Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Human rights, international law and the United Nations Charter and resolutions provide the only road map for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. This was the message of Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society activists meeting in Paris in July 2005 under the auspices of the UN. The message followed a call by broad sectors of Palestinian civil society for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. 

 A non-violent grassroots strategy

Boycotts, divestment and sanctions provide a non-violent strategy towards a solution of the conflict based on universal principles set down in international law and in the UN Charter and resolutions. The Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel was released on the first anniversary (9 July 2005) of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Israel's construction of a Wall in the occupied West Bank.

In that opinion the Court said the construction of the Wall constitutes breaches by Israel of various of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. It said Israel should tear it down, repeal and render ineffective related legislation, make reparations for damages and return land and immovable property, and where that is materially impossible, pay compensation. Israeli measures to protect the life of its citizens have to conform with applicable international law. While the opinion is advisory in nature – i.e. it was not a judgment – it is nonetheless a declaratory statement of the law in force by the highest international court.


Since the ICJ ruling a year ago Israel has constructed more than 214 km of the Wall; another 176 km are currently under construction. It recently approved the route of the Wall in and around Jerusalem. As of October 2004, Israel had confiscated an estimated 8,000 acres for the Wall's construction; another 89,500 acres are between the Wall and the 1949 Armistice Line (‘Green Line’). Palestinians living in this area are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain permits to continue to reside there. Thousands have already been displaced. Nearly a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees that live within 3 km of either side of the Wall will be affected. It is estimated that the Wall could be completed by early 2006.

States should do more to uphold the law

With states focused on Gaza 'disengagement' (i.e. redeployment), little has been done to obtain Israel's compliance with the ICJ opinion. The United States warned Israel that the Wall “must be a security, rather than a political, barrier”, but when the government of Israel recently admitted before the Israeli High Court that the route of the Wall in Jerusalem was also designed for political reasons, the US failed to respond. Expansion of Jewish colonies in the West Bank continues with more than 6,000 housing units under construction or completed during the first half of the year, but the Swiss government says that there is little sentiment for an international conference to seek Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law.

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.

There are certain rights under international law (erga omnes) whose violation by a state imbues obligations on all states to ensure compliance. The ICJ said that the Wall violates two such rights: self-determination and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. The ICJ found that the Wall severely impedes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. And it said that Jewish colonies in the OPTs have been established in breach of international law. For such violations states are bound to ensure Israel's compliance with international law.

The ICJ could not have been clearer about the obligations of the international community. It said that states must not recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall in the occupied territories; they must not aid or assist in maintaining the situation created by the construction of the Wall; they should prevent any impediment, resulting from the Wall's construction, to the exercise of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; and, they should ensure Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions fill the gap

International actors have 'dropped the ball' when it comes to supporting the rule of law in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Local and international human rights organizations have long complained of lack of effective action to uphold and strengthen human rights and humanitarian law in how the conflict is waged and in the parameters for a comprehensive solution. The ICJ advisory opinion on the Wall highlights this gap in stark terms. Civil society actors have therefore 'stepped up to the plate'.

The call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions defines the root cause of the conflict, key elements for a comprehensive solution based on international law, and a method of non-violent but punitive measures until Israel ends the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and, respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in Resolution 194.

The key lesson of the South African struggle is that international isolation is expedited by effective internal mobilization and sustained people’s resistance. The challenge facing Palestinian civil society is to build a strong BDS campaign inside Palestine and among Palestinian communities in exile. Efforts to engage Israeli civil society on the basis of universal rights, moreover, must continue and expand. BDS cannot afford to fail. The status quo is not an alternative. Non-violent, punitive measures like boycott, divestment, and sanctions will help shorten the struggle and reduce the human suffering of all involved.

Estimated Number of Refugees Affected by the Wall

Phase Refugees directly affected and located less than 3 km West of the Wall Refugees directly affected and located less than 3 km East of the Wall Sub-total of refugees affected by phase
Phase I 35,451 97,618 133,069
Phase II 0 2,273 2,273
Phase III* 2,443 55,776 58,219
Phase IV 6,429 22,108 28,537
TOTAL 44,323 177,775 222,098
* Includes the Ariel bloc.
Statistics are compiled from the 1997 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) census taking into consideration an approximate 3.5% annual population growth and the most recent map of the Wall prepared by the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). While data is disaggregated according to phase of the Wall, some villages may be included in the wrong phase due to unclear delimitation of most phases.

The data is a gross estimate of the number of refugees living in localities located 3 km to the East and West of the Wall. The data does not account for internal population movement and does not purport to assess the exact effect of the Wall on refugees. It is reasonable to assume, however, that many refugees, as well as non-refugees residing in these areas, will face land confiscation, destruction of property, and denial of access to their lands, thus directly affecting their means of livelihood. The Wall and its associated regime may thus lead to the forcible displacement of thousands of Palestinian refugees for a second or third time in 57 years.