BDS Conference at Bethlehem University
The Fourth National BDS Conference hosted by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) took place today at Bethlehem University. The conference lasted from 9am until 5pm and began with recorded messages of Solidarity from Roger Waters and Desmond Tutu. From there, the packed conference room featured interesting and sometimes heated question and answer session with speakers from a wide range of organizations, universities and governmental bodies including the PLO, PACBI, Kairos Palestine, BDS48, Berziet and Al-Najah Universities.
Major topics discussed included how to eradicate and appropriately deal with the problem of normalization both on a popular and administrative level, as well as how to increase the effectiveness of boycotting settlement products both here locally in the Palestinian economy as well as abroad. Questions from attendees spanned from the general, such concern for the “unity of Palestine” against the threats posed by “normalization organizations” to the specific such as a call for a workable 3-4 year plan for BDS in the complicated and entangled economy of Jerusalem.
One theme reiterated by a few speakers was the immediate need to label Israel not as a Occupying Power but as an Apartheid state. An occupying power is someone that the international community will urge you to go into negotiations with, an Apartheid state is unacceptable; something to be Boycotted, Sanctioned, and Divested from.
The conference came to a head with questions of normalization and security coordination directed at Jawad Naji the Palestinian Minister of the National Economy. He responded saying “Whether you’re angry or not this is the Palestinian government. I’ve never heard of these joint Israeli Palestinian projects. There are none… Our oversight campaign has arrested many people involved with the settlement products.” Not long after this Naji walked out/was expelled from the conference (a short video and description can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=w09Pa5obGzA) The Hebron activist Nazir Banat who asked the final questions is reported to have been attacked and sent to the hospital after the conference.
After the question and answer portion, the conference broke into smaller sections offering workshops on a wide variety of BDS related topics including Youth, Women, Agriculture, Internationals, Tourism, Civil Society and other specialized sectors. Taking the broad discussion and targeting specific avenues and how to successfully implement BDS techniques within them.
While the speakers were careful to point out the successes of the movement so far, and the attendance of this years gathering was an impressively full and diverse room, it is clear the the movement has much to overcome to develop into the kind of international force that was seen in South Africa. As Omar Barghouti of BNC noted “we have no fancy hotels no red carpet. We are working with almost no budget. If you have practical plans to implement for BDS please step forward. We have the right to resist. We must take it now.”
This conference and the plans for an larger scale international conference sometime in the near future are important steps in attaining that goal.
*quotations taken from the Simultaneous English Translation offered by the conference organizers.