Civil society in the lead
by Sam Bahour

When politicians face failure what do they do? Step down? No way. Not in Palestine at least. Over and over again the Palestinian leadership has hit a cement wall (no pun intended) in its attempts to lead the Palestinian people to freedom and independence. And with every colossal failure, the leadership looks to Palestinian civil society for direction.

The first intifada was adopted to cover for the failures in Lebanon, and the second intifada was adopted to cover for the collapse of Oslo. The current Palestinian Authority boycott of Israeli settlement products is no different. The boycott is the scaffolding that the PA is attempting to erect and climb in order to retake a leadership position. The dilemma PA leaders face is that it is very possible that they may be expending efforts to build a scaffold that others may climb to assume leadership of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence.

With an insignificant political constituency on the ground, a failed election campaign, and engaged in creating what many fear is a police state in the making, the PA finally jumped on the boycott bandwagon that civil society has struggled to assemble over the past several years, if not decades.

The PA’s newly realized dedication to cleanse Palestinian markets of Israeli settlement products comes at a time when Palestinian markets are overwhelmingly dependent on the Israeli economy. This structural dependency is not new; it was nurtured over decades of direct occupation all the way up to the Oslo agreement. The Oslo period would have been an ideal time for the PA to set the tone that settlements–all settlements, but especially those in East Jerusalem–are not a negotiable issue but are illegal under international law and have no place in a peaceful solution. But that did not happen.

As a matter of fact, the PA not only ignored the illegal products from these settlements for many years, it also ignored the Israeli services that infringed on Palestinian markets, the most notorious being the unlicensed Israeli telecommunications operators who used their settlement-based infrastructure to provide service to all Palestinian areas, A, B and C. This infringement on the Palestinian marketplace not only caused real losses to the licensed Palestinian operators, who at the time had a monopoly license to provide services to the Palestinian areas, but it allowed for an economic fact on the ground to be created and take root. This fact was, and is, no less an obstacle to peace than the settlements themselves.

Today’s boycott of settlement products is not a new effort, nor was it designed by the PA. It is a product of the hard work of dozens upon dozens of civil society players in Palestine and abroad. The build-up to today’s boycott comes from a two-pronged civil society strategy.

The first prong is a global campaign that is much more comprehensive than just addressing settlement products. It is known as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Campaign and emerged from a unified call from Palestinian civil society on July 9, 2005. The last few years have witnessed a series of successes for the BDS campaign that have surely not gone unnoticed by the PA.

The second prong of the strategy is a multitude of efforts that promote local production. The most notable of these efforts is the Intajuna (“our production” in Arabic) project: a donor- funded project that is managed by the Palestinian private sector player that designed it. This effort can be seen everywhere–retail points of sales, building and construction materials, and most recently in the produce markets. Intajuna provides a depth of analysis and campaigning that goes far beyond the traditional slogan of “Buy Palestinian”.

It is on the backdrop of the BDS Campaign and efforts like Intajuna that the PA had its boycott awakening. The effort is welcomed by the public, and the PA is setting a good example of how non-violent efforts can be amplified when formal leadership assumes the role of leadership grounded in the community. Civil society leaders also welcome the PA’s efforts, but are more cautious in their analysis because they understand that the Palestinian leadership has abruptly stifled mass civil society efforts in the past, the first intifada being the prime example when it ended with the Oslo accords.

But as this all plays out, Palestinians and those in solidarity with them are taking some satisfaction in watching the settlement enterprise run in circles trying to figure out a way to stop the boycott. Perhaps more interesting is that there are those in Israel itself, including the Knesset’s Economic Committee, who are running in the same circles, most likely in an attempt to raise the stakes now so that the boycott does not expand to include all Israeli products and services.

If past experience is any guide, the Palestinian leadership will end up bear-hugging the entire BDS campaign approach in due time, given that the tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions are much more powerful non-violent methods than negotiating in vain with a government bent on ethnic cleansing.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American management consultant living in Ramallah.

Written for Bitterlemons


  1. david singer said,

    May 24, 2010 at 23:03


    Can you please give me the facts you rely on to justify your claim that the Israeli Government is “bent on ‘ethnic cleansing'”.

    Facts please – without emotion or exaggeration so your viewpoint can be adequately considered.

    So that we are sure we are talking about the same issue I accept the 1993 United Nations Commission definition of “ethnic cleansing” as “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.”

    I hope you accept this definition as well and can furnish me with specific examples where this has happened or where you believe it might happen.

  2. desertpeace said,

    May 24, 2010 at 23:28

    Have you ever heard of the Nakba?
    It’s not over yet.
    You want facts, go through the archives of this Blog and you will find them

  3. david singer said,

    May 24, 2010 at 23:59

    What has the Nakba got to do with Sam’s claim that the Israeli Government is “bent on ethnic cleansing?

    I want Sam to detail specific examples of “ethnic cleansing” within the meaning of the UN definition that he claims is happening now.

    Maybe you can give me some examples. You appear to be making the same claim. Substantiate the claim.

    Generalizations will get us nowhere.

  4. the cook said,

    May 25, 2010 at 01:23

    david. where have you been,palistine is now in it’s 63rd year of being ethnically cleansed,please inform yourself correctley,this website(desertpeace) is a good place to start,there are many others too,but nobody helped me find them and it’s not that hard to do if you have a desire for honest journalisim.cnn and the like will not even approach this issue,so do yourself a favour there are three sides to every story.i wish you luck in your search.

  5. rahman hyder said,

    May 25, 2010 at 04:55


    i can’t believe you asked that question.

    that’s like me asking -“can you give me the facts to justify your claim that the sky is blue?’ …

  6. lydia said,

    May 25, 2010 at 08:03

    David, ethnic cleansing is when the most moral of armies, the only democracy in the ME, corals it’s unharmed Palestinians citizens in the Gaza Ghetto and bombs them from shinny American helicopter gunships with cluster bombs, white phosphorus and dime missiles. When the escape route is sealed and women and children are mowed down with high powered rifles at point blank range.

    When the food and water is targeted, flour mills destroyed and chicken coops flattened. It was not sufficient for Israel to declare war on Hamas the legitimate government of the Palestinians elected in under US supervision, but to murder and maim 6,000 as punishment.

    Europe’s concentration camps housed different nationalities if that was ethnic cleansing so is the Gaza Ghetto with only Palestinians.

  7. desertpeace said,

    May 25, 2010 at 09:28

    David…. the answers are in the archives.
    If you can’t find them there look elsewhere. Your ‘questions’ are bordering on attacks.

  8. david singer said,

    May 25, 2010 at 11:23

    To # desert peace, # the cook. # rahman hyder, #lydia

    I remind you all that ethnic cleansing according to the UN means “”the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.”

    I ask you all to give me one example of this occurring. No one has so far. Why are you all so reticent?

    The term “ethnic cleansing” slips easily from your tongues with no evidence to back it up.

    That is vilification and incitement of the worst kind.

    Come on guys – back up your claim with specific examples so we can see if you are fair dinkum or not.

  9. desertpeace said,

    May 25, 2010 at 11:33

    David… the state of Israel’s existence is the example that you obviously do not want to hear from us.
    This will be the end of this discussion and your future comments are not welcome here any longer. You obviously are here only to antagonize myself and other people that comment on this Blog…. find a new arena for this game of yours.

  10. desertpeace said,

    May 25, 2010 at 11:58

    If anyone is interested in seeing who this David Singer is…. go to this site

  11. david singer said,

    May 25, 2010 at 13:58

    #desert peace

    I am surprised at your response. Aren’t you prepared to tolerate any opinion that does not coincide with yours?

    Ethnic cleansing is a vile accusation and those who make it need to justify their claim. Is that so unreasonable a request that you want to bar me from challenging such statements? In the absence of supporting evidence it amounts to vilification and incitement to hatred.

    Unlike all your anonymous contributors who make such accusations that they are not prepared to substantiate, I have never sought to hide my identity.

    You control your web site and you can do what you like.

    Banning freedom of speech is not what I have ever done or will ever do.


  12. desertpeace said,

    May 25, 2010 at 14:52

    you said I am surprised at your response. Aren’t you prepared to tolerate any opinion that does not coincide with yours?
    My answer is NO! zionism will not be tolerated on this site, and that is exactly what you are spouting. Opinions are welcome here, racism is not!
    Unlike the link that I provided earlier, Palestine is NOT Jordan, Palestine IS Palestine…. we here do not advocate the transfer of Palestinians to Jordan as your site seems to.
    So, as you also say, FAREWELL!

  13. Shingo said,

    May 26, 2010 at 02:41

    “What has the Nakba got to do with Sam’s claim that the Israeli Government is “bent on ethnic cleansing? ”

    Here you go David,

    The maps of Palestine from 1948 to 2000. Now explain to us how this is not ethnic cleansing.


  14. david singer said,

    May 26, 2010 at 14:06

    I have been booted from this site in a wonderful demonstration of abuse of free speech. Replying to you would therefore be pointless. Enjoy reading what you like to see.

  15. desertpeace said,

    May 26, 2010 at 14:12

    You have not been booted at all…. you chose to leave… albeit without our objections!

  16. Shingo said,

    May 26, 2010 at 14:18

    “I have been booted from this site in a wonderful demonstration of abuse of free speech. ”

    What an idiot. He’s been booted but he still bothers to post to tell us he’s been booted.

  17. May 26, 2010 at 21:11

    Mr Singer invokes the idea of ‘free speech’ as though it is an entrenched right protected in every nation on earth. It is not and he should know better than to make such asinine comments on a blog that originates in ISRAEL. The last time I checked Israel had not ratified the Constitution of the United States of America – neither, for that matter, has Canada – so anyone with a blog originating OUTSIDE of the United States is not under the misguided precepts memorialized by a bunch of deists way back when.

    Free Speech Isn’t. You have the freedom to express ideas that contradict the owner of this blog – I do it all the time (and I’m related to him … no law says I have to agree with the man just because he’s my father … though he might appreciate it …) – but if you decide that you are going to support the Zionist criminals that are responsible for the murders of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians, how can you expect to have your ideas welcomed with anything less than hostility and an extreme reaction? Desertpeace has an open policy of not accepting comments that are racist or that promote Zionism: both of these things are, by definition, the tools of genocide.

    You ask for evidence yet reject the Nakba – just as Holocaust deniers reject the evidence presented by the Nazis themselves – the records kept by the Einsatzgruppen, meticulously preserved records of murder and psychosis, kept for all to see the horrors of Hitler’s end-game. How can you deny the use of weapons of mass destruction on a civilian population that could not escape the burning white phosphorus as it exploded inside the fenced-in Palestinians? To deny that as an attempt at genocide is to turn a blind eye to the facts, it is, in essence, that you can solve the problems of the Palestinians by making them all Jordanian.

    Wie viel ist Aufzuleiden!

  18. david singer said,

    May 27, 2010 at 01:32

    # desert peace

    You say I have not been booted from the site.

    So what did you mean when you wrote the following:

    “This will be the end of this discussion and your future comments are not welcome here any longer. You obviously are here only to antagonize myself and other people that comment on this Blog…. find a new arena for this game of yours.”

  19. desertpeace said,

    May 27, 2010 at 01:36

    Do you want to be booted? Just say the word.

  20. david singer said,

    May 27, 2010 at 23:46



    Can I stay and continue to have my posts published? Just say the word.

  21. desertpeace said,

    May 27, 2010 at 23:54

    You are welcome to stay if
    1. You do not verbally attack anyone that comments here
    2. You do no spout your zionist racist views
    3. You do not ask the same ridiculous questions over and over again

    If you cannot do the above, your comments will not be published in the future.

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