Should BDS Include a Boycott of Palestinians Living in Israel?

In late December, Tunisian-Jordanian musician Aziz Maraqa performed in the Israeli Arab village Kafr Yasif, in Galilee, before an audience of Palestinian Israelis. As a result, he was accused of normalization, collaboration and whitewashing the occupation, and was attacked in every way possible in the Arab press and on social media. It’s nearly impossible in such a case to separate the artistic from the political. It is difficult to consider Maraqa’s visit to Israel without taking into account the political factors that influenced, directed and shaped the event and the way it's been perceived.

Before I get deep into a discussion of this thorny issue, I want to clarify that I do not question the legitimacy of the existence or the activities of BDS – the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel – as a means of fighting the occupation in a nonviolent way. On the contrary: I think that it is our right as an occupied people to fight the oppression that's exerted upon us on both sides of the Green Line. But at the same time, it is our duty – my duty as a Palestinian and as a journalist – to stop, ask, question, challenge and point out the many political, national and moral failures in the actions of BDS, a movement of Palestinian origin that grew and expanded to the point where it has drawn many supporters worldwide.

For me, Maraqa’s visit raises many basic political-moral issues. When he arrived in Israel, Maraqa went to a “non-occupied” Palestinian city – in the view of the BDS movement. If he would have headed instead to Ramallah, that would have passed part of the political-cultural "test," since it is an occupied city, as far as BDS is concerned.

Supporters of the boycott movement essentially make the twisted argument that someone who goes to Ramallah is visiting the West Bank, while someone who visits towns and villages within Israel proper enters through a border crossing that's under Israeli control. But in fact, entry to Ramallah is also made via a border crossing controlled by Israel. Politically, BDS is thus basically saying that Palestinians in Israel are not under occupation, and that the occupation exists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As I see it, this type of discourse is the most dangerous and also wrong.

Student activists at Leeds University protest on the UN Solidarity Day with Palestine, in 2017.Ryan Ashcroft/SOPA Images/LightR

BDS has sketched the geographical, political and cultural boundaries of the occupation as it sees fit – and as determined in New York and Washington – and expects locales like Kafr Yasif to meekly obey them. The implications of this decision are very dangerous, I believe, because this discourse has created two types of Palestinians: “kosher” Palestinians in the West Bank, before whom it is okay to perform, and “un-kosher” Palestinian citizens of Israel before whom it is forbidden to perform.

When Maraqa was labeled a normalizer of the occupation, the entire Palestinian entity existing within Israel was also marked out as normalizing and whitewashing the occupation and is therefore dismissed as a collective. On what basis? Because of the blue ID cards that these Palestinians hold? What about their collective national affiliation, which they are fighting to preserve?

What’s really infuriating is not just this assertion, but the unquestioning acquiescence to it. How can we, as Palestinians living in Israel, fail to see that this constitutes national disqualification even before cultural disqualification? Isn’t this a continuation of the talk of “betrayal” that's directed at us as Palestinians who live in Israel? How is it not perceived as cultural and national exclusion? Maybe because this time it was done in a clever way, through the prism of a performance by Aziz Maraqa.