On October 28, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill presented a workshop entitled “Palestine 101: Intro to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.” The event was organized as part of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Week at Concordia, and was the only event held by SPHR McGill.
The speakers were Melis Çagan, Ralph Haddad (former Daily editor and current director on the Board of the Daily Publications Society), and Michael McCauley, three members of SPHR McGill.
The workshop began with a brief overview of the occupation and the plight of Palestinians living in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora, respectively. The overview, presented by McCauley and Haddad, described the blockade and military assaults on the Gaza Strip, instances of police brutality against Palestinians, and the Israeli West Bank Barrier, also known as the Wall.
“This blockade of the Strip has prevented the reconstruction of homes that have been demolished in previous military assaults against the region, and have also virtually destroyed the Gaza economy,” McCauley said. “There is […] a 43 per cent unemployment rate in the Strip – that is the result of both the blockade and these repeated military assaults.”
“There is […] a 43 per cent unemployment rate in the Strip – that is the result of both the blockade and these repeated military assaults.”
The presentation included footage showing Palestinian refugee camps being demolished by the Israeli state, as well as analysis of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with a focus on the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, and the 2000 Camp David negotiations.
“The problem with these peace talks [is] that they’re very asymmetrical. They lean more toward Israel’s side than the Palestinian side,” said Haddad. “They also assume that both parties are equal and they have the same to bring to the negotiation table, which is inherently wrong. You can’t sit down at a table with your oppressor and talk about an equal exchange that will happen between you.”
The visual presentation displayed the three demands of the BDS call: “Ending [the Israeli state’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands [occupied in June 1967] and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in [United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194].”
“Because there is no constant stance in Palestine about a one-state or two-state solution, by focusing BDS on having [human] rights, [since] there’s a general consensus on what rights people should have […] it’s easier for people from different political views to take part in it,” noted Çagan.
“Neutrality in this case means complicity with the oppressor, and I think this attitude needs to change if we are ever to make any strides in standing in solidarity with the liberation struggles of [the Palestinian] people.”
Çagan concluded the presentation by discussing the relative success of international calls for BDS, which began in 2004 with a Palestinian campaign for academic boycott. Recent successes of the BDS movement worldwide include the French multinational infrastructure company Veolia selling its shares in the consortium that runs Jerusalem Light Rail as well as the global mobilization to divest from G4S, a British multinational security company that provides security equipment and supplies to Israeli prisons in the West Bank.
Following the presentation, participants brought up questions comparing boycott and divestment tactics used to end South African apartheid in the 1980s and 1990s and BDS against Israeli apartheid today. Discussion also centered on McGill’s role in the BDS movement. McGill has investments in G4S as well as Re/Max, a real estate company that sells properties in Israeli settlements.
Liza Riitters, a U1 Political Science student who attended the workshop, noted that while many students she knew were in support of the Palestinian cause, many others at McGill did not support divestment. “I was here last year when they were trying to [divest from the occupation of Palestinian territory], and so many people were saying ‘Oh, the university shouldn’t have an opinion,’” said Riitters.
Ayesha Talreja, a U3 International Development student and member of SPHR McGill said, “Neutrality in this case means complicity with the oppressor, and I think this attitude needs to change if we are ever to make any strides in standing in solidarity with the liberation struggles of [the Palestinian] people.”