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Why Palestinian housewives are taking lead in boycott campaigns

Palestinian women have recently been joining the global BDS movement by launching their own local campaigns to encourage people to refrain from buying Israeli goods.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Sahar Tbaileh began her push to boycott Israeli goods with the help of three of her neighbors who live between the Ain Munjid and al-Masyoun neighborhoods in central Ramallah.

The women met at Tbaileh’s house and joined forces to form a women’s committee to spread the boycott and cleanse their neighborhood of Israeli goods by talking to women, merchants and store owners. The committee has also contacted neighborhood schools and discuss the importance of the boycott with students, in an unprecedented move that first took place Nov. 5.

Tbaileh told Al-Monitor, “This was a personal campaign initiated by us women, out of our patriotic sense of the need to conduct a boycott. [This step] came in light of Israeli aggression toward our youth and children, taking into account the fact that stores are full of Israeli goods for which there are local alternatives.”

Tbaileh and her neighbors’ initiative was not limited to their neighborhood. They also tried, through acquaintances, to spread the idea to other Ramallah neighborhoods. “We are trying to influence women by talking to them about what has been happening on the ground. It is inconceivable that we continue to support Israel’s economy and buy Israeli products while they murder our children,” she said.

Tbaileh added that the campaign is still new, but that its future agenda includes cooperating with public and private institutions that conduct women-based boycotts to expand their activities to all of Ramallah’s neighborhoods.

The most prominent of the campaigns Tbaileh mentioned was the women’s campaign to boycott Israeli goods, launched in December 2013, by active Palestinian institutions and women’s groups affiliated with the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, such as the General Union of Palestinian Women and the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee.

BDS campaign coordinator and Palestinian politician Majida al-Masri told Al-Monitor, “This campaign is unique in that it addresses housewives in their capacity as those in charge of household spending and the best suited to make decisions related to buying products. As the campaign developed, it garnered the membership of all women’s groups and organizations that are active in the West Bank, subsequently spreading to Gaza, thus empowering and driving it forward.”

Concerning the campaign’s operations, Masri said, “This campaign is democratic in nature. In each province we set up frameworks and elected follow-up committees. During the initial stage, we targeted six categories of Israeli goods to be boycotted by women, namely basic materials consumed by families, which were replaced by local, Arab or foreign products from friendly nations.”

These categories were comprised of dairy products, juices and drinks, sanitary napkins, household detergents, sweets, pastries and bread, flour and their derivatives.

Khitam al-Saafeen, the representative of the General Union of Palestinian Women, one of the groups overseeing the campaign as part of the BDS campaign against Israel, told Al-Monitor that the local campaign is still organizing activities such as seminars in women’s centers and schools and marches in Palestinian cities.

Saafeen added, “We consider this campaign to be an extension of the role of women in boycotting the occupation, through a grassroots and popular campaign aimed at people directly responsible for daily purchases, through women’s groups and organizations in cities, villages and camps.”

Among the activities conducted are organized tours to shops, school awareness campaigns, meetings with housewives and a supporting conference in March, when recommendations were adopted to develop the campaign. The activities also included offering assistance to other campaigns initiated by several organizations, such as "Kick Them Out," organized by the women-run Society of Inash al-Usra (family welfare).

The Kick Them Out campaign, considered an independent and complementary part of the women’s boycott efforts, came about in October, when to the current unrest erupted, and its activities began in November.

The director of the Family Welfare Organization, Farida al-Amd, explained the reasons and goals of the campaign, saying, “We initiated this campaign to draw the community’s attention to the fact that we were buying Israeli goods while [Israel] executes our youth at its checkpoints. Stores are filled with Israeli products and we have to act to curtail that.”

Amd told Al-Monitor that the Family Welfare Organization, located in the central West Bank city of al-Bireh, began to completely boycott Israeli goods in 1972. The goal of the current campaign is to influence the surrounding community. “We realize that it is now time to join our efforts and take effective measures that lead to results on the ground,” she said.

To achieve its objectives, the campaign relies on educating women at home and female students at school. The women also visit stores, where they talk with proprietors and urge them not to buy Israeli products.

Amd said, “It will have an impact. But most importantly, it must endure and attract the participation of all segments of society. Our work on the ground will surely have a cumulative effect.”

Yet according to Masri, the effect is difficult to gauge: “We cannot measure the impact of the campaign independently from the global BDS campaign. But, as per a World Bank study, we can confirm that the boycott campaigns have had an effect on Israeli exports to Palestinian territories, which declined by 24% during the first quarter of 2015 as a result of the intensification of the Palestinian boycott of Israeli goods.”

According to Masri, enhancing such an effect would require that women exercise pressure on government officials as well: “In coordination with the local boycott campaign, we endeavor to communicate with the Ministry of National Economy, and have made the decision to put pressure on the [Palestine Liberation Organization]’s Executive Committee to implement the PLO’s Central Council’s decision that explicitly called for a boycott.”

These boycotts by women seem to be the most enduring, due to their constant follow-up on an individual or institutional level, with the aim of achieving the goals they set in every city, village and camp under the slogan, “Raise your children with the bounties of your own country.”

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