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Let’s Help the Palestinians

For the past week, every time I check out my Facebook news feed or Twitter timeline I come across statuses pleading to pray for Gaza and see horrifying images of the city looking like a still from a war video game with raging fire and smoke billowing everywhere. The harrowing pictures of brutally murdered babies, rows of dead bodies and grieving women are enough to chill anyone to the bones. The United Nations seems helpless in stopping the deadly massacre as Israel carries on like a petulant child breaking all war rules and conventions. A more disturbing fact is that the Muslim leaders are silent over the entire episode choosing to ignore rather than interfere to protect their interests.

Every time a photo requesting to pray for Gaza is posted or someone changes his/her profile picture expressing solidarity with Gaza, the comments are filled with sarcastic sentences like,

“Yes, you are certainly helping Gaza by changing your Facebook profile picture”

“Go out and do something, don’t just sit here condemning the act on Twitter”

This situation has led to an oft repeated debate on the social media, “What can we do to help the Palestinians in need when our leaders have failed?”

We are not as helpless as it might seem. We may not be able to go ourselves physically to fight alongside the Palestinians but there is one thing we can certainly do without much effort and that is boycotting every Israeli product on the market. This leads to the very important question whether boycotting Israeli products is even effective. Constance A. Hamilton, Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, in her book “Effects of the Arab League Boycott of Israel on U. S. Businesses” writes,

“The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce conservatively estimates that the Arab League’s boycott has reduced investment in Israel below its potential by at least 15-20 percent per year and costs the Israeli economy approximately $2 billion annually.”

The effect can also be gauged from the fact that Israel frequently uses third party packaging companies to distribute its produce so that the barcode 729 which is an indication of an Israeli product does not show up on the product.

In December 2013, Vitens, the largest supplier of drinking water in the Netherlands, terminated its deal with the Israeli company Mekorot citing Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and non compliance with international law as the main reason. In January 2014, Norway’s sovereign health fund, the largest in the world, pulled back its investments from two Israeli companies. Recently, Germany also withdrew all research and technology agreements with Israel.

Israel’s finance minister, Yasir Lapid told the local Army radio that the effects of any boycott which reduces Israeli exports to Europe by twenty percent will cost Israel nearly $5.7 billion annually. Due to Europe’s boycott to import from Israel, Israeli farmers are searching other export markets such as Russia resulting in reduced profits.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which started in 2005 by Palestinian civil society calls for boycotts against Israeli products, divestment against corporations which directly or indirectly profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and sanctions by countries against Israel. The movement’s popularity is growing rapidly as can be seen in the news section of the website where news is updated daily regarding countries and companies which are boycotting Israeli products or refusing to do business with Israel. Several famous celebrities such as Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heronand Carlos Santana also have refused to perform in Israel.

As an individual, we can also become a part of this movement by simply logging on the BDS movement website and checking out the brands and companies that support Israel. Another website inminds.com carries cards containing a list of Israeli products to boycott which you can print and distribute or just post on your Facebook or Twitter timeline to raise awareness. The BDS movement has also launched a mobile app in which you can enter the name of a company and check whether this company supports Israel or not.

From now on, thoroughly research before buying any international product and keep in mind that the apartheid in South Africa also came to an end after an intense economic boycott of South Africa. I know it might mean a change in your lifestyle or parting with your favorite products but every time you eat at that major food chain or buy that famous multinational product, just remember that ultimately your hard earned money will be used to strengthen Israel’s economy leading to a stronger Israeli defense force resulting in more advanced weapons that will be used to attack Gaza. If you choose to buy that product anyway then in that case your “Pray for Gaza” profile picture on Facebook or Twitter really does not matter.

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