A Popular Boycott Movement in Defiance of Occupation and Oppression

Every couple of weeks we hear that the so-called PA had destroyed illegal products from Zionist colonies in occupied Palestine. In a vain effort to present itself as “protector” of Palestinian interests, but failing miserably, this PA had previously announced it will boycott such products. Upon hearing this, first thing to come to mind would be: if truly concerned, which they are not, why not boycott all Israeli products, and not only those produced in illegal colonies in the West Bank. But the bleak reality is that the PA itself was only created to “legitimize” the occupation and be the gateway for normalization with the Arab and Muslim world and to break any existing true boycott of that entity. Over a year ago, while back in Palestine for a research trip after a few years absence, I was somewhat shocked to see Palestinian shops and supermarkets almost exclusively stacked with Israeli products. After the singing of the charade called “peace agreement”, Israeli products filled our shops and homes, and this after the strong and effective boycott during the first Intifada. During my research time in Germany, there was much talk about the boycott movement that I somewhat expected it to be much stronger back home. In the city where I live, many people I know are very conscientious about which products to buy and which to avoid, and I remember during my first or second year at the university that I, together with other foreign students, received a list with the companies or stores to be boycotted because they either support Israel directly by donating money yearly to the Zionist entity or they sell Israeli products. The Palestinians in occupied Palestine grew up surrounded by Israeli products. As a child, almost all products that entered our house were Israeli, from the very basic necessities such as sugar, wheat and salt to bread, milk and yoghourt.

Then, the first Intifada began.

Here, I want to say something for clarification:
I often read, hear or even I am being told that Palestinians should follow the example of “Gandhi” and stop using what these people term as “violence” because it is “harming their cause”. I even heard this from respected Palestinians living abroad.

First of all: every nation in this world has the right to defend itself against aggression and fight for its legitimate rights and independence. All forms of resistance are open to those fighting for a just cause and for their rights. So stop telling us what is good for us and what is not. We decide what is good for us and what not, because we are the ones living in occupied Palestine and we are the ones who know what it means to live under a brutal repressive military occupation every minute of the hour, twenty four hours a day for 365 days a year. Americans and Europeans, even some of those claiming to be for a just peace and for Palestinian rights, keep saying that Israel has the right to defend itself but at the same time deny the Palestinians their right to self-defence. They demand that we Palestinians stop resisting and while Israel is given a green light to butcher civilians, Palestinians are told after every massacre committed by Israel (with the blessing and defence of those “peace lovers”) to “restrain” themselves. In other words; sit still and keep silent as Israel butchers us.

So while your equation is: Israelis are allowed to kill Palestinians in the name of “the right to defend themselves” but Palestinians are to sit and welcome the next Zionist massacre.
Our equation is: all nations have the right to resist oppression and occupation, using all means when, how and whatever form as THESE oppressed nations (and not the oppressor and Co) see fit.

Secondly: When Israel started the resent crack-down on “non-violent” resistance in occupied Palestine and arrested some of its activists, a number of petitions, letters and blog posts were written in their support and calling for the release of these prisoners. One of these support letters came from an American organization which stressed its support of “non-violent” activists and demanded their release (Never mind that there are thousands inside these jails – including 306 children, women, hundreds of administrative detainees, prisoners suffering from life threatening diseases, and hundreds who confessed under torture to things they never did). The letter said that this organization was always asked about the Palestinian “Gandhis” with whom it would be okay to work, and that now with the “non-violent” activists, this organization had finally the answer!!!!

Okay, for you who are “glad” that now there is a “non-violent” movement in occupied Palestine and now you can finally say that you have a “partner” in the Palestinian society, let me tell you:
It is the occupation that is illegal, and resistance, no matter what form, is never illegal and is the legitimate right of every oppressed nation.

The First Intifada was a popular revolt against the Zionist occupation using boycott, general strikes and demonstrations/marches as a means of resistance, and it was a thousand times stronger that the current movement of scattered activities here and there. Where were you when we needed your support then?
(I only wanted to mention these points for clarification. I will write about this topic in detail some other time)

Anyway, I believe all forms of resistance are legal and open to Palestinians, and it’s the Palestinians who decide what form to apply and when. One form of resistance is Boycott.

During the first Intifada the Zionist entity was boycotted by all Palestinians in occupied Palestine.
Shops were not allowed to sell any Israeli products. Those who did would be warned, and the result was that we had Israeli-product-free shops and homes. Keeping in mind that most products sold in occupied Palestine were Israeli, you could imagine how the shops looked like after the boycott began. The shelves were almost empty, and except for the few local and exported products, not one Israeli product was to be found.

And we didn’t starve.
On the contrary, we started making our own products.
Palestinians families started producing for their own consumption and for the local market. Families made cheese, butter and yoghourt, made marmalade and pickles, grew vegetables and legumes, pressed olives and produced olive oil.

We were blessed with land, part of which was confiscated by the Zionists thanks to the charade called “peace process”. In our garden we had all sorts of vegetable beds: tomatoes, cucumbers, paprika, zucchini, aubergine, spinach, radish, squash, turnips, okra, etc. Other areas of the land we used to plant peas, beans, kidney-beans, back-eyed peas, chickpeas, parsley, wheat and barley. Palestine is known as a natural habitat for edible plants such as spinach, parsley, mallow, dandelions, purslane, gundelia, khubeza, lufeta and hweira (my favourite). We would collect these, clean them, pack them and freeze them for later use. We had grapevines which gave us the sweet red and black grapes and the leaves to make stuffed vine leaves. We had peach, apple and apricot trees which gave us the fruit and from which we made juice and jam. We had citrus trees that gave us oranges, clementines, lemons and grapefruits. We had almond, fig and pomegranate trees besides the sacred olive trees. And our generous land offered us all sorts of herbs such as thyme, sage, mint, camomile, etc.

We bought a few goats. From the milk of these goats we made our very own labaneh (strained yoghourt), butter and white cheese. The white cheese we made at home was very delicious that relatives, friends and acquaintances would ask specifically for the cheese when visiting. The process of making the cheese was not as difficult as many might think: we would filter the milk, boil it to sterilize it, add some “Masat” to it that would help solidify the milk and turn it into cheese. When cooled down, the cheese would be divided into small square sheets, then placed in some sort of structure made by my father (who comes from a Bedouin family and is well-experienced in these things) which consisted of layers of stones divided by wooden plates. The sheets would be placed between these wooden plates and held tight by the heavy stones. They would be left like this for some time until they harden. When the sheets are opened, one would have a piece of white cheese in every sheet.  We would leave these to dry for some days. Then we would boil them in water with salt and other ingredients and leave them to cool. Later, we would either place them in the freezer or in jars with water and salt. For the making butter we used a bag made of goat skin. We would fill the bag with milk and either one or two of us would start rocking the bag for some hours. It took a long time and was truly tiresome, but the butter produced tasted superb. Other “products” prepared at home included the ground Zaatar (thyme). We would clean the Zaatar leaves we spent days collecting from our land before leaving them for another couple of days to dry. We would wash them, chop them and then grind them to the well-known somewhat powdery form. Then we would add some spices, roasted sesame seeds, olive oil, solid yoghourt, sumac and fried wheat and grind and mix the whole thing.

Many of our friends and neighbours did the same, and everywhere you would see women gathered in the land collecting Zaatar, khubeza, lufeta and hweira. Many of our neighbours often came and still do come and ask us if they could collect the vegetation growing there or collect some lemons from the lemon tree or some sage or camomile. Many families either planted vegetable beds around their houses, or those who have larger space got a few chicks, or a goat or even some got a couple of cows. Families in refugee camps or in large towns that didn’t have their own gardens, constructed vegetable beds on the roofs, using boxes, wooden structures and even old tubs that were filled with earth. Other people used their roof as a place to breed a few chickens or pigeons. Women in towns, villages and refugee camps built groups and grew vegetables which they packed, froze and sold, or made marmalade and pickles and sold them in jars. Others prepared Maftoul (Palestinian couscous) and Shraq (thin spread bread). Some families joined finances and efforts and started an embroidery business in their storerooms. And so, people started either selling their home-made products or exchanging them for other products, such as exchanging white cheese for marmalade. For some, this was the beginning of small family-oriented businesses which were a means to resist Israeli products and strengthen their boycott and at the same time contributed to strengthening Palestinian products by becoming the substitute to Israeli businesses. The absence of Israeli products encouraged Palestinian home-made products. In addition to producing our own products and satisfying our own needs from our lands, we started finding Palestinian products on shop shelves where once Israeli products stood. Palestinian localities supported one another. Inhabitants of a village or town would rush to support nearby villages or refugee camps that were declared closed military zones or were under a prolonged curfew. Food and other basic supplies would be collected and smuggled into the besieged areas. During curfews, inhabitants of the same village, town or refugee camps would dare the curfew and under the cover of the night would go around homes, collect and redistribute supplies from those who have certain things in abundance to families in need. Everyone gave generously and everyone helped with the distribution. We were one. Despite the daily Zionist terror, we remained steadfast and survived without the need of the so-called “donor community” and their prerequisites and demands for “helping us”. We didn’t need them, and today we don’t need them. Palestine is generous enough and gives us all we need and all Palestine demands from us in return is that we remain steadfast on her soil, protect her and free her from the Zionist usurpers before they completely destroy her.

The popular Boycott movement during the first Intifada did not stop at Israeli products. We boycotted everything that is Zionist. We had little access to media at the time. There was no internet and no satellite dishes and we had only the choice between the Israeli, Jordanian or Syrian TV. We had more choices when it came to radio. Before the Intifada we listened a lot to the Arabic Service of the BBC, to Monte Carlo and to the Arabic Service of the Israeli Radio. We were somewhat forced to listen to and watch the Israeli radio and TV because at the time most towns and villages had no telephone lines where you could call and ask if there was a curfew or a demo or a military operation. So this service, although knowing it’s the voice of the occupier, was the fastest way to know what was going on in other parts of occupied Palestine: Will we be allowed to go to our schools, universities and work place? Are there check points at the entrance to Jerusalem? Is Ramallah a closed military area? Is there a curfew on Dheisheh? Is there a demo in Bethlehem? Then, during the Intifada, a new radio station appeared all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere: Al-Quds (Jerusalem) radio station. I remember how at first people everywhere were talking about the station that broadcasts only Palestinian national songs. Everyone started tuning in to Al-Quds, and would only tune into radio Israel to hear the news because Al-Quds aired only songs. After some time, Al Quds started having its own news broadcasts and reports, and from all over occupied Palestine. The reporters it seemed were everywhere; in every village, town, city or refugee camp and the reports were all up-to-date. If a demo took place in Gaza, that same minute everyone in occupied Palestine would know about it. If the IOF killed a demonstrator in Nablus, everyone in occupied Palestine would know about it. If a massacre was committed in Hebron, everyone in occupied Palestine would know about it. We didn’t know who was behind it at first, and although the speculations -and the wishes- were many, in the end we didn’t care that much, main thing it was Palestinian and was talking in our name. Hearing Al-Quds was illegal and people would switch to some other station or turn off the radio when Israeli soldiers were in the area. But when no soldiers were around, almost everyone listened to Al-Quds. In a way Al-Quds was somewhat the voice of the Intifada in the sense that it would broadcast the calls of the “Unified Leadership if the Intifada” the minute they are released in forms of pamphlets. Often we would hear about the next call before the pamphlets would be distributed in the streets. It’s famous: “Nida’ Nida’ Nida’, La Sout Ya’lu fawq Sawt il Intifada” (Call, Call, Call, No Voice is above the Voice of the Intifada) is one of the distinct features of the first Intifada and I dream of the day of hearing a similar call in occupied Palestine again. We would leave everything we were doing and listen to the newest call of the Unified Leadership of the Intifada, which was mostly either a call for a general strike or a demonstration or some other action. The main instructions of such calls would be also written on walls of houses, schools and other buildings, including the dates of coming general strikes.

General strikes were another form of the non-violent resistance.

These were either declared forehand or announced immediately in protest of a fresh Israeli aggression such as a massacre or a mass arrest. On such days everything would stand still in occupied Palestine, everything except resistance. Pupils and students would not go to their classes, shops would be closed, buses and taxis would stand still and private cars would only be allowed to move in emergencies. The “general strike” day would be dedicated to demonstrations, marches and sit-ins; a day to resist the occupation and to celebrate Palestine. It was also a day for working in the fields and planting trees, holding seminars and lectures to inform people (such as health and agricultural lectures where a doctor or an agricultural engineer would give the attendants tips, for example on how to deal in cases of emergency). The Israeli occupation army couldn’t do a thing about it. They forced teachers to be present at their schools (the IOF was controlling the education system in occupied Palestine) with the threat of suspension if they didn’t show up, even when no pupils would come. They would break shop doors to force them open, and many are the times when a strike was announced all of a sudden and while Palestinian shop owners were closing their shops, the Israeli soldiers would rush to keep them open, in vain. But otherwise, they couldn’t force anyone else to break the strike.

On days when no strike was planned, on hearing about a massacre or an IOF/colonist attack on a certain village, town or refugee camp, we would automatically expect a strike before the news of the strike would reach us. The news would spread like fire in hay, and within an hour all shops would be closed, all pupils sent home, employees, shoppers and those paying private visits would be on their way back home before everything came to a standstill. Buses and taxis would make their final trips and would take their last passengers before streets become empty except of burning tires, stone roadblocks and demonstrators. On one such day, the strike was announced late afternoon while we were in class. When news of the strike arrived, the headmistress informed all classes. Some parents came to collect their children, others were told to head back home before transportation stopped. My sister and I went to take the bus back home, but found the central bus station in Jerusalem empty and not one single bus was there. This was the “usual” situation on a strike day, but we thought we had time to catch the last bus. We went back to school and told the headmistress, who then took us with her car back home. On our way and in almost every suburb we passed we saw the same familiar scene: roadblocks being set, tires being burnt, stones being gathered, Palestinian flags raised high and masked young men and women gathering for the coming demonstration. A number of private cars were also trying to drive around the roadblocks. Usually those breaking the strike would be stopped and ordered back to where they came from. But on that afternoon we were allowed to drive through since they knew that the strike was announced a couple of hours earlier and that people were still heading home.

One of the most memorable days of the first Intifada was a Monday when the Palestinians across occupied Palestine, from the river to the sea, declared a day of general strike in protest of the occupation and in solidarity of each other. The Zionist entity and its army did not like what they were seeing: a revolution across occupied. Every general strike was like a “nuclear attack” on the Zionist entity. The Israeli soldiers would go beserk (well, they are violent criminals all of the time) on seeing closed shops and would start banging the doors, and if they manage to break down the door and get into the shop, they would destroy what’s inside. If they caught someone in the empty streets during a strike, they would beat them. If they found Palestinian women selling local products, they would crush them under their feet. They would shoot pigeons, chicken, goats and would throw gas bombs in farms and shacks. If they found a house or a building with graffiti on its walls calling for a strike, they would get the owners out, beat them and force them to wipe out the graffiti. It was a punishment for everyone who joined in these strikes and this boycott; it was a punishment of a whole population for exercising its legitimate right to resist the oppression and the occupation and for saying: enough is enough.

When discussing the boycott movement, and here specifically the boycott of Israeli & Co products, among the arguments I heard was that Americans, Europeans or any others supporting the boycott have it much easier in their countries because they have an array of other non-Israeli & Co products to chose from, while occupied Palestine is flooded with Israeli products. Yes, this is true, those Americans, Europeans, etc. who decide to boycott Israel have it much easier than us because they could easily ignore products of the Zionist entity and those of the companies on the boycott list. But remember, those Americans, Europeans and others are not Palestinians, and the US, France, Germany or any other country is not occupied Palestine. They are doing this in support of Palestine, while for us Palestinians it is our duty to boycott the Zionist entity, whether the others join us in the boycott or not. And another thing I often hear during discussions is “what’s the use?” The Zionist entity receives trillions yearly from the US and others, so it won’t be affected by such a boycott. First of all I personally believe that boycott is an integral part of the resistance and that for us Palestinian it is a moral thing to do: we are boycotting the entity that stole our land and is still does, that stole our natural resources and still does, that stole our cultural heritage and still does, that massacred so many of us and still does. Secondly: If the boycott was useless, why did the Zionist entity fight it with all its power during the first Intifada? And why is it fighting it now? Also, if anyone thinks the threat of boycott is useless, then you are mistaken. Here is a very simple example, one that has nothing to do with the official boycott movement but shows how effective a strong boycott movement can be: During my Masters studies, I remember a certain shopping centre that used to sell mint leaves as an “Israeli product” at its vegetables/fruits section. Every time there, I would check how many packs there were, do my shopping and come back to check how many were sold. Fact is; it hurt me so much to see the leaves that have come from occupied Palestine, have been kissed by the soil of Palestine, had bathed under the sun in Palestine and blessed with the rain in Palestine being sold here under the name of Palestine’s usurper. And knowing that these leaves come directly from Palestine, and that the few tiny earth particles hanging to the stems come from the heart of Palestine, and not being able to touch them, smell them or taste them made me furious. But the comforting thing was that during all the time I would observe these packs, and on a spam of many a couple of years only few were ever sold! And then one day they were not to be found again. I don’t know if boycott had anything to do with the disappearance of these leaves, I mean whether people didn’t buy these mint leaves because they didn’t want to buy “Israeli” products. I met many Germans who told me they avoid Israeli products in protest of the Israeli occupation, and when buying fruits or vegetables it has become a habit for many to check the source because one didn’t want to buy any “Israeli” oranges or grapefruits. But not buying the mint leaves, for whatever reason it was, caused that particular shopping centre to stop selling them, which in turn is a loss to the Israeli economy, no matter how minimal or insignificant. And any loss to the Zionist entity is a victory to Palestine.

And while boycotting products of the Zionist entity and Co, why not promote Palestinian products? At home, and like every Palestinian family, labaneh is always present at the Palestinian table. When I went to Germany to pursue my higher studies, I searched in vain for labaneh in the few Arab shops where I live and nearby. I found some products but none of them came even close to the taste of the Palestinian labaneh. Some acquaintances showed me how to make labaneh at home, but this was a failure. Others who travel often to the Middle East would bring me back some. Since my first semester in Germany, I’ve been holding “Palestinian dinners” for friends and fellow students to discuss Palestine and to introduce them to Palestinian culture and cuisine. On one such occasions, it happened that a day before I got some labaneh from Palestinian friends. I told my friends what it was and that they could eat it with bread. One dear friend, who is of Palestinian origin but was never there, was thrilled when I mentioned the word labaneh. He said he had heard his father often mention it and how good it tasted (most probably he ate it as a child in Palestine), and was anxious to finally try it. Although he didn’t know Arabic and although he never tried Labaneh before, upon mentioning it he immediately knew what I was talking about: a Palestinian speciality his father loves and talks often of. Anyway, the Labaneh was a great success that day: everyone wanted to try it and they liked it. Its taste was a welcome and pleasant change from the mild cottage cheese they are used to. When the dishes were empty, they asked for more Labaneh but unfortunately that was all I had. The next day I realized that because I was busy discussing with my guests, I didn’t even once have a bite of the Labaneh. Somehow, it was a disappointment because having Labaneh was a rare treat, but on the other hand I was glad a Palestinian friend had finally tasted it. And what about the Zaatar and Zait bread (Thyme and olive oil)? What Palestinian doesn’t like it? Our grandmothers and their grandmothers were baking these since the beginning of time. This is another speciality I introduced to my friends and acquaintances in Germany as the “Palestinian pizza”. They love it because it’s tasty and healthy as well. During my last research trip to occupied Palestine, I saw Palestinian shops selling Israeli Zaatar and Zait crackers. And yes, it makes me furious to see these Zionist from the United States, Europe and Russia marketing what Palestinian grandmothers have been doing for centuries as theirs. And it makes me furious to see Palestinian shops in occupied Palestine selling such Zionist products: why don’t you let your mothers or grandmothers bake some Zaatar and Zeit bread and sell it in your shop instead of selling Zionist products that will finance the bullet that will kill another Palestinian child tomorrow? There are so many Palestinian specialities that find lots of fans in Europe and elsewhere. All of us who lived or studied abroad know this from friends and colleagues, have often seen Arab shops filled with Europeans who want some humus or foul or falafel or Zaatar. We speak of boycott, but fill our homes with Israeli products. Why do we buy all this stuff? It is not as if we will starve if we stop buying it. Why not invest in our own products. What is wrong with our products? They taste good, are healthy and are Palestinian.

The boycott movement of the first Intifada was an organized movement, and unlike today, almost everyone in occupied Palestine was part of it. The Zionist entity didn’t and doesn’t want any form of resistance; armed or unarmed. They just want Palestinians to sit still and watch as their land is confiscated, their homes are demolished, their towns and villages are turned into concentration camps and their children are killed or imprisoned. And for those “demanding” the “Gandhi-way” for occupied Palestine, remember that this is our struggle and our fight and we make the decisions, not you. And the next time you hear an Israeli official, i.e. war criminal, claiming that they “want peace” and that it is the Palestinians who should stop their “violence”, remember that this Zionist entity was created on the land and bodies of Palestinians and remember what this entity did to the Palestinians who protested the occupation through boycott and general strikes.

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2 Responses to A Popular Boycott Movement in Defiance of Occupation and Oppression

  1. Pingback: The Eagle of Palestine | Occupied Palestine | فلسطين

  2. Pingback: INACCETTABILE! – Sanzioni (estese anche ai Paesi europei) per punire il boicottaggio di Israele. La Knesset approva la legge / Israel’s Knesset Passes Boycott Prohibition Bill « Solleviamoci’s Weblog

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