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Israel issues travel ban on co-founder of BDS movement

May 10, 2016 7:54 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2016 2:09 P.M.)
BDS Co-founder Omar Barghouti (Photo credit: BDS Movement)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities refused to renew the travel documents of a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Omar Barghouti, on Tuesday, in a move activists are saying amounts to an escalated attack on Palestinian human rights defenders and proponents of the movement.

Barghouti, who lives with his family in the Israeli city of Acre, is of Palestinian descent, but born in the Gulf state of Qatar. After marrying his wife, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, he was afforded permanent residency in Israel for the past 23 years.

The activist regularly travels internationally to speak at events aimed at bringing attention to BDS strategies of ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory.

“Having failed to stop the growth of BDS in the mainstream, Israel is now launching a desperate and dangerous global war of repression on the movement. After losing many battles for the hearts and minds at the grassroots level, Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups are pressuring western states to implement patently anti-democratic measures that threaten civil liberties at large,” Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said in a statement following the travel ban.

“By banning our colleague Omar Barghouti from traveling and threatening him with physical violence, Israel is showing the lengths it will go to in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality."

The BDS movement was announced in July 2005 as a movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.

The BDS movement experienced an escalated crackdown amid an increase of activity and popular support for the movement in countries around the world.

The French government rendered the movement illegal after extending an “anti-hate speech law” to include members of national groups, and upheld the conviction of dozens of BDS proponents for their participation in the movement.

In February, the Canadian parliament passed a motion overwhelmingly condemning the BDS movement, advising the government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups, or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad” -- the same day that students at McGill university in Montreal successfully passed a motion to officially support the movement.

A few days later, US President Obama signed into law a sweeping trade agreement that protects Israel from the BDS movement, opposing “politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel,” referring to BDS activities.

In January, The Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat the BDS movement, which they claimed was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the state of Israel, and dedicated 100 million shekels (approximately $26 million) of the government’s 2016 budget to the issue.

Israeli government concerns over the BDS movement were amplified following the European Union’s decision in November to label products originating from Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. However, the EU made clear that the new regulations were not aimed at a boycott of Israeli export.

The recent decision to deny Barghouti permission to travel is seen by activists as an escalation of an ongoing attempt at criminalizing and silencing BDS leaders and proponents in Israel and Western countries that have adapted criminalization measures in their legislature.

“The Western governments that are repressing BDS activism at home are giving Israel a green light to continue its violations of international law with impunity. We urge governments, parliaments, and human rights organizations to follow Amnesty International’s lead and uphold his rights as a human rights defender under threat,” Nawajaa urged in the statement.

Responding to his travel ban, Bargouthi said: “I am unnerved but certainly undeterred by these threats. Nothing will stop me from struggling for my people’s freedom, justice and peace."
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