Why Boycotting Israel is So Important and Necessary

DePaul students don't want their tuition dollars invested in weapons manufacturers who supply the Israeli government, army and prison services

Nothing, it seems, is too ridiculous for Nick Clegg, UK Deputy Prime Minister, to contemplate. See him in this painful video ‘Nick Clegg welcomes the Jewish Manifestoaimed at EU election candidates and voters.

Fortunately Clegg received a bloody nose yesterday in the EU elections. His infatuation with the EU and all its rotten works caused his party (the Liberal Democrats) to be almost wiped out at the polls. His days as leader are probably numbered.

If you’re wondering what the Jewish community’s EU Manifesto says, you can read it here. This propaganda effort is a prime example of the ‘hasbara’ scribbler’s art. It tries to shrug off Israel’s sickening human rights abuses and unending dispossession and oppression of its Palestinian neighbours and urges Members of the European Parliament to side with the apartheid regime.

“We urge MEPs and prospective MEPs to resist calls for boycotts of Israel. By their very nature, such measures attribute blame to only one side of the conflict, and through this stigmatisation they perpetuate a one-sided narrative. This in turn prompts intransigence from both sides.”

It also whinges about the European Commission’s guidelines that exclude Israeli settlements from EU funding programmes, accusing the EU of trying to dictate Israel’s borders. As most people know by now, Israel refuses to declare its borders because it hasn’t finished expanding them. The EU’s action, it says, is hurting the peace process “by perpetuating intransigence on the Palestinian side and could cause the Palestinian leadership to become less likely to make concessions”.  The Palestinians have been robbed of everything, including their freedom. Why should they be asked to make more “concessions” to the thief?

The document also prods MEPs to oppose EU funding to Non Governmental Organisations who support boycott campaigns.

Campus ‘lies’?

So, after Clegg’s spineless capitulation, it was heartening to read today that students at DePaul University in Chicago have voted in favour of a referendum calling for divestment from companies “that profit from Israel’s discriminatory practices and human rights violations” and help “violate people’s rights to life, movement, healthcare, education and freedom.”

They are calling on the university to divest its funds from “corporations that manufacture weapons and provide surveillance technology to the Israeli government, army and prison services”, including Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar.

Students say the vote was won despite a massive counter-campaign of intimidation and disinformation by pro-Israel lobbyist group StandWithUs and the Israeli consulate general in Chicago. “It is clear that DePaul students do not wish to have their tuition dollars invested in weapons manufacturers,” said a student organizer.

Following the DePaul vote, StandWithUs announced on their website: “We have seen divestment create this toxic campus environment wherever it rears its ugly head, as it has on several American campuses. Divestment advocates bring lies about Israel to campus, and display extreme ignorance about the complexities of the Middle East conflict, about Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas, about the anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian society, and about Israel’s repeated efforts to make peace. This movement singles out Israel and targets and intimidates pro-Israel and Jewish students, and resonates with anti-Semitism.” The words sound like they are scripted by the Lie Machine in Tel Aviv.

The ‘world’s most moral army’ and its war on students

DePaul students are to be congratulated for not flinching under Zio-pressure.  Other Western students, and indeed students and academics all round the world, who face the same bully-boy tactics when debating the question of boycott and disinvestment against Israel, need only remember what the Israelis do to Palestinian students.

The last thing Israel wants is masses of bright and clever young Palestinians next-door in the shredded remains of the Occupied Territories. But that’s exactly what Palestinian youngsters are… bright and clever, given half a chance. So they need repressing. They need humiliating constantly. They need to be discouraged. They need to have their education disrupted big-time, so that they become a broken, dispirited, docile mass without ambition, easily controlled and utterly dependent (as they are now) on a few crumbs of comfort from Western taxpayers.

So the Israeli authorities make spiteful war on students especially, as well as women and children generally. To get to Bethlehem University, or any other, many students have to run the gauntlet of Israeli checkpoints. “Sometimes they take our ID cards and they spend ages writing down all the details, just to make us late,” said one. Students are often made to remove shoes, belt and bags. “It’s like an airport. Many times we are kept waiting outside for up to an hour, rain or shine, they don’t care.” The soldiers attempt to forcibly remove students’ clothes or they swear and shout sexual slurs at female students.

Some tell how they are sexually harassed and spend the rest of the day worrying what the Israelis will do to them on their way home.

This daily abuse undermines student motivation and concentration. Many other obstacles are put in their way by the Occupation. Here are just three cases, about which I have written before, that illustrate why it is so vitally important for the Palestinians to achieve independence and security.


Merna was an honours student in her final year majoring in English. Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through her Bethlehem refugee camp in the middle of the night, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat outside her family home during a curfew.

Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22 year-old artist, and imprisoned him for 4 years.  Then they came back for Merna’s 18-year-old brother. Not content with that the military came again, this time to take her youngest brother – the ‘baby’ of the family – just 16. These were the circumstances under which Merna had to study.

Israeli military law treats Palestinians as adults as soon as they reach 16, a flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israeli youngsters, on the other hand, are not regarded as adults until 18. Palestinians are dealt with by Israeli military courts, even when it’s a civil matter. These courts ignore international laws and conventions, so there’s no legal protection for individuals under Israeli military occupation.

As detention is based on secret information, which neither the detainee nor his lawyer is allowed to see, it is impossible to mount a proper defence. Besides, the Security Service always finds a bogus excuse to keep detainees locked up “in the greater interest of the security of Israel”. Although detainees have the right to review and appeal, they are unable to challenge the evidence and check facts as all information presented to the Court is classified.

Under huge mental stress Merna nevertheless determined to carry on with her studies. The “most moral army in the world”, as the Israelis call their uniformed thugs, may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she would still fight for hers. Sleepless and tearful, Merna went to university next day as usual.

A fellow student recalled that when chatting to Merna online in the evenings, she often had to leave the computer because the military had barged into her home. But even if she’d been up all night while Israeli soldiers trashed her house and questioned her family, she always came to school the next day. “Coming to school is a way of getting away from what is happening in the refugee camp,” said Merna. “It’s like an oasis here for me.”  But her thoughts were never far from her cousin and brothers. “I only wish they were allowed this opportunity.”

She became a senior member of the Bethlehem University Student Ambassadors Programme and an example to fellow classmates. Young minds like Merna’s continue to persevere against the odds. Though greatly distracted by the cruel fate of her close family, the ordeal forged a steely resolve. The purposeful way she lived her university life, say the Brothers at Bethlehem Uni, gave her added strength and confidence. Merna managed to turn the tables on adversity. Her loss was actually her gain.


This Christian girl, a 4th year Business Administration student, was originally from Gaza but lived  in the West Bank after receiving a travel permit from the military to cross from Gaza to the West Bank. She was snatched by the Israeli military while returning from a job interview in Ramallah. The 21 year-old, due to graduate in a few weeks’ time, was suddenly deported to Gaza “for trying to complete her studies at Bethlehem University”. She was about to be robbed of her degree at the last minute.

The “most moral army in the world” blindfolded and handcuffed her, loaded her into a military jeep and drove her from Bethlehem to Gaza, despite assurances by the Israeli Military Legal Advisor’s office that she would not be deported before an attorney from Gisha (an Israeli NGO working to protect Palestinians’ freedom of movement) had the opportunity to petition the Israeli court for her return to classes in Bethlehem.

When they’d crossed the border the world’s most moral army dumped Berlanty in the darkness late at night and told her: “You are in Gaza.”

“I had refrained from visiting my family in Gaza for fear that I would not be permitted to return to my studies in the West Bank,” she told Gisha on her mobile phone before the soldiers confiscated it. “Now, just two months before graduation, I was arrested and taken to Gaza in the middle of the night, with no way to finish my degree.”

The Israeli embassy in London, when asked for an explanation, said that Berlanty held a permit that had expired and she’d been living in the West Bank illegally. “As you probably know, every Gaza resident who stays in the West Bank requires a permit, failing to do so is a breach of the law.” If she wished to complete her studies at Bethlehem, she should apply for a permit to the relevant authorities. However, Bethlehem University told me that of the 12 students from Gaza who had applied to attend the University NOT ONE had received permission from the Israeli authorities.

Her appeal, handled by Gisha, was turned down. It was a classic example of how Israel’s administrative ‘laws’ are framed to ride rough-shod over citizens’ rights enshrined in international law. For example, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are internationally recognized as one integral territory and under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory. The state of Israel also has an obligation under the Oslo Agreements to “respect and preserve without obstacles, normal and smooth movement of people, vehicles and goods within the West Bank, and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.

While Israel’s embassy here in London pronounced the ruling on Berlanty’s fate, their Ambassador was whining about a warrant issued in London for the arrest of ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes. Livni had overseen the murderous assault on Gaza the previous December/January, which killed 1400, including a large number of women and children, maimed thousands more and left countless families homeless.

If Berlanty, who had committed no crime, could not come and go as she pleased in her own country — the Holy Land – what made Israel’s Ambassador think that the bloodsoaked Livni, and others like her, should be allowed to come and go as they pleased in the UK? But that’s another shameful story.


A few months before he was due to graduate the Israeli military arrested Samer and threw him in jail… for 6 long years. Then, at 27, he returned to campus to finish what he started.  “I feel like a regular student again,” he said with a wide grin. “I have a university notebook and textbooks.  I can ask and answer questions freely.  I can communicate openly with students, professors, and staff.  It’s a real life, an authentic life.”

When imprisoned he was denied access to a lawyer for 55 days, then moved from one Israeli jail to another for more than six years. He was tortured on numerous occasions, he says, and regularly interrogated eight hours a day for four to five days, in just a T-shirt, squatting on the cold ground with his hands tied and an air conditioner blowing on his back.  He was held in solitary confinement for more than a year.

Membership of a student group in Palestine is outlawed under Israeli  military law, and students who engage in campus politics risk arrest by Israel’s uniformed gangs who barge into Palestinian society and academic life to abduct them. Many Western leaders began their political careers making a name for themselves at the Oxford Union and similar student debating groups or taking part in demos. How would they have reacted to being clapped in irons for it?

A good many of them, to their everlasting shame, are now signed-up Friends of Apartheid Israel. Members of the Israeli cabinet went to university too, presumably. Are we to believe that they never engaged in student politics?

Samer’s experience is similar to that of hundreds of Palestinian students who find themselves political prisoners.  Many are left to rot in jail indefinitely, denied due process, a fair trial and legal representation. Some wait up to two years to be charged. Others are charged under Israeli military law, which falls a long way short of the justice standards required under international law.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society reckoned that seven Bethlehem University students were at that time in Israeli prisons for taking part in ‘student activities’. In Samer’s case, he was abducted for joining Fatah’s resistance movement after the 2000 Intifada (uprising). It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to resist an illegal occupier.

Coming back to university after prison is no easy thing. Samer suffered the cruel effects of six years’ incarceration and was often tired, depressed, stressed and jumpy. But he knew that the University was his anchor, the main hope in his young life.

So there you have it…. the evil of Israel’s ‘snatch squads’ that prey on Palestine’s young people, and the regime’s cruel disregard for their well being and education while in its clutches.  The apartheid regime, after 66 years, still hasn’t emerged from the swamp.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk. Read other articles by Stuart.