17 October 2009
On Saturday forty New York human rights advocates rallied on a cold fall day at the Madison Avenue jewelry store of Israeli settlement mogul Lev Leviev to demand that Israel release jailed Palestinian boycott activist Mohammad Othman. Othman, held without charges and in solitary confinement since September 22nd, is from Jayyous, a West Bank village where Leviev’s company Leader is building the Israeli settlement of Zufim. The protesters also called for an end to Israel’s wave of arrests of Palestinian activists from Bil’in, another West Bank village campaigning against the construction of settlement homes by another Leviev company, Africa-Israel.
Andrew Kadi of Adalah-NY commented, “Israel’s arrest of Mohammad Othman and residents of Bil’in simply affirms the need for a global movement of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), similar to the movement against apartheid South Africa, to hold Israel accountable, and pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights.”
Mohammad Othman is believed to be the first person to be arrested by Israel specifically for advocating for the growing international movement to boycott companies, including Leviev’s, that support Israeli human rights abuses. The New York protest was one of fourteen events held worldwide on October 16th and 17th calling for Mohammad Othman’s immediate release.
Hundreds of Madison Avenue shoppers took home a cartoon flyer “Jailed for an Idea” that depicts Othman’s detention, and Israel’s efforts to crush the protest campaigns in the villages of Bil’in and Jayyous against Leviev’s settlements (download the cartoon flyer). The protesters chanted, “Jayyous and Bil’in will not bow, Free Mohammad Othman now,” and “Boycotting Israel is no crime, Leviev should be doing time.” With a guitar accompaniment, the protesters sang songs calling for the boycott of Leviev and Israel, including an updated version of the civil rights classic, “which Side are You On,” and “Don’t Buy Israeli” to the tune of Hava Nagila.
Calls to free Mohammad Othman have been highlighted by The Nation, in letter campaigns by the US organizations Jewish Voice for Peace and Grassroots International, as well as in an international petition. Othman was detained as he crossed the Allenby bridge from Jordan, returning home to the West Bank from a trip to Norway. Othman’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the growing international movement for BDS against Israel contributed to the Norwegian government’s recent decision to divest from its pension funding holdings in Elbit Systems. Norway has also been asked by a coalition of eleven organizations and the villages of Jayyous and Bil’in to divest from Leviev’s company Africa-Israel.
The villages of Jayyous and Bil’in have both been targeted with arrests and repression due to their multi-year nonviolent protest campaigns. Twenty-eight Bil’in activists have been arrested by Israel since June when Bil’in’s lawsuit against settlement construction on village land was heard in Canadian court. Just weeks after he testified in Canada, Bil’in activist Mohammed Khatib was jailed by Israeli forces for 15 days and then released on bail. Bil’in protester Adeeb Abu Rahme and seventeen others are still being held in Israeli jails, and Bil’in protest organizer Abdullah Abu Rahme is “wanted” by the Israeli army for his nonviolent organizing.
The protest was 14th held in front of Leviev’s New York store since it opened in November, 2007. Leviev’s company Africa-Israel is currently reeling from a financial crisis. Additionally, the international campaign to boycott Leviev due to his settlement construction and involvement in abusive business practices in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia has achieved a string of successes. UNICEF, Oxfam, The British Government and major Hollywood stars have all distanced themselves from Leviev. The investment firm BlackRock and pension giant TIAA-CREF both also recently sold off their shares of Leviev’s company Africa-Israel, though both denied they did so due to his settlement construction.