March 14, 2013

Exposing occupation

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events with the goal of educating people about the nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and also to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to end Israeli Apartheid and win a free Palestine.

Launched in Canada, IAW is now held in cities across the world. Israeli Apartheid week kick started in Guelph on Monday March 11 with a workshop titled Apartheid 101 by Greg Shupak, a sessional lecturer at Guelph. The discussion involved an overview of the conflict's history and its current dynamics as well as a look at how the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid applies to the situation.

After discussing the history of the conflict, Shupak provided participants with examples that shows Israel is committing apartheid. Shupak illustrated how the apartheid system affects Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.

Apartheid is defined by the UN as  “…a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group … over another … and systematically oppressing them…”.

Two aspects of apartheid are the “denial of a member or members of a racial group or groups the right to life” and imposing upon an ethnic group living conditions calculated to bring destruction. Shupak cited Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Cloud, and the Siege of Gaza as examples of the denial of the right to life for Palestinians.

During Operation Cast Lead that occurred December 2008 to January 2009, 1,400 Palestinians were killed, many from direct attacks on civilian targets. Operation Pillar of Cloud was another of example of collective punishment on the people of Gaza that occurred recently from November 14 to 21 last year. The conflict was instigated by Israel when Ahmad Abu Daqqa was killed by Israeli soldiers when playing soccer. Hamas and Israel were able to negotiate a cease fire shortly after, but Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari who negotiated the ceasefire with Israel was assassinated by Israeli soldiers. Israel brought many deaths and injuries to Gazans during this conflict as well.

The siege of Gaza has been in place since 2006. The siege is regarded as illegal by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and OXFAM. Canada was the first to accept the blockade, that goes as far as blocking the import of construction goods making it impossible for Gaza to rebuild infrastructure after being attacked by Israel. 61 percent of Gazans are food insecure according to the World Food Program, and the Red Cross states the blockade is an example of “collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.”

Another characteristic of apartheid discussed by Shupak  is the restriction of the right to freedom of movement for an ethnic group or groups. The restriction of the freedom of movement is a humiliating process for Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians are subject to a checkpoint system, are made to have permits in order to be permitted to leave their own village, and there are settler only roads all over the West Bank.

Apartheid also occurs when land of a particular ethnic group or groups is expropriated. In the ongoing colonization there are over 300,000 Israeli settlers that live on land settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under international law.

Shupak cited other characteristics of apartheid that Israel perpetuates. These included the denial of the right of Palestinians to freedom of opinion and expression, the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Palestinians by Israeli security forces, systematic torture of Palestinians in Israeli jails, and denying Palestinians the right to education and the right to leave and return to their country.

In order to drive the message home that Israel is operating an apartheid system, Shupak cited famous people, and former Israeli officials, who describe apartheid in Israel and Palestine. Desmond Tutu, a former South African Archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize award winner, and advocate against South African Apartheid, has stated his opposition to Israeli Apartheid.

Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter also states that Israel is committing acts of apartheid, as does Ami Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli Domestic Security Agency. Shulamit Aloni, a former Israeli Education Minister and Michael Ben Yair, Israel’s former Attorney General, also both say that Israel and apartheid go hand in hand.

After the event, participants were left with more resources to be able to tell the rest of the Guelph Community that Israel is committing violations against the human rights of Palestinians. Israeli Apartheid Week is hosting two more events this week. One event is titled “Israeli Activism against Occupation and Apartheid: Strategies for Solidarity” and will be led by Israeli anti-israeli-apartheid activist, Noa Shaindlinger. This event will provide ideas to activists in Guelph about where to go next when it comes to solidarity work with Palestinians. The final event is a film screening of “5 Broken Cameras” that was nominated for Best Documentary in the Oscars, Thursday at 7 pm in UC 442.

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