Stand with Gaza and stop banking on apartheid

Stand with Gaza and stop banking on apartheid
5 min read
27 Apr, 2018
Comment: Forcing HSBC to cut ties with companies profiting from the occupation is another step on the path of successful anti-apartheid efforts of the past, writes Malia Bouattia.
HSBC owns £831million of shares in companies that sell weapons and equipment to Israel [Getty]
Some will remember the boycott of Barclays that was launched in the late 60s in the UK over the bank's complicity with apartheid in South Africa.

Students organised a national campaign that started with awareness raising and encouraging individuals to close their accounts, or take part in slowdowns through the opening of new accounts, before closing them the next day.

Occupations were also staged at various branches, and a considerable rent strike took place in Norwich with some 600 students refusing to pay any money through to a Barclays account.

The campaign grew stronger over the course of almost two decades as mounting pressure and lobbying was directed against charities, religious institutions, and councils calling on them to shut down their accounts. This resulted in the bank losing millions of pounds, particularly in the 80s before eventually conceding to the demands of the movement.

We might hope that some lessons had been learned, not just by Barclays, but all banks. But alas, this was not the case, and the struggle continues.

In the 'Deadly Investments' report, War on Want (WOW) highlight that there is £10.8 billion of investments by UK financial institutions, in companies that sell weapons, military equipment and technology to Israel.

The six largest UK banks involved are Barclays, Lloyds, Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Co-operative Bank. The findings show that:

"Barclays and HSBC both have significant shareholdings in companies profiting from Israeli militarism. Barclays and HSBC both own shares in BAE Systems, Boeing, Rolls Royce and Babcock.

BDS is working and it is worrying those responsible for the suffering, dispossession and murder of countless Palestinians

"All four companies profit significantly from Israel's oppression of Palestinians. Barclays and HSBC also have extensive investments in other military companies involved in arming Israel."

Learning from the struggles of the past against apartheid, WOW and others have started organising a similar campaign against HSBC.

It is for this reason that, last Friday, activists protested HSBC's complicity with Israel's illegal occupation. The action, which was called by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and War on Want, took place outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, where HSBC's annual general meeting was being held.

HSBC owns £831 million worth of shares in companies that sell weapons and equipment to Israel. This includes: £180 million of shares in BAE Systems, a manufacturer of components of the F-16 fighter jets used by Israel against the people of Gaza; £102 million of shares in Boeing, a company that provides Israel with Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles; £99 million of shares in Caterpillar, which provides the occupation with bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes; and £69 million of shares in Raytheon, that equips the Israeli state with 'bunker buster' bombs used in the 2014 attacks on Gaza.

On the same day as the protest, over 400 people were injured following attacks by Israel during the 'Great Return March' in Gaza. The demonstrations have been taking place weekly since the 30 March, with demands focused on the right to return for Palestinian refugees.

So far, over 40 have been killed and over 1,500 have been wounded. This makes an organised and coordinated response to the 2011 call by Palestinian civil society for a military embargo on Israel all the more urgent.

It is often difficult for those angered by Israel's oppressive practices, to know how to take action locally.

Furthermore, in the many discussions and debates on which tactics should be adopted by the international community in an effort to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, many worry about the often symbolic nature of the actions, or the backlash faced by numerous activists.

The campaigns to boycott, divest and sanction Israel are a clear and practical solution, based on demands by over 170 Palestinian civil society groups, that put the focus on the complicity of institutions, governments and companies around the world.

By doing so, they also raise broader issues about democracy at home, accountability from those in power, and our right to have a say in the running of our workplaces, universities  and communities.

Fighting for our lives to be free from complicity and shining a light on the moral and political failures of the rich and powerful is a key step in broader struggles for societal change.

Forcing HSBC to cut ties with companies profiting from the occupation and siege is a significant step towards following in the path of successful anti-apartheid efforts of the past. Both
PSC and War on Want have provided ideas for taking action, from writing to the CEO of HSBC to picketing your local branch.

As the Israeli state increases its international campaigns against the BDS movement, and while governments in France, the US, and the UK continuously try to find new ways to criminalise our efforts, they also send us a message: BDS is working and it is worrying those responsible for the suffering, dispossession, and murder of countless Palestinians.

This of course comes with greater difficulties for activists, but it is also an encouraging measure of our effectiveness.

In the words of the recently deceased Winnie Mandela, a key figure in South-African resistance, "Apartheid in Israel can be defeated, just as apartheid in South Africa was defeated".

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.