Understanding BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanction
In the Beginning (a story)
On my first trip to Palestine in 2008, I lived in a house owned by Emili. A grandmother then, even before the occupation she was a staunch community activist who proudly enjoys recounting tales of her life, bringing them alive with vivid descriptions of the Intifada, an Arabic word, she says that mean a “shaking off.” Emili is the mother of our family host and had moved into a nearby apartment giving my roommate Sherrill and me the spacious house during our two month stay. In spite of her gracious hospitality, I sensed an undercurrent of resentment, a hostile invasion of the home she had tenderly cared for and where she had raised her seven children
Each morning, she came to our door under some pretence – to water the plants or get some tool or household utensil. Then she began bringing us fresh pita bread, olives, figs from her tree, vine ripe grapes, oranges and cheese and then one day asked humbly if she might join us for breakfast. Soon it became routine to hear her fumbling rattle at the locked door; watch her enter then struggle to position the door to properly close. Her set jaw and rough lined face gradually give way to a triumphant smile and holding the key aloft she heads to the kitchen where she putters about clanging pots and searching drawers. One day, watching me make coffee, she suddenly grabs the pot as if to avoid a near disaster. “I make you coffee,” she announces empirically, “the Arab way.” It was the start of daily morning breakfasts and a stream of stories about life before and during occupation – the first Intifada or uprising and the second that began in 2000 and continues today. Her stories tempered by her ironic sense of humor are universal visions she sees through the lens of time. She tells us about the siege of her neighborhood during the first Intifada.
“At first there was a lot of shooting, snipers shot and soldiers shot back. We got nowhere until we decided to get organized.” She shrugs, “What else could we do? No army, no planes, no means of self-defense: no match for the big guns and tanks of the strongest military power in the region, just determination to resist however we could.”
She said that most grocery products came from Israel so there wasn’t much choice. But women got mad and agreed to stop buying. Everyone followed and we organized to form the Unified Leadership of the Uprising as a nonviolent form of civil disobedience. Besides the boycott on buying, we refused to pay authorities who were collecting taxes for the occupiers. Imagine, right here in our neighborhood, everyone played a part in the boycott. “It made us feel powerful,” she said, her voice ringing with pride. Home economy replaced buying; even people who could afford it practiced austerity. Agronomists at Bethlehem University opened a nursery, taught us how to home-grow vegetables, nourish and care for citrus trees and grape vines. Jad Is’hak was the leader, teaching us how to grow, dehydrate and preserve foods, skills that later proved valuable when power failures and water shortages became frequent.”
“Soldiers were puzzled,” she chuckled, “They found it easier to fight homemade petrol bombs, kids throwing stones and roadblocks we set to obstruct military vehicles then an enemy armed with garden gloves wielding carrots and radishes. She laughed. It was called the battle of the vegetables: it irked authorities who couldn’t figure out what to do. By military order they closed Is’hak’s nursery and put him under administrative detention for six months. We knew then the boycott was working. When they closed all schools we set up classes in the homes of women, many of whom were teachers. Children learned and the gardens grew.
“During the Intifada, Yitzhak Rabin – he was Israel’s defense minister then,” she explains, “vowed to break the resistance and crush our tax revolt.” She raises her fist, “but he didn’t know us.”
Later, Emili’s granddaughter – her namesake Emily – told me it had not been easy to convince her grandmother to give in to the idea of turning her home into a guest house until our family convinced her that it was a good way to help the resistance.
Emili and her grandson