Wednesday 3 March 2010

Israeli Apartheid Week

This week sees the start of the 6th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week. This offers all of us the opportunity to reflect on the true nature of Israel. Apartheid is not a word that should be used lightly. However in the case of Israel the word does seem to fit, as more and more people find out about the reality of what Israeli campaigner, Yaniv Reich, calls “the system of institutionalized and violent discrimination in place in Israel/Palestine”. It is also an opportunity to think about what we can contribute to a just resolution of the conflict by supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

As a precursor to Israeli Apartheid Week, February 25th was Open Shuhada Street Day. Shuhada Street was the main market and commercial section of the West Bank city of Hebron. What has and continues to happen in Hebron is an example in miniature of the injustices perpetrated by Israeli apartheid. Shortly after the 1967 war, Israeli settlers illegallly took over part of the old town in Hebron. In 1994 Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and injured 150 Palestinians when he opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) during prayers. The response of the Israeli government to this unprovoked attack on innocent Palestinians? Some kind of punishment for the guilty? Removal of the illegal settlers? No chance. Instead, citing fear of Palestinian revenge attacks, Shuhada street was closed to Palestinians in order to protect the, by now, 800 or so illegal settlers. To ensure their safety Israel maintains a single battalion of 500 soldiers stationed in Hebron. There are in addtion about 140 border police, who control the Tomb of Patriarchs, and 30-50 police officers in the city. All to protect 800 illegal settlers!

The end result of all this is that in order to protect these illegal Israeli settlers, who make up less than 1% of the population of Hebron, the government of Israel controls 20% of the area of Hebron. In so doing it denies the local Palestinian residents access to what was the old commercial heart of the town. Sounds a lot like apartheid to me. To get a better idea of what it is like to live there here is a statement by a Palestinian resident of Shuhada Street.

What it means to re-open Shuhada Street..

Many people might think why do we need to have Shuhada Street open.. it's one of the most important streets in Hebron, as it connects the northern part of the city to the south. Not only this, it also connects people.. many people have lost their social life when the Street was closed, because their relatives and friends do not like to be stopped at the check-points or in the streets when they come to visit. And when they visited in the past, it used to be a walking distance, but now they need to take a detour around the city to get to the house they desire. People now think ten times when they plan a visit to house at Shuhada Street. First, they have to consider the time that they will take for the visit, and the money they will spend. Many people lost their businesses when Shuhada Street was closed and the job opportunities are less available these day than before, so they have to think money wise.

Personally, I live at Shuhada Street but I can't use my front door because I am Palestinian. My neighbours made an opening in their wall to make me a passage so that I don't become a hostage in my house. In fact I live like a prisoner in my house.. I have installed some wire fence on my balconies to be protected from the stones "gifts" that the settlers always throw at the house. Before the fence, I could not open my shutters. If by mistake I left the shutters open, I would immediately receive the "gifts" from these settlers. I still receive these "gifts" but they do not hit me like before. I collected these "gifts" and used them to decorate my garden and wrote the word "peace" in Arabic.

It's really hard to live where I am because everything is closed, I used to go shopping nearby, but now if I go shopping, I need to walk a distance and carry my shopping because I can't bring my shopping home in a car. One time I had a severe kidney pain, I could not have the ambulance in front of my door to go to the hospital. My brother's house is 2 minutes walk from Shuhada, but I need to walk about 20 minutes to get to his house.

The Israeli army and police always tell us that they are in the area for the protection of both Palestinians and Israelis, but in fact, they stormed my house 3 times in one week to check about a complaint from a soldier that some children threw stones at the street from my house, although I live only with my mother and have no children. Many times the settler children and youth threw stones at my house and I filed complaints to the soldiers and police, and they did nothing to stop it.

Opening Shuhada Street is a big need for peace and humanity.

Zleikha Muhtaseb, Principal of the al-Ibrahimiya Kindergarten
Shuhada Street

The above statement was reproduced from The Magnes Zionist blog. You can get the full post here.

The day of action in support of the plight of Palestinians in Hebron is sponsored by Open Shuhada Street, a South African based initiative to raise awareness about the lack of freedom of movement in Hebron and how this issue is a reflection of the greater injustice of the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories. For more information about their work you can access their website here.

Pulse media also have a fascinating account of a trip to Hebron. You can access this here.

Back to Israeli Apartheid Week. The international organizing body can be found here, with full details on the events all over the world.

There is also a video trailer promoting the week which you can watch it here.

What then is Israeli Apartheid Week about? I can do no better than return once again to Yaniv Reich, Israeli campaigner for justice, who explains it succinctly thus: “Just to be clear, then, let’s all take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what the anti-apartheid movement is calling for:

  1. End the occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories and tear down the segregation wall.
  2. Full equality for the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  3. The just implementation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

That’s it, folks. We are talking about nothing more and nothing less than full equality of Jews, Palestinians, and indeed all humans. Many Zionists will—and do—argue that hidden in these seemingly innocuous arguments is a recipe for Jewish catastrophe. There are strong historical reasons for this fear. But no victimization, no matter how brutal, justifies the further victimization of another human. More importantly, the equitable protection of human rights for all parties is the surest way that Israeli Jews can ensure their safety in the uncertain future. And most importantly of all, Palestinians are people, fully formed agents with brains and souls and hopes and fears, and they are equally deserving as anybody else of whatever it is that is good and possible in the world. There is no escaping this essential ethic.”

You can find Yaniv’s own blog - Hybrid States - here. A wonderful site.

Campaigns such as Israeli Apartheid Week do have a positive effect. Here is further evidence of the weakening of Israel’s position in the world, especially amongst Jews. The following is a Petition Against the Right of Return to Israel on Behalf of Australian Jews.

March 2010

We are Jews from Australia, who, like Jewish people throughout the world, have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s “law of return.” While this law may seem intended to enable a Jewish homeland, we submit that it is in fact a form of racist privilege that abets the colonial oppression of the Palestinians.

Today there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. Israel denies their right to return to their homes and land—a right recognized and undisputed by UN Resolution 194, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Meanwhile, we are invited to live on that same land simply because we are Jewish, thereby potentially taking the place of Palestinians who would dearly love to return to their ancestral lands.

We renounce this “right” to “return” offered to us by Israeli law. It is not right that we may “return” to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed.

I conclude with a reminder that the root cause of the Israel/Palestine conflict is the ongoing Israeli occupation. Here is an extract from a fine piece by Noam Sheizaf, another Israeli freelance journalist, on the imperative of focussing on the occupation.

"In other words, talking about peace hides the real nature of the problem, which is the occupation. When we set peace as our goal, it means that the absence of peace – meaning the violence – was the problem. This is true for the Israeli side, but it’s only partly true for the Palestinians. Their main concern is the lack of civil and human rights. For them, the violence they suffer is only the result of the initial problem, which is the occupation. By talking about peace and only peace, we are accepting the Israeli definition of the problem as well as its solution."

Noam’s blog - The Promised Land - can be found here.

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