Israel puts ‘travel ban’ on BDS campaigner Omar Barghouti

Officials have indicated for months they are considering bureaucratic measures to punish the BDS movement co-founder. The de facto travel ban is part of a possible revocation of his residency status; Barghouti has lived in Israel for 22 years.

Illustrative photo of BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti in Brussels, April 30, 2015. (Photo by / CC 2.0)
Illustrative photo of BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti in Brussels, April 30, 2015. (Photo by / CC 2.0)

Israeli authorities have put a de facto travel ban on Palestinian boycott campaigner and BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti and are considering revoking his residency status in the country.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is a Palestinian-led call to pressure Israel into ending the occupation, ensure full equality within its borders, and recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees. Israel views the campaign, which is often compared to the international pressure levied against apartheid South Africa, as a strategic threat.

Barghouti, a Qatari-born Palestinian who is married to a Palestinian citizen of Israel and resides in the northern city of Acre, has permanent residency status in the country and travels regularly to promote the BDS campaign, of which he is the most prominent spokesperson.

Revoking Barghouti’s residency status would effectively mean deporting him and separating him from his family, who hold Israeli citizenship. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the permanent residency status of more than 14,000 Palestinians living within what it considers its sovereign borders, primarily in occupied East Jerusalem.

An Israeli Interior Ministry spokesperson told AFP on Tuesday that Interior Ministry Aryeh Deri is considering revoking Barghouti’s residency status. Until a decision is made regarding the residency revocation, the spokesperson explained, the ministry will not issue him the documents required to exit and enter the country.

The Interior Ministry cited claims that Barghouti lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah as the basis for revoking his residency. Barghouti denied the allegation.

“I reside with my family in our home in Acre [inside the Green Line],” Barghouti told AFP. “I’ve had Israeli permanent residency for almost 23 years, in accordance with the law and without any violations.”

The Interior Ministry spokesperson, however, added that Barghouti’s “BDS activities” played a role in the decision.

Two months ago, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz advocated for the “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence, intentionally choosing language that evokes the Hebrew term for “targeted assassinations.” Around the same time, Interior Minister Deri said he had been asked to revoke Barghouti’s residency status. Information and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Barghouti should be made to “pay the price.”

Responding to the travel ban and possible revocation of his residency status, Barghouti said in a statement posted on the BDS Movement’s website: “I am unnerved but certainly undeterred by these threats. Nothing will stop me from struggling for my people’s freedom, justice and peace.”

Pro-Israel advocates have increased their efforts to fight the BDS movement in recent years, advancing legislation in the United States and EU punishing companies that take part in the boycott, launching ad hominem attacks and shaming campaigns against those advocating for BDS, proposing laws to keep boycott supporters from entering the country, and as of late, attempting to link anti-Semitism with legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy and anti-Zionism.

In addition to civil resistance and disobedience on the ground, leveraging economic and political power through boycotts, divestment and sanctions is one of few effective non-violent avenues available to Palestinians for ending to the occupation and for seeking a just resolution for Palestinian refugees.

Many Israelis and their advocates point to the demand to resolve the Palestinian refugee crisis, a demand rooted in numerous UN Security Council resolutions, as a threat to the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.

It is threatening, they say, because it would disrupt the demographics that allow the survival of an ethnocratic regime via democratic means, currently unchallenged by what would otherwise be a more religiously and ethnically diverse body politic. Those making that argument tend to reject the possibility of Israel becoming a liberal democratic state of all its citizens.