On its 11th birthday, BDS leads nonviolent resistance

The movement provides a platform for the aspirations of Palestinians without taking any political sides.

Demonstrators gathered outside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo''s office on 9 June 2016
The leaders of the BDS understand that using nonviolent tactics is a long process that requires discipline, writes Kuttab [Al Jazeera]

Last May, when the Israeli Interior Ministry issued an order banning nonviolent activist and cofounder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement Omar Barghouti from travel, it was not a simple travel ban. It was yet another proof that Israel is not simply opposed to violent Palestinian resisters, but also to nonviolent ones.

Many years ago, in June 1988, Israel deported another Palestinian nonviolent activist, Mubarak Awad, on the eve of the first Palestinian Intifada, during the Yitzhak Shamir administration.

Both cases certainly prove that Israel can’t deal with either violent or nonviolent Palestinians; some would even say that Israelis have a much harder time with nonviolent Palestinians.

The values

The current BDS movement was launched 11 years ago in July 2005 through a call by leading Palestinian organisations, factions and nationalist leaders.

At its launch, BDS called upon the “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the Apartheid era.”

The statement – endorsed by a wide group of Palestinians including various political groups and civil society organisations – called for these “nonviolent punitive measures” to be maintained until Israel meets its international obligations by ending its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.

Second, by recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and third by respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Across the globe, Israel and its apologists' efforts to stem the movement of individuals' freedom of expression and choice are the best sign of the righteousness and power of this movement.


The nonviolent ideas in the pre-Intifada period were never fully matured into an active strategy and action plan, even though many of its ideas of boycotts and civil disobedience were reflected in the Intifada’s secret body – called the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising.

This underground leadership was totally committed to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its policies, which eventually led to the Madrid Peace Conference and the secretly negotiated Oslo Accords that included letters of mutual recognition.

Political freedom to campaign

While receiving endorsement from political groupings in Palestine and abroad, the BDS movement and more importantly the Boycott Divestment Sanctions National Committee (BNC) was clear not to act on behalf or represent any of the political movements that many blame for the weakness of the Palestinian position.

Being neither part of the PLO, Hamas nor any other Palestinian organisation – or faction – has given the BDS movement the political freedom to campaign on all fronts and locations, and not to be straight-jacketed with political and ideological constraints.

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This meant that they were able to put the Palestinian issue in its larger context and priorities: First the need for an end to the occupation; second, securing the equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and third, the need to solve the Palestinian refugees issue.

The goals neither oppose nor support the two-state solution, nor do they adhere to the road map and Oslo process that has doubled the number of illegal settlers in the occupied territories.

Even though the UN Resolution 194 has a similar clause about the right of return and compensation for the Palestinian refugees, the attacks on the movement have never ceased.

Attackers, such as paid hasbara students, as well as pro-Israel politicians’ defenders and some pundits falsely claimed that the purpose of the BDS was to delegitimise Israel and that it was an anti-Semitic movement. The more that Israel and its defenders attacked the BDS, the more the movement became popular.

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Across the globe, Israel and its apologists’ efforts to stem the movement of individuals’ freedom of expression and choice are the best sign of the righteousness and power of this movement.

Some democratic countries and leaders are succumbing under political and pro-Israel lobbyist pressures to pass anti-democratic legislations – all with the goal of stemming this powerful nonviolent campaign for justice and against tyranny.

Risks ahead

The BDS movement, however, risks becoming weaker if it attempts to become a partisan political party or if it engages in political talks.


The movement’s power is its ability to provide a platform for the widest possible values and aspirations of Palestinians without taking any specific political side.

Eleven years since its launch, the leaders of the BDS movement understand that using nonviolent tactics is a long process that requires discipline and continued rejection of any attempt of supporting violence, hatred and discrimination.

This patience and continued campaigning will bring an end to injustice and will certainly produce similar results to the global campaign against South African Apartheid rule.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.