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International organizations condemn Israel's travel restrictions on BDS founder

May 29, 2016 1:45 P.M. (Updated: May 30, 2016 12:08 P.M.)
BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti (BDS Movement, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Sixteen organizations from around the world denounced travel restrictions on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) co-founder Omar Barghouti.

In a public letter to their respective foreign ministers on Sunday, international academic boycott organizations publicly condemned Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel documents.

Organizations from the American, Asian, and European countries demanded freedom for Barghouti to travel and for their ministers “to impress on the Israeli government the absolute necessity of ceasing its repressive measures against Palestine’s civil leaders.”

Barghouti, who lives with his family in the city of Acre in Israel, is Palestinian, but was born in the Gulf state of Qatar. After marrying his wife, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, he was granted 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.

The Israeli authorities’ refusal to renew his travel documents in early May has not only affected his ability to travel in and out of Israel, but has also threatened his right to Israeli residency altogether, something the signatories of the letter said constituted “harassment and intimidation.”

Earlier this month, Barghouti attributed what he called the “mafia-like threats against Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights defenders,” including his own travel ban, to what he saw as Israel’s “utter failure to stop the growth of the [BDS] movement in the mainstream in recent years.”

In January, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat the BDS movement, which they said 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 has been seen by activists as an escalation of an ongoing attempt at criminalizing and silencing BDS leaders and proponents in Israel and Western countries which have adopted measures which legally condemn the boycott movement.

Barghouti however, insisted in the statement released on Sunday that he remained undeterred by such threats.

“Just as in the struggle against apartheid South Africa,” he said, “ the darkest moments of Israel’s colonial repression may well be those that precede the dawn of freedom, justice and equality.”

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