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The BDS call to action: Two versions, two directions and why this matters

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The growing effectiveness of the boycott, divestment and sanctions tactic (BDS) is a victory that has invigorated the movement for Palestinian self-determination, given it direction, and caused considerable angst among Zionists, so much so that the Israeli government has pursued a vigorous campaign against it.

Democrat and Republican presidential candidates in the U.S. have vowed to find ways of outlawing it. Newsweek magazine reported in June 2015 that foreign investment in Israel dropped by 50 per cent in 2014 and named the BDS movement as one reason for the decline. It is the ongoing success of BDS that should alert us to importance of paying close attention to the direction it is taking, and how and by whom the direction is determined.

A significant concern has been raised about changes in the demands and how these changes were made. Here is the problem. On one part of the BDS website the paragraph preceding the three demands and the demands read as follows (my emphases): 

These non-violent punitive measures [BDS] should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

On another section of the website  the second and third demand are unchanged. The differences are in the paragraph preceding the demands and in the first demand:

The campaign for [BDS] is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall

The changes were noticed by Al-Awda and others in 2012 and articles continue to appear on the internet. They disagree with the changes and the process by which they were made. Who made them? Why were international groups not alerted to them with an explanation? Are those who provide funds for the movement compromising its objectives? Al Awda specifically questioned the influence of George Soros and soft Zionists.

In the original, Palestinian's "inalienable right to self-determination" is the goal. Palestinians are not divided into three groups; therefore, self-determination is achieved when all three demands are met -- no one is liberated until all are liberated. The revised version drops the goal of self-determination; instead, it reproduces a fragmentation of the Palestinian people that has undermined their unity since 1948.

In this version each demand serves a core need of each fragment: the first for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the second for the discrimination suffered by Palestinian-Israelis, and the third for Palestinians in refugee camps as well as those living elsewhere. Moreover, the second leaves the pre-1967 Israeli ethnocracy in place except for ending discrimination suffered by Palestinian-Israelis. 

Our struggle for Palestinian self-determination has advanced to the point where we reject the illusion of a two-state solution. Leading voices for genuine liberation are enabling us to appreciate how vital it is to move beyond the demand for ending the 1967 occupation and call for Palestinian self-determination through the creation of one state. Books by Ali Abunimah and others and the One Democratic State Group (www.onedemocraticstate.com) call for one state not merely as a recognition of "facts on the ground" but as a principled position that is the only answer to ending Israel apartheid and the recognition of Palestinians as a unified people.

Ten years ago changing the demand to "all Arab land occupied in June 1967" might not have raised alarms because for many of us the struggle was limited to ending the 1967 occupation. Today, we understand the 1967 occupation as one moment in a history of settler colonialism. We must not return to a past when we thought the problem was 1967 not 1948.

Ilan Pappe in Palestine argues it is time for the movement to develop a new dictionary for the advanced level of our struggle. Terms like apartheid, one state, and settler colonialism replace the old terms of "peace process" and "two states." 

The original BDS Call expresses this new language; the revised version takes us back to the old. BDS is a tactic: a means toward an end, not an end in itself. It must be a means toward an end we want to realize. That is why we need to be clear about the goal BDS seeks to accomplish.   

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