Confronting the Divide

Israeli Apartheid Week Serves an Important Need

Demonstrators march in silence against Israeli military occupation in Bil’in, Palestine. Photo Micahel Loandenthal

More than 200 cities worldwide are participating in Israeli Apartheid Week 2014, which will feature conferences, workshops, film screenings and cultural events to raise awareness about the nature of Israel as an apartheid state.

They also aim to build momentum for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, inspired by the similar South African BDS movement that contributed to the downfall of its apartheid regime.

Montreal’s own Israeli Apartheid week will take place from March 10 to 17. Not only will this year’s edition address how apartheid is a reality for Palestinians in the Israeli context, but several events examine Canadian complicity, as well as the manifestation of colonialism in North America. In addition, indigenous struggles against environmental destruction, such as those being fought in Elsipogtog, will be highlighted, as well as issues of homonationalism and “pinkwashing” in Israel.

In 1950, Israel passed the Law of Return, effectively granting the right of immigration to Jews born anywhere in the world. In 1970, this law was extended to include “a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew.” In fact, this fiction, labelled as a right to “return,” is also given to those who convert to Judaism. Therefore, while Israel denies the right of return to millions of Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from the land and homes they legally owned in 1947 and 1948, they give this right to those who never lived in historical Palestine, a move which amounts to legal discrimination.

This discrimination is also apparent with regards to citizenship and nationality. Due to Israel’s identification as a Jewish state, Israel remains the only country in the world where its citizens are not simultaneously considered nationals. The nationality law of 1952 discriminates against 20% of Israel’s non-Jewish, Palestinian population. Although the distinction may at first seem innocuous, it holds important repercussions for Palestinians citizens of Israel. For example, much of the land in Israel is held specifically for Jewish settlement and use, effectively denying Palestinians the same right of access and ownership. For Israel’s Bedouin citizens, this distinction has meant the refusal to “recognize” Bedouin settlements and villages, the demolition of Bedouin homes and towns, the de-development and neglect of Bedouin education, health, and infrastructure, and the forcible transfer of the Bedouin population into government-planned towns. This discrimination, neglect and forcible displacement is reminiscent of the creation of Bantustans in apartheid South Africa.

Ironically, much of the land now owned and administered by Israel was, in fact, Palestinian land expropriated through discriminatory legislation, most notably the Absentee Property Law (1950), the Land Acquisition Law (1953) and the Basic Law: Israel Lands (1960). While the Absentee Property Law classifies Palestinian-owned land as “abandoned,” the Land Acquisition Law confiscated Palestinian property for the development of Jewish settlement and military purposes. The Basic Law of 1960 completed this process of expropriation by announcing that these illegally confiscated lands would remain the perpetual property of the state, thereby forever denying Palestinian claims to the land that they owned. It is useful here to acknowledge that the 1973 legal definition of apartheid includes the “expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof.”

The stipulations under Article II of the Apartheid Convention dictate how a state may be found guilty of apartheid. Israel has applied all measures under Article II. For example, the Convention outlines that the crime of apartheid includes, “…denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

It is no secret that the above accurately describes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. After all, the ID system for Palestinians determines which regions they are permitted to visit or inhabit. Some are never granted IDs, thus permanently barring them from entering Palestine or Israel, as was the case for the 700,000 Palestinians that were expelled in 1948, along with their descendants.

Israel has classified Palestinians into six categories: those with a West Bank ID (travel and residence is restricted only to the West Bank), those with a Gaza ID (travel and residence is restricted only to Gaza), those with a Jerusalem ID (residence is restricted to Jerusalem and they cannot enter Gaza), those with Israeli citizenship, those with Jordanian/Syrian/Other Arab citizenship, and those with Western citizenship, which may acquire a 3 month visa to visit Palestine after interrogations, strip searches, and other humiliating tactics.

In addition, Palestinian freedom of movement is extremely limited or denied by Israel’s apartheid wall and checkpoint system in the illegally occupied West Bank. In 2004 the International Court of Justice determined that the 720 km wall was in direct violation of international law. The wall, which cuts Palestinians off from their land and denies many Palestinians the right to work, receive an education, travel and move freely, is also a land-grab. The apartheid wall snakes into internationally-defined Palestinian territory in a blatant attempt to further expropriate Palestinian land and encircle illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. The system of checkpoints in illegally occupied territory is a constant source of humiliation for Palestinians who are routinely subjected to long waits, insults, abuse and arbitrary denial of passage. These checkpoints make freedom of movement impossible, and deny the possibility of normal life for Palestinians.

It is these parallels, among others, that validate the assertion that Israel is, in fact, an apartheid state. This year’s tenth annual Israeli Apartheid Week will highlight some of these concerns. We encourage all those who are interested in learning about, and confronting, Israeli apartheid, to join us next week.

For full information on Montreal’s Israeli Apartheid Week, visit the website or the Facebook page.

Paul Di Stefano is an educator, researcher and Palestinian solidarity organizer with Tadamon! Montreal.