Artists for Palestine: Now is the time for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Artists for Palestine: Now is the time for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
An editorial about BDS by Montreal activist and musician Stefan Christoff

As world media turns attention toward a ceasefire in Gaza, now is the time to ensure that as progressive artists, musicians and cultural workers we remain focused on the deep injustices that shape the collective Palestinian experience all the time and signal our support for Palestinian human rights. 

Palestine matters deeply for our collective humanity even when not in the headlines. 

Gaza has remained under a full land, sea and air siege since 2007, a policy of Israeli state-driven collective punishment enforced after Palestinians voted democratically to elect a Hamas political administration within the besieged territory. 

Today, daily life in Gaza has become shaped by the deep injustice of military siege by the Israeli state, blocking access to the outside world.

Today, the United Nations considers more than 96% of the water supply in Gaza “unfit for human consumption.” In the recent Israeli military bombing campaign on Gaza the strikes that targeted public infrastructure, including the wifi, electricity and water systems, will only deepen this crisis of access to water. 

Also in Canada, lack of access to clean and safe drinking water has become a devastating symbol of systemic colonial injustice for Indigenous peoples. Today, a mirror can be placed to the systemic lack of access to safe water today for the Palestinian people in Gaza, who are facing the systemic colonial violence of the Israeli state. 

Over the last two weeks, upwards of 230 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, while thousands were injured and the entire civilian population faced the ringing trauma of Israeli air strikes. Over 60 Palestinian children have been killed in the Israeli air strikes. 

Amnesty International has identified Israeli state war crimes targeting the Palestinian people in recent years and in the past weeks we have again seen such war crimes play out. A recent Human Rights Watch report has detailed Israeli state policies toward the Palestinian people within the framework of crimes of apartheid. In the report, Human Rights Watch detail that Israeli “authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

In the face of all of this Canada has remained complicit. Canada maintains the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) with the Israeli state, which gives priority, tarif free access to many Israeli goods sanctioned by the Israeli government, including products produced in Israeli settlements which under CIFTA aren’t identified. 

Canada also continues, under the Liberal government, to grant export permits to companies of the military industrial complex who are exporting arms to Israel. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada sent $13.7-million in military hardware and technology to Israel in 2019. Canada must halt arms exports to the Israeli state.

These are some points of context that frame the growing and global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led initiative, modelled after the campaign that targeted the Apartheid government of South Africa. BDS is a non-violent tool for people, organizations and institutions around the world to signal their protest toward the policies of the Israeli state by refusing to collaborate economically, artistically and politically with institutions and projects linked to the Israeli state. In the context of doom-scrolling on our phones, it is important to have tangible outlets to express our genuine concerns and feelings about devastating injustices that are happening in real time. The BDS is a clear way that we can collectively respond in solidarity with the Palestinian people. This means — tangibly, if you are an artist — not performing in Israel and not collaborating with projects and institutions that are linked to the Israeli state, and expressing this decision publicly. 

I have supported publicly the BDS movement since is was launched in 2005, after an appeal from Palestinian civil society groups to the world. I feel that it is an important and meaningful tool for collective action as artists and people around the world to express our support for the Palestinian people. Today, this is more important than ever. We must act. ■

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