Every year, people in more than 50 cities around the world collaborate to organize Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which involves events focusing on bringing light to the unacceptable human conditions suffered by Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
And so, with reference to our own history at McGill, things are likely to get heated on campus. The “apartheid analogy” with respect to Israel has always been a sensitive issue; it is likely to result in tense debates, angry words, and uncomfortable situations.
Defendants of the analogy will point to the institutionalized and systemic discrimination facing Palestinians – examples will range from property, citizenship, and water allocation policies. In essence, the analogy relies on semantic interpretations that allow the word apartheid to be used more broadly than a one-to-one referent to a historical condition in South Africa.
Conversely, opponents of the analogy will point to the tangible differences between South Africa’s Apartheid state, its blatantly racist undertones – contrasting this with Israel’s “democratic mechanisms” that have invariably allowed for Arab candidacy and election within the pre-1967 borders.
The IAW movement seeks to raise awareness and call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. This is partly inspired by the similar economic standoff between the world and South Africa, resulting in the end of the South African Apartheid state in 1993.
The namesake of the movement springs from the fact that Israel is guilty of committing crimes against humanity, as defined by the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which reads: “in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group … with the intention of maintaining the regime.”
Those who insist that Israel is engaging in discriminatory policies towards Palestinians often point to the fact that Jewish schoolchildren receive, on average, three to six times more funding that their Palestinian Israeli counterparts. Another common example is the fact that there are separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
Too often, focusing on these specific instances of discrimination misses the larger pattern of control and domination that Israel enforces on Palestinians.
The fact that Palestinians are forced to travel on certain roads – in their own territory and without their consent – is certainly a problem. An even bigger issue is how the roads carved out for Israelis are used to demarcate and divide Palestinian territory, impeding access to movement to ensure continued Israeli hegemony in the West Bank.
In understanding how the aims of the Zionist political project have influenced specific Israeli policies, it is useful to look to two factors: land and demography.
We see the Zionist movement as a nationalist-ethnocentrist project, seeking sovereign Jewish control over a specific parcel of land. To that end, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was created to expand Jewish control of Palestinian territories through the purchase of property.
The JNF controls about 13 per cent of the territory of the state of Israel. Non-Jews cannot settle this land and no Palestinians have ever succeeded in buying back their property, as per the JNF’s charter.
Plus, the State of Israel – by way of the JNF – conducted bulk land transfers with itself in this way: after the 1948 war and expulsion of approximately 700,000 Palestinians from their homes – 2.2 million dunams of land that had been expropriated from Palestinians by the state was then sold to the JNF. This is state approval of setting aside land in Israel for Jewish use only and of divorcing itself from providing even a pretense of equality to its Palestinian citizens.
A crucial safeguard of the Zionist project lay in prioritizing demographic over territorial concerns. In the 1930s, an understanding arose that Jews would need to constitute a majority in a part of Palestine in order for the Zionist dream to survive. It was on the basis of this logic that the new Israeli state refused Palestinians the right of return after 1948.
This is instructive to point to as recent examples demonstrate how this idea reproduces itself in new forms. In 2003, Israel passed the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law – prohibiting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who had spouses in Israel from receiving Israeli citizenship.
Here Israel is able to fall back upon the liberal notion of equality before the law. Claiming that it does not discriminate against Palestinians, Israel ignores that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians marry Palestinians, and the concrete fact that the law disproportionately affects Palestinians.
To give another example, a recent report by Haaretz revealed that over 140,000 West Bank Palestinians were covertly stripped of their residency permits by Israel between 1967 and 1994, a process that the Central Bureau of Statistic estimates has reduced the size of the West Bank population by 14 per cent.
The discrimination and oppression facing Palestinians is not just another regrettable manifestation of the racism and inequality that, as Israel advocates love to remind us, exist in every society. It is rooted in the very nature of Zionism – an ethnocentric colonizing venture that relies on the continued subjugation and dispossession of Palestinians for its very survival.
In its seventh year, IAW continues to grow as more and more campuses join the movement. The fight does not stop outside university walls. Global opposition continues to rise, with more trade unions, political parties, and political activists endorsing the call for BDS every day. Together we will make the rallying cry, “end Israeli Apartheid!” a reality.
Signd by the McGill Chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.