8th March 2014 | The Electronic Intifada, Joe Catron | Gaza City, Occupied Palestine
“On the last day, I can guarantee we’ll have a good activity,” said Saad Ziada, field coordinator with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in the Gaza Strip and its representative on the local IAW preparatory committee. “I expect 600-700 people will participate, at least.”
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees will organize the last of this year’s local events, a gathering for farmers and fishermen in the Gaza seaport on 13 March.
“Why in the Gaza port?” Ziada said. “Because Palestinian fishermen are prevented from entering and using our sea for their resources. At the same time, Israelis freely use the sea, which is our sea. This is a clear example of Israel’s discrimination and apartheid policies.”
Targeting farmers, fishermen
A joint report, issued a month ago by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rightsand the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, found “522 documented shooting incidents targeting fishermen at sea, resulting in nine civilian deaths, 47 injuries and 422 detentions” off the Gaza coast between 1997 and 30 November 2013.
During the same reporting period, the report states, “The facts available suggest that hundreds of farmers were unarmed when they were shot at and injured” (“Under fire: Israel’s enforcement of access restricted areas in the Gaza Strip,” January 2014 [PDF]
A year ago, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees held a rally in the seaport, as well as another in the so-called “buffer zone” by the separation barrier surrounding the Gaza Strip, to support a boycott of Israeli agricultural products.
Activating the boycott
“This year, we want to activate the boycott of Israeli products in the Gaza Strip,” Ziada said. “We want farmers and fishermen to be involved in these activities, to know more about boycott and normalization.”
“The boycott movement will not be just for students and academics,” said Mohamed Abu Samra, an activist with the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel. “It must include all sectors of Palestinian society.”
As another member of the preparatory committee, Abu Samra has helped to plan a range of talks, films and presentations in the Nuseirat municipal hall, the Palestine Red Crescent Society building and the Women’s Development Center.
He also worked with other Gaza activists to film an Israeli Apartheid Week promotional video.
“BDS gives us a wide area for the biggest part of the population to participate in a kind of resistance, and it’s succeeding,” Abu Samra said.
The Arab Center for Agricultural Development, another organization involved in Israeli Apartheid Week has an ongoing campaign to encourage the boycott of Israeli agricultural products by Gaza Strip farmers.
“Last year, we had three workshops on BDS with farmers and other groups,” said Abeer Abu Shawish, the center’s project coordinator and the Israeli Apartheid Week preparatory committee member. “These workshops aren’t finished. We’ll keep them going, to reach all the farmers in Gaza and encourage them to support BDS.”
The center will focus its other major campaign, organizing accompaniment for olive farmers during the harvest season, on the West Bank and coordinate it with the BDS National Committee this year, Abu Shawish said.
In the Gaza Strip, the center plans to increase its boycott activities.
“ACAD will recruit a coordinator just for BDS, to be responsible for all the activities we will have in the BDS campaign,” Abu Shawish said. “We are going to do more activities in all the Gaza governorates, in cooperation with our partners in the West Bank. We are also producing posters, newsletters, social media, radio announcements and other publicity tools. It is a main program in our strategic plan this year.”
Despite enthusiasm for BDS by civil society groups like the Arab Center for Agricultural Development and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and their constituencies, implementing it under occupation and siege in the Gaza Strip poses a challenge.
“You cannot ask people not to buy something for which they don’t have an alternative, especially after the closure of the tunnels,” said Mohsen Abu Ramadan, ACAD’s director in Gaza and one of three representatives of the Palestinian NGO Network on the BDS National Committee. “Most of the commodities now come through Kerem Shalom [crossing from Israel].”
Abu Shawish agreed that the siege presents the biggest obstacle to boycotting Israel from Gaza.
“The main difficulty is that we don’t have alternatives to many, many products,” she said. “We can’t stop using them all. If we don’t have an alternative product, whether local, national or international, we have to use the Israeli one.”
But the local boycott has cultural value, she said, even if its economic impact is necessarily limited.
“It’s a kind of resistance. People can do it themselves, without it costing anything.”
“We try to make the boycott a culture, as part of a resistance mentality,” Abu Ramadan said.
Gaza IAW, and local BDS activities in general, contribute strength to a global effort, Abu Samra said.
“It raises the awareness of BDS among people in the Palestinian community, and support the BDS movement outside Palestine. BDS succeeded in the past, in South Africa, and we think it will succeed in ending the occupation now.”
Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine. He co-edited The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange. Follow him on Twitter @jncatron.