I posted this essay from Al-Jazeera English to my Facebook profile today.
I understand what it’s like to belong to a nation at the receiving end of boycotts and I know I felt very frustrated and angry about it — to feel that to boycott was to reduce an entire nation of people in a single act, with a sweeping generalization. It was such a disservice. I belong to an ethnic community that has, for decades, reaped the benefits of majoritarianism, built institutional racism and systematically oppressed and violated the rights of a minority, with varying degrees of blatancy. Not long ago, the former government of my country allegedly (and very probably) committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against this minority and then proceeded to build the walls of a military state around them. That government (my government, for all intents and purposes, then, though I never voted for them) took their land, incarcerated them, abducted them, disappeared them, killed them, tortured them. And yet, there we were — kicking and living and breathing, on both sides, with real problems that needed solving. And as always in life, there were many of us, on both sides, within Sri Lanka who desperately opposed what was going on, in any small way we could. Calling for boycotts of Sri Lanka made us feel like people outside were ignoring those of us inside, that we were real people — especially those of us inside who did not stand by the awful actions of an awful government. It felt like they were ignoring all the nuances of real life.
Then, is it right to support BDS — a global movement for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israel, until they give up their brutal occupation of Palestinian territory and violent oppression of the Palestinian people? Can the economic and political boycott of a nation like Israel be ethically supported? I have for many years ideologically stood by BDS. This article also reminded me that it is my feminist prerogative, in addition to my human one, to do so. My position is complicated, in remembering my own identity and my own experiences with belonging to an oppressive state. But somehow in our imaginations, the Israel/Palestine conflict has taken on gigantic proportions — perhaps rightly so. One of the things which makes this issue unique is that Israel continues to be hugely supported by global powers which are both extremely wealthy and extremely politically influential. Thus, Israel itself has become and remains both financially and politically powerful, a major player in the global economy as well as in the international community. It has not been shunned for its actions by international powers. In fact, it has been embraced and protected. Thus I feel that to oppose Israel in the conflict is also to oppose the continuing influence of colonial white/western power in our world, and the imperialist urges of these powers. It is also to oppose the age-old, and ongoing, crusade to demonize and vilify a non-white/non-western people, galvanized by the white-west.
‘Drawing on feminist commitments to anticolonial solidarity struggles against historical and ongoing forms of injustice, the resolution rests on a simple and yet powerful claim: that to remain silent in the face of the myriad indignities, injustices and violence that Palestinians are subjected to at the hands of the Israeli occupation is to side with the oppressor.
It thus makes it clear that the boycott of the colonising Israeli state – a state that targets Palestinians, curtails their life opportunities and choices, and orchestrates their incarceration and death – is an act of solidarity shaped by a politics and praxis central to all decolonial feminist projects.’