How protests are shaping perceptions of Gaza

How boycotts and perceptions are changing the perceptions of Gaza in UK

Since the attack on 7 October, more and more people have been participating in boycotts and protests against Israel. Their goal is to stop the suffering and killing in Palestine.

“I started boycotting when I came to know on Instagram that companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s are investing in the killing of the Palestinians,” said Aishwarya Balasubramanian, a 22-year-old boycotter. “Imagine if two million people in the UK boycott, then the company is going to suffer. You know, they are not going to stop if we don’t do anything.”

Boycott movements list targeted brands on social media.

Having been boycotting between November and December, Balasubramanian has refused to consume food and drinks from McDonald’s, Starbucks and many other brands. She even has a list of targeted brands saved on Instagram.

Through social platforms such as Instagram, information about boycotting and the Israel-Palestine conflict spreads widely. Additionally, protests capture global attention as hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to demonstrate. Protests and boycotts serve as powerful tools for raising awareness of the conflict in Gaza, reaching many individuals who might not have been aware.

Hung Dao, a Vietnamese student in London, has observed a shift in his perspective on the conflict in recent months.

“Initially, I was not the one who cared too much about politics,” he said. “But recently, I can’t ignore the Israel-Palestine conflict anymore. Living in London, seeing everyone protest every week to get noticed by the government, I realise it’s not just about politics, it’s about human rights.”

And Dao is not alone. Nasim Ahmed, a political analyst at the Middle East Monitor, said the impact of protests and boycotts on the public is obvious.

“Before the October 7 attack, if you were to ask the public how many people are interested or pay any attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the vast majority would say they don’t really pay any attention,” Ahmed said. “But after October 7, after weeks and weeks of protests as a result of Israel’s aggression, if you do the same polling now, you would find the vast majority are interested.”

According to a House of Commons Committee report, from 7 October 2023 to 6 December 2023, there have been over 900 protests relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict across the UK. The initial protest occurred on October 14, attracting tens of thousands of participants in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. Over the following month, London emerged as a focal point, with approximately 800,000 protesters, marking it as the largest protest in British history.

“The protests in London in particular have been happening every single week,” Ahmed said. “It makes people realise why they are so concerned about what’s happening in Israel, Palestine. Through these protests, people have become more aware.”

He added: “So that’s a direct impact I would say of protests.”

Sara Russell, a photojournalist, is an active protester in Bournemouth. She believes it is a basic human right and gives ‘voice support’ for the voiceless.

“I have been to the marches, chanting ‘Free Palestine’ since I was a child,” she said. “All religions, I believe, must be respected and protected, as should be the property and human rights of indigenous people, the Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews.” 

At present, Russell is also responsible for the images featured on the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s social media platforms. Protesting helps her understand ‘the struggle for justice’. “It is basically wrong to remain silent when we are witnessing starvation as a collective punishment to innocent people,” she said.

Pro-Palestine march was organised by BCP Palestine Solidarity Campaign, advocating for the liberation of Palestinians. Video: Uyen Ngo

Besides marching, boycotts also play an important role in forcing a change. It is not new in the context of the Israel-Hamas War, especially when the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality started nearly 20 years ago. Now, it exerts significant impacts on targeted brands.

Among the primary targets is Starbucks. Last December, Starbucks Corporation experienced a loss of $11 billion, equivalent to a 9.4% decrease. This company also saw another landmark milestone, with stocks declining for 12 consecutive sessions, the longest downturn since 1992.

Similarly, McDonald’s has received backlash from pro-Palestinian individuals. This fast food brand witnessed a drop in sales growth in the Middle East, China, and India, reaching only 0.7%, significantly below the market’s anticipated 5.5%. Coca-Cola, Domino’s and other brands, on the other hand, have seen a surge in sales as a result of the boycotts.

These numbers demonstrate that the public is increasingly concerned about the conflict and is leveraging their influence to exert pressure on brands. Ahmed said boycotting works.

“If boycotts didn’t work, these governments would not be banning boycotts,” said Ahmed. “If the boycott is not having an impact, why does the UK Government need to pass laws to stop public bodies from boycotting Israel?”

Professor Bar-Tal, an Israeli academic specialising in socio-psychological foundations and dynamics of intractable conflicts, said: “[What people think of a conflict] changes. People change their mind, their attitude towards the conflict and towards the Palestinian …It comes on the economic level.”

This is reminiscent of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1959, which boycott apartheid goods of South African products. The apartheid government was eventually overthrown after 35 years.

Boycotting not only inflicts financial loss but also symbolises solidarity and removes the social license of companies supporting Israel and Israeli firms. From then on, enhanced public awareness occurs when people witness the repercussions these companies have in worsening the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the midst of the chaos surrounding the situation in Gaza, some people are effectively advocating for human rights through boycotts and protests. Peace and life preservation are their ultimate goals.

“I see Palestinian people documenting themselves on Instagram and TikTok, saying that we exist and please save us. So I believe in them,” said Balasubramanian.

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