The phrase “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” has become familiar to most westerners who pay attention to world news, but according to the folks at Tadamon!, it’s a misrepresentation. Tadamon! (Arabic for “solidarity”) is “a Montreal-based collective which works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination, equality, and justice in the ‘Middle East’ and in diaspora communities in Montreal and beyond.” They came to the SSMU building to give an “Israeli Apartheid 101” workshop this Wednesday. The point is made early on that the above terminology gives the inaccurate impression of a struggle between two equals when the reality has more to do with colonization and systemic discrimination than simple conflict.
The three-part workshop kicked off with “An Interactive History of Israel/Palestine,” which turned out to be a sort of interactive map game. Participants were invited to crowd into an outline of 19th century Palestine, three as Zionist settlers, the rest as Palestinians. As the facilitators read through the timeline of Israeli migration, larger areas were taped off for the three settlers (courtesy of the UN and the Jewish National Fund), forcing everyone else to crowd together in increasingly smaller sections of the map. It’s a great visualization, and did an effective job of putting us in the shoes of Israeli settlers and displaced Palestinians. “Does this seem like a fair deal to you?” one participant (playing a settler) was asked. She didn’t miss a beat: “Do you mean a fair deal, or a sweet one?”
The next section centered on the concept of “apartheid” as defined by the UN in 1973 (“Inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”), and how it applies to the situation at hand. Long story short: it does. In almost every facet of life, from immigration to education to marriage, brutal circular logic and nonsensical roadblocks (literal and figurative) prevail. For certain engineering programs at major universities, military clearance is needed. This isn’t a problem for most Israeli citizens, all of whom serve in the military before attending university, but how is a Palestinian supposed to deal with that? It’s been made nearly impossible for someone from the West Bank to gain Israeli citizenship, even if they marry an Israeli. Contrast this to the right of return laws that allow all Jews, and most of their relations, down to the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, the right to Israeli citizenship, and the whole thing smacks of racism, pure and simple.
Last up was the call to action. There’s some discussion of the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement’s successes: the Tadamon letter, a statement of support by 500 local artists, and the Ahava campaign, a boycott of a cosmetics company that uses Dead Sea minerals from Palestinian land. There’s a major focus on McGill’s ties to The Israeli University of Technology in Haifa (Technion), and why that’s such a problem. Technion has close relations with both Elbit Systems Ltd. and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., two major Israeli weapons manufacturers. Technion students (and, by extension, McGill students participating in exchange programs) essentially do development for these companies. Credit goes to Tadamon! for bringing the message home and subjecting McGill to its anti-colonial criticism.