Liz Carlyle and Bassam Hozaima
“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
– Nelson Mandela
Imagine living in cramped quarters, with little water and infrastructure, under a crushing military occupation that controls every aspect of your life. Imagine living with a largely powerless local government and the daily threat of crop destruction, home demolition, family separation, and annexation of more of your land.
Imagine all this next door to comfortable settlements with four times the water you’re allowed as a Palestinian, protected by a high-tech military, drones, a checkpoint-and-pass system, a 26-foot-tall concrete wall equipped with gun towers and surveillance, and racially segregated roads and transportation networks.
Welcome to apartheid Israel.
Like the South African apartheid regime, Israel was established in 1948. As far as Israel’s promotional materials are concerned, it is a beacon of democracy in a sea of hostile Arab nations, and its citizens, including what it calls Israeli Arabs, have an equal vote and voice in the political process. There are, after all, Palestinian Arabs in the national parliament (the Knesset), and Palestinian Arabs have equal standing in Israeli courts. Surely, it is misguided to consider Israel an apartheid state.
However, as Jewish academic and activist Uri Davis states, “pointing to these facts alone is tantamount to an exercise in misrepresentation, manipulating these significant features in order to veil the fundamental apartheid structures” of Israel.
Davis goes further: “All that pertains to the right to inherit property; to access the material resources of the state (notably, land and water); and to access the welfare resources of the state (for example religious services and child benefits) [ . . . ] fully [justifies] the classification of the State of Israel as an apartheid state.”
When Israel was established on Palestinian lands in 1948, at least 700,000 Palestinians were violently dispossessed as part of a planned campaign of ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians call the most cataclysmic moment of this dispossession—on May 15—Al Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” while Israel celebrates this date as its Independence Day.
Palestinians walked for days with almost no food or water; many died, and were raped or injured by Zionist militia fighters. Many families had little to show for their former lives but the key to their former front door. These keys became a symbol of their hope to one day return to their homes.
Many Palestinians ended up in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, or they fled into Egypt, other countries in the region, or elsewhere all over the world. More than 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed or depopulated to make way for Israeli settlers, as historian Walid Khalidi details in his book All That Remains. Eventually, the Palestinians were left with chunks of land in the new Israel that became known as the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), namely the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Sadly, since 1948, and in spite of internationally brokered accords, peace talks, and cease-fires, Palestinian territories have been shrunk down to almost nothing. This has been carried out through attacks (killing civilians, including many children), industrial and housing developments, and constant military control.
The apartheid wall that increasingly pens in Palestinians snakes jaggedly around to ensure Israeli control of water and land. The West Bank and Gaza are disconnected communities within which it can take hours to move a few hundred metres. From restrictions on access to work, education, and medical care, Palestinians have little control over their daily lives and few means of subsistence. Families and friends even end up separated by checkpoints and the wall. Palestinians who leave Israel or the OPT are unlikely to be allowed back in.
Primarily because of Israel’s continued military, demographic, and geographic expansion into the OPT, attempts at an internationally-brokered resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict have utterly failed.
There has been much said about a one-state versus a two-state solution to the conflict, but the reality is that, whatever the solution to the crisis, the occupation must end for any resolution to have a chance of succeeding. Racist military occupation has led to extremist responses and this has only increased the tension.
While many students on campus today are unfamiliar with the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africans, they are likely familiar with Nelson Mandela.
The great activist passed away late last year amid good wishes and condolences from world leaders of all stripes. Mandela was one of those rare individuals who could bring people together. But it wasn’t always that way: Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movements were demonized, and activists were branded as terrorists. The Canadian government was only converted to the Mandela-as-hero message late in the struggle against the racist regime.
Then, as now, Canada is out of step with more forward-thinking countries. Late in 2012, the United Nations overwhelmingly accepted Palestine as a non-member observer state. Canada was among the few members to oppose the motion, and our federal government took the trouble to make a speech about its pro-apartheid stance.
The government of Israel was the first and last friend of the racist South African apartheid regime. Israel also entered into discussions to sell nuclear weapons to the South African apartheid regime.
Canada, for its part, has been dubbed by author and activist Yves Engler as “the world’s most pro-Israel country.”
In his book, Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, Engler details the rise of Canadian support for the Israeli apartheid regime.
Engler calls it the “culmination of six decades of one-sided support” for Israel. When Israel builds settlements deemed illegal under international law, Canada refuses to condemn the regime. Canada demonizes the Palestinian Authority and elected Arab governments in the Middle East because these governments oppose the Israeli regime. Possibly more shocking is the fact that Canada wholeheartedly supported the brutal Israeli military attack on Gaza that started in December 2008.
This long history of supporting Israeli apartheid places an additional responsibility on Canadians to take action. It becomes even more important when one considers the ugly history of Canada’s First Nations reserve and control system, which was used as a model for South Africa’s apartheid Bantustans – the territories set aside for black people. The Bantustans, in turn, inspired Israel to segregate Palestinians. Canada is tied up in apartheid and segregation at home and internationally.
Grassroots movements to oppose Israeli apartheid have taken on new life and are being driven by young Palestinians in the OPT, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. A new generation of Palestinians has seen negotiations and international diplomacy fail, and has felt the crushing oppression of post-911 Islamophobia and the mighty U.S.-Israel military machine. They know that Palestinians are outmatched in the military arena, but they also know the power of community organizing.
One of the campaigns gathering steam is the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which took inspiration from the South African anti-apartheid movement. Supported by legendary South African Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu—as well as more and more academics and artists who refuse to prop up the Israeli regime—Israeli Apartheid Week and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement offer a newly hopeful approach: get to the root of the human rights and military-industrial abuses, and a free Palestine will be possible in our time!
Israeli Apartheid Week will take place March 17-23 in Winnipeg.