Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

On 9 July 2005 172 organisations in Palestinian civil society launched the appeal for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to compel Israel to comply with international law and to respect Palestinian rights:

We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

The declaration, together with details of signatories, can be found HERE.

In November 2007 the first Palestinian BDS conference was held in Ramallah and set up a Boycott National Committee (BNC). The role of the BNC is defined as

  • To strengthen and spread the culture of boycott as a central form of civil resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid;

• To formulate strategies and programs of action in accordance with the 9 July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society BDS Call;

• To serve as the Palestinian reference point for BDS campaigns in the region and worldwide;

• To serve as the national reference point for anti-normalisation campaigns within Palestine;

• To facilitate coordination and provide support & encouragement to the various BDS campaign efforts in all locations.

Campaigns for BDS might be described as having these aims:

1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall

2. Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Security Council resolution 194.

BDS is not a magic bullet. It can’t replace the active resistance of Palestinians. In South Africa in the 1980s, it took sustained action by militant new trade unions, student and civic unrest making the townships ungovernable, South Africa’s military defeat by Angolan and Cuban forces, as well as the international boycott, before the apartheid regime changed course. But when it comes to what we can do as ordinary citizens outside Palestine, BDS is our best shot.


Boycotts are directed against companies and institutions that profit from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Anyone can do this although it is more effective when people act together.

  • Don’t buy goods or food made in Israel – look at the label
  • Don’t buy goods produced by companies which have a stake in the Israeli occupation
  • Don’t accept sponsorship from bodies that promote the state of Israel
  • Don’t promote artists who support the Israeli occupation
  • Don’t engage in joint research initiatives with Israeli state-backed institutions

There is a separate page on this site about the cultural boycott.


Divestment campaigns seek to stop money flowing into the Israeli economy as investment from abroad. The main targets here are

  • pension funds (including those of local authorities and trade unions)
  • church investment funds
  • university investments and research contracts
  • banks
  • companies with subsidiaries or big contracts in Israel

Not many of us can make significant disinvestment decisions. But a well-directed campaign can influence funds or companies to change their priorities and sometimes withdraw from Israel altogether. If having a stake in an apartheid state looks bad, risky or might be bad for business – they get out!


Sanctions are punitive measures applied mainly by states and international bodies. Examples are

diplomatic – refusing to accredit an ambassador; requiring tourists to obtain visas; opposing Israeli membership of international bodies such as UEFA and FIFA.

military – a complete embargo on the arms trade with Israel (in both directions).

economic – cancelling the EU-Israel agreement that massively benefits the Israeli economy

Again, not many of us can implement sanctions, but the call for sanctions is a form of campaign that raises public awareness and forces politicians to think again.

Case study – G4S

The British-Danish security company G4S supplies security systems at checkpoints along the illegal apartheid wall and in settlements, businesses and the police HQ in the occupied West Bank. It supplies security systems for Israeli prisons including Ofer in the West Bank and a string of prisons and detention centres within the 1967 borders. These are the sites to which Palestinians, including children, are illegally transferred, frequently tortured, and sometimes held indefinitely under administrative detention, without charge or the right to know the evidence against them.

Palestinian prisoners rights organisations including Addameer have appealed for a boycott of G4S as an international priority. In the UK, asylum rights and Palestine campaigners are working together. An open letter to the BBC called on the corporation to exclude G4S from bidding for their UK-wide security guarding contract on grounds of “grave misconduct”. The BBC refused to respond, but the contract eventually went to a rival firm.

G4S bids for local authority and NHS contracts including security guarding, cash collection, facilities management, Welfare to Work, Complex Families and even Sexual Assault Referral centres. It won a contract for comprehensive primary care in Immigration Removal Centres including Yarls Wood and Tinsley House. Campaigns to identify and oppose potential G4S contracts have been running in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and London. So they have a great deal of other business that is placed at risk by their involvement in Israel.

G4S have announced they will withdraw from Israel altogether. Without sustained pressure they would not have made this decision and campaigners will not rest until they carry it out.

BDS is a developing international movement which is beginning to bite.