Does BDS really harm Palestinians?

If there were a competition for the most preposterous anti- BDS narrative out there, the argument that the BDS campaign harms Palestinians would win the prize.

In his recent article in Haaretz, Larry Derfner offered BDS activists and sympathizers an advice: if you want to advance your fight against the Israeli occupation, steer away from targeting Israeli companies, which operate in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and profit massively from the occupation of Palestinian land and resources. Why? Because Palestinians are the first to suffer. Such a claim is audacious, to say the least.

The case of SodaStream is one of BDS’s biggest success stories. Following mounting pressure and worldwide calls for boycott, the Israeli bubbly water company was finally forced to shut down its factory and pull out its entire operations from the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim by the end of last year. It also forced 500 Palestinian workers out of their jobs. According to Derfner’s view, these Palestinian workers were the ones who paid the price as a result. After all, SodaStream was a benevolent employer. It offered its Palestinian employees “the best industrial jobs to be had in the West Bank, paying them about three times what they would have gotten at a Palestinian-owned factory, plus health insurance, plus company buses to and from work.” This is, however, only a fragment of the truth.

The reality is that Palestinians are paying a far heftier price every day because of the growing illegal Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank. A new report published by Human Rights Watch report, Occupation, Inc., shows how Israel’s systematic discrimination against Palestinians, as well as the unlawful confiscation of land, water, and other natural resources for the benefit of Jewish settlements have destroyed the livelihoods of Palestinians and forced them to relocate. Palestinian farmers and Bedouins living in the Israeli-controlled Area C are particularly the most vulnerable to such discrimination. While their settler neighbors in the Jordan Valley are enjoying a booming agriculture with an estimated value of $128 million , Palestinian farmers are unable to attend their farms and animals due to lack of water, land and infrastructure. Under such conditions, these communities have very little choice but to work in settlements. They are after all a good source of cheap labor to expanding settlement businesses.

Another example from the same report to highlight the extent of economic damage caused by these discriminatory policies is the quarry industry in the West Bank. In the Palestinian town of Beit Fajjar, most famous for its stone quarries, Israel refused to issue permits for all of the forty quarries there. In comparison, 11 quarry permits were granted to settlement in the West Bank.

So, how much does all of this cost Palestinians? According to the World Bank report in 2013:

  • At least $241 million a year is the cost of Israel systematically rejecting issuing permits for Palestinian quarries in the West Bank.
  • More than $700 million a year for Israel denying Palestinians access to water and farmland.
  • About $3.4 billion a year is the total cost of Israeli restriction over Area C which constitutes 61 percent of the West Bank.

These figures give an idea about the extent of loss to the Palestinian economy. That is in addition to a longer list of unquantifiable social, political, and psychological damages that the Israeli occupation and its huge settlement enterprise has inflicted on Palestinians. So to claim that efforts forcing Israel to abide by its obligations under international law is hurting Palestinians is an invalid narrative and a hopeless attempt at misrepresenting facts. Such narrative inherently suggests that Palestinians should compromise their long-term vision to live in peace and attain their freedom for short- term ‘wins.’ The issue of Israeli settlement and the businesses associated with it is a clear-cut case. It is illegal and it should stop.