In reading through the BDS stories from people in different contexts throughout the world, one thing comes through loud and clear: We all have to craft our strategies to address the situation we are in. One size does not fit all. It is important to acknowledge that, then seek ways to move forward.
When it comes to advancing justice for Palestinians, these questions need to be asked and addressed:
A chief reason for establishing this BDS Toolkit is to provide the necessary resources for creating or strengthening support for the BDS Movement in your particular community.
Years ago, at a seminar in Palestine led by BDS National Committee (BNC) leadership, the question was asked about the many diverse BDS working groups that exist and how it is possible to come up with a common strategy in the midst of such diversity. Some were afraid that the BDS agenda as they knew it might not work for their group or church. The BNC response was: “Do what works.” In some ways that response liberated activists to go from that seminar and do the work they believe they are called to do in their own unique circumstances.
Below is but one example of how a particular organization examined its own special circumstances and developed a strategy that worked. Other religious traditions have had to create strategies that reflect their unique political structure, determining where decision-making powers reside, who is against them and with them, and then fashioning a process that best works in their own setting.
But one lesson across all groups has been to center Palestinians. It is vitally important for any organization seeking to help achieve justice for Palestine to hear the voice of Palestinians first and to put their voices forward first in their actions.
A CASE STUDY:
“Do what works” was good advice; it launched a number of Presbyterians into action. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had already decided to refer a breakthrough 2004 General Assembly proposal for divestment to the denomination’s investment oversight committee. In addition, that same General Assembly approved the creation of a mission network that would “give voice to the Palestinian cry for justice.” That mission network is where many of those Presbyterians returning from the Bethlehem seminar found their own voice. (see theIPMN.org)
At that time, American Presbyterians as a whole were not quite ready to hear about BDS all at once. The 2004 action for divestment had already created a good deal of opposition which was beginning to make itself heard. There were fears and accusations about the church becoming “antisemitic”, “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel” as early as 2006. Knowing the accusations were unjustified, but also acknowledging that the work for justice can be threatening to some, the Presbyterian mission network began its work fully prepared to handle its opposition. They decided to take on BDS one letter at a time. In 2010 the Presbyterian Church (USA) called for economic sanctions on Israel until the occupation ended; in 2012 they voted to boycott all Israeli settlement goods; and in 2014 they voted to divest from Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard, for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In 2010 the PC(USA) called for sanctions on Israel by voting to calling the US government to condition military aid to Israel on their adherence to US laws. In 2012, the denomination voted to boycott all Israeli settlement goods, and in 2014 they voted to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
When each of the B, D and S policies were passed, the church distanced itself from the BDS Movement by adding into the language of the new policy that it was not joining the movement. Nevertheless, Omar Barghouti called it “BDS, Presbyterian Style!” and the work was counted as a forward step for BDS, because all three were adopted as policy.
See: In their own voices.
Achieving BDS goals can be a long and hard task. Sometimes organizations would create strategies that worked only half as well as imagined and then they had to retool. Success comes, however, in persistence and building upon what had been achieved in previous years. As an example, American Presbyterians did not vote for a blanket boycott involving academic and cultural boycotts, choosing instead to start with a boycott of settlement goods. But that 2012 action and now policy led many church members to activism for Palestine. In such ways, the church became further involved in justice work that may not yet be official policy, but is still very much part of its profile and witness.
One of the keys to success has to do with education. Advocacy, education and communication, when well-coordinated and working together, can form an important triad in teaching the community about BDS as a tactic to achieve justice. You must be relentless in making new education resources available and getting those resources out to the grassroots. It takes a collective effort of a group of dedicated and committed activists with different skills and gifts to check their egos at the door and get to work together on educating their own community and beyond. Each small event, like a film screening, can grow the BDS community. Keep educating in different ways and different event settings until there is a collective effort of an entire network of committed activists working in harmony to promote justice through BDS. The movement grows through every educational event.
Finally, reach out to other justice groups. Regardless of the kind of organization you are, it is important to remember that the situation on the ground in Palestine is dire and grows more and more desperate. This means that every justice network has to continue to make its voice heard, and to expand that voice through intersectionality.
Today, one of the keys in getting the Palestinian story told and heard as widely as possible is to also give voice to those who have experienced oppression or the same kinds of human rights violations as a result of colonialism around the world.
Reach out to people in different indigenous and racial/ethnic groups then your own. Partner with women's rights groups, climate justice groups, LGBTQ+ rights groups, as well as advocates in other religious traditions. They all need to be heard and shared with. Different contexts demand different and unique strategies that speak to the particular occasions in which BDS is put forward. Even while some approaches can and will be common across groups and others will not be, we all can still speak philosophically and theologically of human suffering, and build solidarity across different contexts. Justice groups speak the same language.
Building solidarity with others who experience oppressions of different kinds is key. In this way, we remind ourselves that we are not in this struggle alone, but part of a much bigger picture, which together we profess as the Church Universal.
for more on intersectional justice, see: