The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering two bills that would require the state to discriminate against U.S. citizens, both as individuals and companies, based solely on their viewpoints concerning Palestinian human rights. The legislation — House File 400 and Senate File 247 — would deny benefits such as contracts to Minnesotans who engage in boycott or divestment campaigns as a means of pressuring Israel to end its 50-year-old military occupation of Palestinian land and other human rights violations. In fact, civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Minnesota, have warned that this type of legislation would result in an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment of Minnesotans by infringing on our constitutional right to engage in boycotts, a form of political speech.
I am a Palestinian-American, born and raised in Minnesota, and I have had family members killed and imprisoned by the Israeli military. Some of them had their land confiscated without any due process or compensation. As in the case of many other Palestinian families living under Israel’s military occupation, this was done without consequence or repercussion.
I have for decades worked to advance the cause of peace and justice in the Holy Land. I have done this by building relationships locally with people of diverse backgrounds and religions and by serving as a legal adviser to a Norwegian aid project in the occupied West Bank in the mid-1990s, which was meant to advance the self-governing capability of Palestinians.
It’s with that background that, while testifying against HF 400 on Feb. 7, I was most struck by the testimony of Walid Issa, a professional lobbyist who is actively working for this unconstitutional bill in an effort to undermine his fellow Minnesotans who are advancing freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In 2005, the largest grass-roots Palestinian coalition — made up of labor unions, students groups, human rights groups, and others — issued a call for BDS to bring pressure on Israel to adhere to international law and end its occupation of Palestinian land. BDS is a time-honored tradition in the United States that helped end apartheid in South Africa and was also used to end segregation in the South during the civil rights movement.
Issa’s positions on BDS, like that of many of its opponents, are baffling. He claims to support “adding cost to the occupation,” which is exactly what BDS does — yet he actually opposes it in practice. Another common argument employed by Issa and others who oppose BDS is if only we invest in the occupied territories, peace will be possible — as if that hasn’t been tried before. One reason the occupation must end is the enormous costs it imposes on Palestinians – more than half the land and 80 percent of the water of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are off-limits to Palestinians and for the exclusive use of Israelis. A United Nations report estimates that the occupation costs Palestinians approximately 85 percent in lost GDP, or over $6.9 billion per year.
The sad reality is that supporters of this anti-BDS legislation have no desire to put pressure on Israel to stop its daily destruction of Palestinian homes, adding to Palestine’s refugee population, already the largest in the world; its incarceration of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of children; street executions of Palestinians by the Israeli military and illegal settlers; or its ongoing, relentless expansion of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. While all of this is happening daily, supporters of HF 400 and SF 247 are working to punish Minnesotans who are advocating against these horrendous actions.
Without freedom, Palestinians will never reach their full potential either economically or socially. Palestinians will only achieve their freedom once Israel’s illegal, half-century-old military occupation and other human rights abuses end. Nonviolent advocacy and BDS are entirely legitimate and in fact necessary to bring pressure on Israel to end its decades-long violations of Palestinian human rights and bring about a true and lasting peace in the region. Palestinians have clearly asked that we end our complicity in their suffering and stand on the side of freedom, justice, and equality. The world is heeding their call and Minnesota should not punish its own people or businesses for adhering to their conscience.
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