Wednesday, September 30, 2020

BDS: South Koreaís Palestine Peace and Solidarity movement

By Editor - September 19, 2012
Section: [Life under Occupation] [BDS]
Tags: [BDS]

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, with South Korea being among the countries to dispatch its own army there. The Palestine Peace and Solidarity (PPS) group was formed in South Korea as a result of the anti-war movement in the same year. The group focused its efforts on raising awareness of the Palestinian struggle under Israeli occupation, and the Korean companies profiting from the occupation, which was highlighted in a August 2012 report on “Korea’s complicity in Israel’s occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

The Palestine Monitor spoke with one of the PPS’ activists about the group, the role of BDS in South Korea, and their own experiences in occupied Palestine.
Palestine Monitor: How many members of the PPS are there, and are they active in other circles?

Tom Claro: Currently, we have 6 active members who attend regular meetings every week in Seoul. We also have 90 supporters and activists who coordinate and assist us. Some Korean activists had visited Palestine and were active in the peace movement.The group has gone through many changes in membership over the years. Now, there are no more original founders of the group who act as current members.

Some of us are active in other circles, such as feminist groups, the broader Human Rights movement, etc.

PM: What are some of the major Korean companies that profit from the Israeli occupation?

TC: South Korean companies who profit from the Israeli occupation range from companies buying and trading weapons with Israel, to those contributing to the construction and upkeep of roads and settlements, such as Doosan Infracore which supplies construction for settlements and checkpoints.

Korean Aerospace Industries have signed a number of lucrative contracts with Israel’s Elbit Systems, a company with a notorious record of support for the occupation, which has been divested from by the Norwegian pension fund and Danske Bank.

Some South Korean weapons’ companies have formed partnerships with their Israeli counterparts. EO Systems, for example, has formed a partnership with Elbit Systems in order to produce laser equipment, thermal imaging equipment, and electro-optics alarm systems.

Other Korean companies have formed business partnerships with Israeli weapons and aerospace companies include Firstec Co., Ltd. and Dodaam Systems Ltd.

That said, arms trade between the Korean Defence Department and Israeli companies mostly takes the form of the South Korean purchase of Israeli military equipment. In fact, it has been suggested that Israel could soon overtake the US as South Korea’s main supplier of weapons.

Perhaps the most concerning finding of our report was the Israeli military’s use of Hyundai Heavy Industries construction equipment for demolishing Palestinian homes. According to the website of the Construction Equipment Division of Hyundai Heavy Industries, it consigns its products to the Israeli company Automotive Equipment and Vehicle Ltd. These vehicles are then used by the Israeli authorities (whether by the IDF or the Jerusalem Municipal Authority) to demolish Palestinian homes and leave whole families dispossessed. The rate of people being displaced by Israel’s policy of home demolitions (1,094 in 2011 alone according to ICAHD) is alarming.

PM: How is the group building awareness and what are some of the activities undertaken?

TC: We go out on the street to raise awareness of what’s happening in Palestine. Although we cannot organize protests in front of the Israeli embassy, because it’s illegal under the Korean law systems, we get around this by having one person picketing or by staging “performances” in front of the embassy, rather than “protests”.

We buy Palestinian handcrafts and sell them at human rights film festivals, peace disarmament exhibitions, labour protests, etc. and try to explain the situation in Palestine to onlookers.

In 2008, we published a book which introduces the basic issues of the occupation of Palestine. We contribute to the media, manage a blog to educate Koreans about Palestine, and sometimes run lectures or organize film screenings.

We just recently released our report detailing South Korean and Israeli relations, especially centred on the South Korean government and business’ support for the occupation. We are currently working on a campaign to make Hyundai to stop the sale of its construction equipment to Israel. We are organizing a coalition of groups which can join us, such as peace activists, and labour unions.

PM: What is the general response of passersby to your staged events? Are they aware of the Israeli occupation and the plight of Palestinians?

TC: I think it is fair to say that most South Koreans don’t give much thought to Palestine. In a way, this is a positive thing because unlike the USA, there are no powerful lobby groups to impart a distorted, pro-Israeli perspective on the populous. If anything, the problem in South Korea is the lack of general knowledge about the history and current reality of the occupation.

However, responses have been hopeful, and a particular action stands out. While protesting the proposed sale of South Korean manufactured training jets to the Israeli Air force, we assembled in the Seoul CBD (Central Business District) and asked passersby to vote for or against the sale. The overwhelming majority of people voted against the sale and many expressed profound disapproval that a South Korean company (Korea Aerospace Industries) was even considering such a thing. This reflects a startling disconnect between the opinion of most South Koreans and the actions of South Korean business and government.

PM: Is there a history of Korean solidarity with the Palestinian people?

TC: In short, no. But there are some qualifiers to make.

On a governmental level, South Korea has at times shown support for Palestine. In 1973, the South Korean Government announced for the first time its official position on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, stressing that Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories and the fair claim of Palestinians should be acknowledged and respected.

Again in 1981, the South Korean government re-affirmed its opposition to the occupation, when the then foreign minister Lho Shin-Yong attended the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People held at the UN headquarters on December 2, 1981 and announced the message as follows:

“I would like to join the international community, on behalf of the Government and people of the Republic of Korea, in expressing once again our full support for the cause of the Palestinian people and our solidarity with them in their just struggle for self determination. The legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination, should be fully respected.”

Over time the South Korean Government’s position has shifted from one which strongly condemns the occupation of Palestine, to one which describes the occupation as a 'conflict.’

It is particularly alarming that the South Korean Government chooses to take this approach, rather than to criticize the occupation. Indeed, it is completely out of step with the anti-colonial sentiments of most Koreans. South Korea is a country which has suffered greatly under colonialism. From 1910 to 1945 Korea was occupied by the Japanese. In fact, there are many startling parallels between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Japanese occupation of Korea, such as the efforts to erase the culture of the occupied people by the occupier. Not unlike the renaming of Palestinian towns from Arabic to Hebrew in order to hide the historical fact that these places were Palestinian, the Japanese forced many Koreans to take Japanese names and to speak Japanese rather than Korean.

That said, the opposition of South Koreans to the occupation has at times been considerable. For example, In 2010 (following the attack on the Freedom Flotilla), public outcry against Shimon Peres’ planned visit to Seoul was powerful enough to cause the Korean Government to downgrade his visit from “state visit” to a more low-profile “working visit”.

PM: How important do you see BDS, and how do you envision the movement (in general and domestically) 10 years from now?

TC: In our opinion, the BDS movement is perhaps the last viable chance to secure equal rights for all peoples in Palestine, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

The utter failure of the “Peace Process” has been characterized by the continual expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, a process which many UN members feel the need to condemn, but not to halt. The Palestinian call for boycott demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of the current situation than do adherents of the “peace process”.

Honestly, we hope that in 10 years time, there will not be a need for the BDS movement. However, we feel that the movement is growing as people become more and more disgruntled with the inability of their governments to make any real effort to bring peace and justice to Palestine, and we are happy to be part of that.

Domestically, the future of BDS in South Korea depends on how well it is presented. Due to the lack of strong pro-Israel lobby groups and the like, it will be difficult for those in opposition to BDS to attempt to construct it as somehow anti-Semitic (which seems to be the in-vogue tactic of attempting to undermine the BDS movement these days). This, at least, will allow Koreans to look objectively at BDS as a necessary and practical response to the occupation, colonization and apartheid in Palestine.

PM: Have you or other members visited Palestine before? If yes, what was the general impression?

TC: As part of the group’s philosophy, we try to send delegates to Palestine every year. A number of members have visited Palestine numerous times. Most recently (earlier this year) myself and another member went to Palestine, where we visited Nablus, Hebron, Jenin, Kafr Qaddum, the Jordan Valley and Ramallah.

We were able to witness first-hand how the occupation functions to deny Palestinians any semblance of a dignified existence and pursues a goal of maximum land for Jewish Israeli settlers and the smallest amount of land for the smallest amount of Palestinians possible. This was particularly evident in Kafr Qaddum, where Palestinians protest weekly against the IDF’s closure of the village’s main road which connects them to Nablus. There we saw first hand the IDF’s heavy handedness at suppressing the protests, as well as the residents’ bravery and determination to struggle against the theft of their land.

Another thing that struck me was the ubiquity of settlements. It’s very different to seeing settlements on the map and seeing how numerous they are in person. Coupled with the knowledge that there no real pressure applied by international governments on Israel to halt settlement expansion, this made it more obvious to me just how necessary the international BDS movement is.

We met and spoke with families who had been the victims of Israel’s policy of home demolitions, including a family in Jerusalem who had their home demolished using Hyundai construction equipment.

Being in Hebron while the infamous Golani Brigade was stationed there was eye-opening, too. Their treatment of the Palestinian residents of Hebron was truly despicable.

Our experiences in Palestine have made us more determined to struggle alongside Palestinians, and to put our weight and support behind the Palestinian call for BDS. If the South Korean government prefers to offer lukewarm and tired overtures to peace in Palestine, while refusing to take any meaningful actions to stop Israel’s crimes against Palestinian people, we will have to.

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