#FreeMahmoud: As BDS gains ground, Israel makes Palestinian activists pay the price

#FreeMahmoud: As BDS gains ground, Israel makes Palestinian activists pay the price
Comment: Intimidation and detention without charge, as in the case of Palestinian activist Mahmoud Nawajaa, is a common Israeli tactic aided by a climate of international impunity, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
10 Aug, 2020
Palestinian BDS activist Mahmoud Nawajaa was arrested when Israeli soldiers stormed his home [Twitter]
The Israeli government continues to wage its battle against the Palestinian resistance and the international solidarity movement, especially as it prepares for a potential end to Trump's presidency.

While all US presidents have supported Israel and failed to uphold even basic international law when it comes to the colonisation and dispossession of Palestinians, Trump and his entourage have abandoned even the most basic pretence of 'balance'.

Netanyahu has, in return, taken full advantage of this international situation to wage a relentless war on Palestinian organisations and their supporters across the world. 

Most recently, on 30 July, Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Solidarity (BDS) National Committee (BNC), was arrested in his home by Israeli soldiers near Ramallah, Palestine. His wife, Ruba Alayan said that around 50 soldiers had stormed their home in the middle of the night, blindfolded and handcuffed her husband before taking him away. 

Nawajaa was known as a political campaigner for the BDS movement, which has gained considerable ground over the last 15 years, placing growing pressure on governments, companies, and institutions that continue to participate in, and profit from the colonisation of Palestine.

Consequently, the movement is facing coordinated attacks by both the Israeli state and western governments, which have included numerous bills aiming to outlaw BDS and the public targeting of activists and organisers.

It is worth pointing out that Nawajaa has not been charged with any crimes and that official Israeli statements on his arrest are limited to vague comments about security. The use of administrative detention is a well known method in the Israeli arsenal of repression and control, directed at Palestinians, who can be arrested indefinitely, without charge, hearing, or the right to defend themselves.  Hundreds of Palestinians, including children, are currently held in Israeli jails in this fashion. 

Netanyahu has taken full advantage of this international situation to wage a relentless war on Palestinian organisations and their supporters

In fact, Mahmoud Nawajaa has already been handed a further extension to his detention, despite facing no charges - all familiar tactics used by the Israeli state. Co-founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti explained that "Without charges or a shred of evidence, they throw outrageous lies at Palestinian human rights defenders, like Mahmoud, to smear them and to make it easier for the rubber-stamp military courts to extend their detention, ill treatment and, often, cruel interrogation." 

Despite the global Covid-19 pandemic, Israel has not been dissuaded in its colonial practices used against the Palestinians. It is no secret that prisons are a perfect environment for the infection to spread, yet the outbreak has only provided an excuse for the further denial of basic rights to prisoners including family visits and access to legal representation. 

Over 150 children were taken into military detention in June alone, despite the heightened risks, and this week saw the first confirmed 
case of an infected child prisoner held at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, southern Israel.

Read more: Palestinian protesters urge Israel to free BDS activist

Nawajaa's arrest was not an isolated incident. It is thought that around 17 others were also seized by Israeli forces within those 48 hours. Furthermore, the aggressive manner in which he was apprehended, was a sign of the Israeli government's need to repress political threats.

Such a heavy handed arrest serves to intimidate both the arrestee and the broader movement they represent. The fact that the BNC was targeted in this fashion, despite its wide international support, also highlights the Israeli state's feeling of impunity on the international stage.

As Asa Winstanley writes, "A decade or so ago, in all likelihood, the Israeli army and secret police would by now have briefed the Israeli press with disinformation intended to smear a non-violent activist like Nawajaa […] they have not even bothered to do that." 

With the sense that Trump may not see a second term, there is now an apparent scramble to get as much out of his presidency as possible. Not least, in terms of sealing Trump's so called Deal of the Century, which would allow the Israeli government to formally annex large swathes of the West Bank. The plans however, have been put on hold by Washington in the run up to the upcoming elections. 

In this context, targeting those who pose a threat while there is little scrutiny and even less international action, provides long-term assurances. It serves to delegitimise, disorganise, and intimidate a movement, which has successfully built networks of solidarity across the globe.

Israel is targeting those who pose a threat while there is little scrutiny and even less international action

In 2015, a leaked Israeli report estimated that the movement could cost Israel $1.4 billion a year. In response, the government set up a Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, to fight against and delegitimise the BDS movement. Its focus has been on targeting Palestinian and international activists, NGOs and organisers. 

As Israel confidently continues to attack those who seek justice and liberation for the Palestinians, aided and abetted by western governments, it is now that our solidarity must be amplified.

As we answer the calls by the BNC to #FreeMahmoud, apply pressure on our respective governments to demand his release, and redouble our efforts to raise awareness of his arrest, we must also demand the same for all Palestinian prisoners. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.