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Eyeless in Gaza

Updated Friday, 25th July 2014

In a personal viewpoint on the current violence in the Middle East, Dick Skellington says it might be time for multi-nationals to pull the plug on their Israeli investments.

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A cartoon illustrating a pathway to Peace that is made up of actions such as 'Stop multi-nationals investing in Israel'. The path leads to a bright yellow sun. Creative commons image Icon Catherine Pain under Creative-Commons license

I was in Sardinia when the Israeli teenagers were murdered, and the Palestinian boy burnt alive in retaliation, both tragic events we can add to the long shameful catalogue of slaughter in a long history of slaughter which has so characterised the Middle East since the end of the Second World War.

The blind lead the blind is as true now as when the Bible was written. We seem to have grown numb to this cycle of death. In Sardinia, Gaza was the leading story on Euronews for days, and I watched helplessly as each side dismally repeated the curse of history, and raised the anti. The invasion of Gaza was inevitable - the third in recent years - was inevitable.

The violence has escalated savagely since my return. The Israeli state all powerful, and Hamas, operating from the narrow confines of the Gaza strip, have blindly led the carnage. Over a thousand civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, have perished since the first teenager was murdered. Collateral damage, adding to the tens of thousands of innocents killed. An eye follows an eye, as sure as night follows day, despite a series of 'humanitarian truces' since the Israeli armed forces invaded.

Both sides continue to ignore the causes of the conflict which have more to do with a long and unjust occupation coupled with a failure on both sides to acknowledge the legitimate existence of the other. But how do we end this vicious spiralling cycle? It is so easy to apportion blame. Now is the time to take definitive non-violent action to end this decades-long nightmare.

Our governments have failed - while they have talked peace and passed UN resolutions, they and our companies have continued to aid, trade and invest in the violence. The only way to stop this hellish cycle of Israel confiscating Palestinian lands, daily collective punishment of innocent Palestinian families, Hamas firing rockets from schools and hospitals, and Israel bombing Gaza with extreme prejudice is to make the economic cost of this conflict too high to bear.  

When EU countries issued guidelines not to fund the illegal Israeli settlements it caused an earthquake in the cabinet, and when citizens successfully persuaded a Dutch pension fund, PGGM, to withdraw, it created a political storm.

This may not feel like a direct way to stop the current killing, but history tells us that raising the financial cost of oppression can pave a path to peace. This week the Campaign Against the Arms Trade called for a ban on British arms sales to Israel. But while withdrawing arms would of course be a great step forward, there is also so more we can do economically to undermine the inevitability of war.

Palestinian extremists' attacks on innocent civilians are never justified and Hamas’ anti-semitism is intolerable. But these extremists claim legitimacy by fighting the grotesque, decades-long oppression by the Israeli state. Israel currently occupies, colonises, bombs, raids, and controls the water, trade and the borders of a legally free nation that has been recognised by the United Nations. In Gaza, Israel has created the largest open-air prison in the world, and then blockaded it. Now as bombs fall in built up areas, the families literally have no way to get out, neither do children in schools from which Hamas is alleged to be launching missiles into Israeli settlements.

The call to put a stop to 'war crimes' is growing louder. If the shooting down of the Malaysian plane over Russian controlled areas of Ukraine can be deemed a war crime, why does it take days and days of unremitting slaughter to consider whether worse crimes are happening in Palestine?

To many, particularly in Europe and North America, calling for companies to withdraw investments from financing or taking part in Israel's occupation of Palestine may sound completely biased. But any economic campaign is not anti-Israel - this may be the most potent non-violent strategy to end the ritual violence, ensure Israelis' security and achieve Palestinian freedom.

Although Hamas deserves much pressure too, it is already under crippling sanctions and facing every kind of pressure. Israel's power and wealth dwarfs Palestine. If Israel refuses to end its illegal occupation, the world must act to make the cost unbearable.

Massive banks like Barclays invest in suppliers of Israeli arms and other occupation businesses. British G4S provides extensive security equipment used by the Israeli Defence Force in the occupation. In June 2014 Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky called for British G4S to withdraw funding the Israeli prison service in occupied Palestine. The UK government's National Contact Point watchdog launched an investigation into G4S's activities in Israel and the West Bank. The National Contact Point, which is part of the Department for Business, said it had "accepted issues for further examination". It follows a formal complaint by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, a charity that has long criticised G4S.

France's Veolia operates transport for Israeli settlers illegally living on Palestinian lands. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard supplies sophisticated surveillance to control the movement of Palestinians. And Caterpillar provides bulldozers that are used to demolish Palestinian homes and farms.

The Palestinian people are calling on the world to support this path and progressive Israelis support it, too.  For years the world has looked for a political solution to this nightmare, but with this new round of events unfolding in Gaza, the time has come to turn to sanctions and disinvestment to finally help end the horror for Israelis and Palestinians. 

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.

 

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