant direct negotiations for
Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy, who also happens
to be the chief representative of the settlers, rejected the decision out
of hand. Only a few days before, this political genius (and
self-declared “brother” of Ya’ir Lapid) had announced that there was
absolutely no pressure on Israel.
Lapid himself voiced his opinion
that the European step was a “miserable decision”.
proposes to punish Europe by stopping all EU humanitarian projects in the
West Bank. (Recalling the joke about the Polish nobleman whose Jew had
been beaten up by another nobleman and who threatened: “If you don’t stop
beating my Jew, I shall beat your Jew!”)
But the most telling
argument marshalled by Israeli leaders was that the European
decision was undermining the valiant efforts of John Kerry to start
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
is the height of chutzpah. For months now, Netanyahu and his government
has been doing everything possible to prevent the hapless Kerry from
achieving his goal. Now they use his fruitless efforts as a fig leaf for
The Labor Party’s Shelly Yachimovich, the
official “Leader of the Opposition”, contented herself with repeating the
call for negotiations. No hint of criticizing the settlers, for whom she
has publicly declared her sympathy.
AS USUAL in such
situations, Israeli public opinion started a search for those to blame.
But there is no one around.
Israel has no Foreign Minister, only a
deputy, who happens to be one of the most extreme right-wingers in the
Knesset. The last minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is facing trial for
corruption, and the job is being kept open for him. Netanyahu obviously
believes that no judge would dare to convict the fearful Lieberman, after
the Attorney General has already shrunk back from indicting him on the
most severe charges.
With no minister (officially, the Prime
Minister is filling the vacuum) and a demoralized foreign service, there
could be no prior warning.
Some people claim that the European
decision was actually a pro-Israeli gesture, since it forestalls a general
boycott of Israel, which is advocated by a growing number of personalities
and NGOs around the world. A boycott of the settlements is the minimum.
In this respect too, the Europeans have also adopted a stance that my
friends and I have advocated for years.
Contrary to several
Israeli leftists, I believe that a general boycott of Israel is
counter-productive. While our boycott is designed to isolate the settlers
and drive a wedge between them and the bulk of the Israeli population, a
general boycott (called BDS) would drive almost all Israelis into the arms
of the settlers, under the venerable Jewish slogan “The whole world is
against us!” It would strengthen the argument that the real aim is
not to change Israeli policy, but to wipe out Israel altogether.
True, there are some good reasons for a general boycott, including the
historic example of the boycott of Apartheid South Africa. But the Israeli
situation is quite different.
THE TERM “boycott” was coined
in 1888 in a situation not dissimilar from ours now. It was about foreign
domination, land and settlers.
In Ireland, then under British
occupation, there was a famine. Charles Boycott, the agent of an absentee
English landlord, evicted local tenants who were unable to pay the rent.
An Irish nationalist leader called on his countrymen not to attack Boycott
physically, but to shun him. All his neighbors stopped all dealings with
him, working for him or speaking with him. Boycott became the word for
The EU boycott of the settlements and their
supporters will have a major economic impact. No one knows yet how much.
But the moral effect is even more significant.
Even if massive
Israeli-American pressure thwarts or at least postpones the European
action, the moral blow is already devastating.
It tells us: The
settlements are illegal. They are immoral. They inflict a huge injustice
on the Palestinian people. They prevent peace. They endanger the very
future of Israel.
Thank you, Europe!