What were the top BDS victories of 2020?

(Konrad K - SIPA)

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  December 30, 2020

2020 was surely a year like no other.

Yet despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a successful year for the global Palestinian rights movement. There were plenty of direct actions, court victories and significant calls to sanction Israel over its violations of international law.

This year saw achievements by activists, students, civil rights defenders and lawmakers to uphold the right to boycott Israel – even as lawmakers, Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government itself attempted to derail, smearattack and imprison organizers.

“Despite its massive investment of financial, political, diplomatic, propaganda and intelligence resources in its war against the BDS movement, Israel has failed, as some of its own lobby groups today admit,” says the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the steering group for the Palestinian-led BDS campaign.

What a fitting way to mark 15 years of the BDS campaign.

At the beginning of the year, the United Nations published its long-awaited list of corporations that profit from Israel’s war crimes.

The report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights lists 112 companies involved in certain activities in the settlements, including the supply of equipment and materials for construction or home demolitions, surveillance and security, transport and maintenance, pollution and dumping of waste, and use of natural resources including water and land.

The BNC welcomed the release of the database, which came “despite bullying by [President Donald] Trump and Israel’s far-right government.”

In April, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Jordan announced that it would not be renewing its contract with G4S, a private security corporation with a lengthy history of involvement in Israel’s crimes.

That means that all six UN agencies in Jordan have now cancelled their contracts with the British firm.

An unnamed corporation in Jordan also announced it was not renewing its contract with G4S, stated activists with Jordan BDS.

In the UK, activists took to the roof of a factory owned by Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems. The factory is accused of making engines for the Hermes drone.

The drone has been used by the Israeli military to fire missiles on Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

Here are some more of the top victories for Palestinian rights as covered by The Electronic Intifada in 2020.

Calls for sanctions grow louder

Public figures, politicians, trade unions and other organizations around the world called for sanctions on Israel over its plans to formalize illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Over the summer, the Palestinian BDS National Committee urged all states to adopt “effective countermeasures, including sanctions, to end Israel’s unlawful acquisition of Palestinian territory through use of force, its regime of apartheid and its denial of our inalienable right to self-determination.”

These measures should include an arms embargo, an end to free-trade agreements with Israel, prohibition of all trade with Israeli settlements and accountability for Israeli war criminals, the BNC said.

With almost 60 Canadian lawmakers pledging to support diplomatic and economic sanctions over the annexation plan, a June poll found that nearly half of all Canadians would back such measures.

BDS boosted in courts

Israel lobby organizations took major hits in 2020 as US and European courts thwarted efforts to suppress the boycott movement.

In February, a Washington state appeals court upheld a 2018 ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former board members of the Olympia Food Co-op.

In 2010, the grocery store became the first of its kind in the US to remove Israeli goods from its shelves as part of the BDS campaign.

For nearly ten years, plaintiffs working closely with Israel lobby group StandWithUs sought to block the store’s boycott and secure monetary damages against board members who voted in favour of the measure; and when they lost each legal battle, they would appeal to a higher court.

StandWithUs helped secretly plan the lawsuit in coordination with Israeli government officials.

In June, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. unanimously affirmed an earlier dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the American Studies Association over its support of an academic boycott of Israel.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2016 after the ASA endorsed the boycott of Israeli institutions three years prior, claimed that the association’s endorsement of the boycott was contrary to its charter.

But a judge threw out that key claim in 2017.

Notably, the lawsuit was backed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, an Israel advocacy organization that has for years worked to smear Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitism and attempts to suppress it with frivolous lawsuits and bogus civil rights complaints.

The organization’s former president, attorney Kenneth Marcus, represented the plaintiffs until February 2018 – when he was appointed as the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the US Department of Education.

Marcus resigned in July amid calls by civil rights groups to investigate possible violations of federal law in his prioritizing of complaints filed by anti-Palestinian organizations. He is now back at the Brandeis Center.

Upholding the right to boycott

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the right to boycott Israel when it overturned the criminal convictions against 11 Palestinian rights activists in France, striking a significant blow to Israel’s anti-BDS efforts.

The court ruled unanimously that the convictions against the activists for calling on shoppers to boycott Israeli goods violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ guarantee of freedom of expression.

Even though France has defied the court’s ruling by telling prosecutors to continue investigating those who call for boycotts of Israel, French activists continue to organize.

United Nations representatives warned the German government in October that its tightening crackdown on supporters of Palestinian rights violates freedom of expression.

Five special rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, human rights defenders, human rights in Palestine and freedom of religion sent Germany a letter complaining about its repressive behaviour.

In April, the UK Supreme Court struck down an anti-divestment rule imposed by the government in 2016.

The law stated that councils could not use their pension policies “to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defense industries.”

But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged the government, and in 2017 the high court ruled in its favour.

That decision was overturned in 2018 by the Court of Appeal, but with the Supreme Court’s final ruling, it cannot be appealed.

In the US, journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin sued the state of Georgia over its draconian anti-BDS law.

Martin was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at a media literacy conference held at Georgia Southern University. When officials demanded that she sign a contract stating she would not engage in a boycott of Israel, Martin refused to do so and her keynote was cancelled, as was the entire conference.

Martin’s lawsuit against Georgia is one of several filed by activists, attorneys, educators and reporters in states across the US.

In 2020, the governors of Missouri and Oklahoma signed anti-BDS measures into law, but civil rights defenders are fighting them in courts.

Rebukes of whitewashing, pink-washing

In September, Palestinians called for a boycott of The Next Nas Daily, a venture run by Nuseir Yassin, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, whose critics accuse him of whitewashing Israel’s crimes by falsely equating a colonial occupier with its victims.

And in December, BDS groups in Arab countries launched one of their largest recent social media campaigns to amplify that call.

After sustained outcry from Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled out of an October event to honor Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist 25 years ago.

Her cancelation dealt a significant blow to Israel lobbyists seeking to whitewash Rabin’s legacy of colonial violence in Palestine.

Earlier in the year, more than 130 queer filmmakers and film artists from around the globe pledged to boycott TLVFest, the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, in a rebuke of Israel’s pink-washing campaign.

Students rise up

College students continue to stand up for Palestinian rights, even as university administrators capitulate to Israel lobby demands.

The University of Manchester in England divested more than $5 million from Caterpillar and the parent company of travel site Booking.com.

Activists said it was “a colossal win for the Palestine solidarity movement in Britain” and a “watershed moment.”

The university had been a focus for campaigners since 2016 due to its investments in firms complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Even though the university denied that their divestment had anything to do with the mounting pressure by human rights defenders, activist Huda Ammori told The Electronic Intifada that the University of Manchester “divesting from complicit companies shows the power of the grassroots student movement to hold our institutions to account.”

In the US, students at Tufts University in Boston voted in favour of ending all foreign military training of the college’s police department, while others at California State University campuses in San Francisco and Fresno passed resolutions calling for divestment from companies that play an active role in Israel’s occupation.

A referendum at Columbia University’s liberal arts college in New York City calling on the university to divest from “stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians” was supported by more than 60 percent of students.

And at Butler University in Indiana, two resolutions that would have condemned the BDS campaign and conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry were defeated by student representatives.

Here’s to the activism and victories in 2020, with more to come in 2021.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)

Ma’an News /  December 31, 2020

Ramallah, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said Thursday that the number of Palestinians estimated at the end of 2020 is about 13.7 million Palestinians; 5.2 million in the State of Palestine, about 1.6 million Palestinians in the 1948 territories, about 6.2 million in Arab countries and about 738,000 in foreign countries.

About 6.8 million Palestinians live in historic Palestine

 The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimates that the Palestinian population in historic Palestine is around 6.80 million by the end of 2020, while the number of Jews is expected to reach 6.88 million by the end of 2020, and the number of Palestinians and Jews will be equal by the end of 2022, and the number of Palestinians and Jews will be about 7.1 million each.

More than one third of the population resides in the Gaza Strip by the end of 2020

 The population of the State of Palestine is estimated at 5.2 million, about 3.1 million in the West Bank and 2.1 million in the Gaza Strip. In 2017, the Palestinian population accounted for 42 percent of the total Palestinian population living in the State of Palestine, 26% in the West Bank and 66% in the Gaza Strip.

Decline in fertility rates

 The total fertility rate during the period (2017-2019) decreased to 3.8 births, compared with 4.6 births in 1999; 3.8 births in the West Bank and 3.9 in the Gaza Strip.

Decrease in average family size

 The average family size decreased to 5.1 in 2019 from 6.1 in 2000; by 4.9 in the West Bank and 5.5 in the Gaza Strip.

Child and infant mortality rates are declining.

 The under-five mortality rate in the State of Palestine was 14 children per 1,000 live births in 2015-2019; 15 in the West Bank and 14 in the Gaza Strip.

The government’s decision to extend the period of the year to 2010 was a very high rate of 10 per cent. The data indicate a decrease in child mortality over the previous 10 years, reaching 15 children per 1,000 live births.

Continued decline in marriage rates before the age of 18 among females

 Results for 2020 show that about 13% of women aged 20-24 got married for the first time before the age of 18, and in the West Bank the percentage was about 11% compared to about 17% in the Gaza Strip.

This percentage is lower than in 2014, with about a quarter (24%) of women in the 20-24 age group marrying for the first time before the age of 18 in Palestine.

High fertility rates among Palestinian women in Jordan compared to Palestinian women in Syria and Lebanon

 The total fertility rate of Palestinian women living in Jordan was 3.3 births in 2010 compared to 2.5 births in Syria in 2010, while the average was 2.7 births for Palestinian women in Lebanon in 2017.

Palestinian society in the territories of 1948 a young society

 The number of Palestinians estimated in the 1948 territories was estimated at 1.63 million Palestinians by the end of 2020, and the proportion of males under the age of 15 was 32.4% compared to 31.4% for females, while the proportion of male individuals aged 65 and over was 4.5% compared to 5.4% for females in 2019.

82,000 fewer workers in Q3 2020 compared to Q3 2019

 The number of workers decreased from 1,022,000 in the third quarter of 2019 to 935,000 in the third quarter of 2020 by 8%, with the number in the Gaza Strip declining by 17% from the third quarter of 2019 and in the West Bank by 5.5% during the same period.

13% of employees were absent from work during the third quarter of 2020 due to the pandemic

 The number of employees absent from their jobs increased from 99,000 in the third quarter of 2019 to 117,000 in the third quarter of 2020 by 18%, and this increase may be due to reasons associated with the Coved 19 pandemic and measures taken to reduce its spread.

Decline in the number of workers in the domestic market between the third quarters 2019 and the third quarter 2020

 The number of workers in the local market decreased from 881,000 in the third quarter of 2019 to 800,000 in the third quarter of 2020, with the number in the Gaza Strip falling by 17% and the West Bank by 5.9%.

About half of the main breadwinners of working families were absent from work during the closure period

 Forty-seven percent of workers were absent from work during the closure period from March 5 to May 25, 2020, with a clear disparity between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (54% in the West Bank and 32% in the Gaza Strip).

More than half of students in the West Bank participated in distance learning activities

The measures adopted by the Government during the Corona pandemic led to the disruption of educational institutions from 5 March to 25 May 2020, and led to a shift to a distance education system to compensate students for their missed subjects, although the results of the Covid-19 (CORONA) pandemic survey indicated that the social and economic conditions of Palestinian families had been affected. In addition, 51% of families in the State of Palestine with children (6-18 years old) enrolled in pre-closure education participated in remote educational activities during the closure period (March 5-25, 2020) (53.3% in the West Bank and 48.5% in the Gaza Strip).

Two out of five families assessed the distance learning experience as bad and didn’t work.

 Data from the Covid-19 (CORONA) pandemic survey on the socio-economic conditions of Palestinian families, 2020 indicated that 40% of families whose children participated in any remote educational activities during the closure period (March 5- May 25, 2020), assessed the experience as bad and did not perform its purpose, while about 39% assessed the experience as good and did its purpose, but there was room for improvement of the experience, and 21% valued the experience as well-purpose and well-purpose.

Two out of five families whose income has been halved or more

 Data from the 2020 Covid-19 (Corona) pandemic survey showed that 42% of Palestinian households reported that their income slumped by more than half during the closure period (March 5-25, 2020), compared to February 2020.

Decrease in monthly household spending on food during the closure period

 About 41% of households reported that their monthly food expenditure decreased during the closure period compared to February 2020 (42% in the West Bank and 40% in the Gaza Strip). Some 29% of households said that cash transfer programs are one of the most important measures the government must take, followed by job creation and employment (21%), and the third priority is to provide food coupons, food parcels and purchasing vouchers (19%).