Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Use of the term Israeli apartheid is a way to identify a problem"--

"Israel an apartheid nation?


Whether you believe in a "two-state solution" or a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the land of Israel-Palestine currently functions as a single state.

There is no independent state of Gaza or the West Bank. All of the land is under the control of the Israeli government.

Within this territory, about half of the population is Jewish and half is Palestinian. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, but if only half the population is Jewish, what does this mean?

The word "apartheid" (Afrikaans for "apart-ness" or separation) originated in South Africa to describe their system of racial segregation and domination.

Under the United Nations' 1973 Convention on the Punishment and Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid, the term gained a wider meaning. Any state with "policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination... for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons" can be called an apartheid state.

While South African apartheid separated black people from white people, Israeli apartheid separates Jewish Israelis from Palestinians, who fall into three categories:

"* Palestinians who are citizens of Israel (about 20 per cent of Israeli citizens) have second-class status and are subject to discriminatory property laws, marriage laws, underfunded health and education services.

In the recent election, most parties voted to ban Arabs from running for the Knesset (Israeli parliament), a decision later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court. In southern Israel, 80,000 Bedouin Israelis live in villages "unrecognized" by the Israeli government, deprived of basic services like housing, water and electricity.

"* Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens but live under Israeli military rule. They have different-coloured IDs, different-coloured licence plates and can't drive on the Israeli-only roads connecting the Jewish-only settlements.

Gaza is a different type of occupation -- it is essentially a giant prison, deprived of basic supplies and under constant threat of Israeli invasion, as we saw in recent months.

The Israeli military has demolished over 23,000 Palestinian homes over the past 40 years, less than 10 per cent of which were even accused of terrorism. A 790-kilometre barrier (called in Hebrew Gader Hafrada or "separation barrier") is being constructed through the West Bank, gradually converting it into a Gaza-style prison.

"* Palestinians who were expelled from or fled from their homes in 1948, whose descendants now compose one-third of the world's refugees, still cannot return to or in most cases visit their former homes.

In 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations published a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel, including an academic and cultural boycott, building on the precedent of the international boycott of South African apartheid.

Academic boycott, including the resolution recently passed by CUPE Ontario, is a part of BDS that many find very troubling, fearing it will stifle diversity of opinion and academic freedom.

It is important to understand that this is a boycott of institutions, not of individual academics. Groups that endorse the BDS campaign can still work with Israeli academics or bring in Israeli speakers from anywhere on the political spectrum.

Boycott means refusing to partner with Israeli universities or institutions funded by the Israeli government.

It is also important to note while discussing BDS that there is already a boycott against all Palestinian universities and academics, as well as of every detail of art, science and culture in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

If anything, endorsing boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel would be a balanced approach, at least until the boycott of Palestinians ends.

The Canadian government, having cut off foreign aid to Palestinians, holds numerous partnerships and exchanges with the state of Israel (notably the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement).

Historically, Canada is no stranger to apartheid -- many Canadians do not know this, but South Africa partly modelled its apartheid system on Canada's Indian Act, although Canada eventually adopted sanctions against South African apartheid.

Use of the term Israeli apartheid is a way to identify a problem in order to work toward a future based on coexistence.

--Daniel Thau-Eleff is a playwright, special-needs worker and activist with the Canada Palestine Support Network -- Winnipeg and Independent Jewish Voices. CanPalNet will be playing the documentary, The Land Speaks Arabic, on Thursday, 91 Albert (3rd floor) at 7:30 as part of Israeli Apartheid Week.