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by Palestine Solidarity Group
Saturday, Dec. 07, 2002 at 2:03 PM
International Movement Against Israeli Apartheid
A New Movement Against Apartheid
By Derrick O’Keefe
At the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, a dynamic new political movement was launched: “the Anti-Apartheid movement against Israel”, which campaigns against the Israeli occupation, for the right of return of refugees, and exposes the overall racist nature of the Palestinians’ subjugation by the Israeli government.
In recent years, many veterans of the struggle against white rule in South Africa have noted the similarities between their oppression and that of the Palestinians: the restrictions on travel, the military checkpoints, the arbitrary arrests, the detentions and shootings, the overwhelming poverty and brutal working conditions.
The founding declaration of this new movement against apartheid stated:
"We, South Africans who have lived through apartheid cannot be silent as another entire people are treated as non-human beings; people without rights or human dignity and facing daily humiliation. We cannot permit a ruthless state to use military jets, helicopter gun-ships and tanks on civilians. We cannot accept state assassinations of activists, the torture of political prisoners, the murder of children and collective punishment."
Na’eem Jeenah, a former anti-apartheid activist and a spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Committee of Johannesburg, South Africa, recently completed a three-week North American tour to highlight current Israeli Apartheid policies. Jeenah, who amongst his many responsibilities heads the Muslim Youth Movement in South Africa and helps run a progressive, independent radio station, spoke to a United Nations Committee on Palestine in New York and at public and campus meetings in Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Sacramento, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Montreal, and Toronto.
Jeenah’s tour caught the ire of the pro-Israel lobby in both Canada and the United States. Exposing the racist mythology behind the initial displacement of the Palestinian people, summarized in the Zionist mythology of “a land without people for a people without land”, Jeenah’s analysis goes beyond a simple focus on the illegal Israeli occupation. It points to the critical importance of the demand for the right of the return of Palestinian refugees.
The conclusion that Jeenah presents –that the suffering of the Palestinians is greater even that of Blacks in racist South Africa –is a powerful one, considering that Jeenah’s own brother was murdered by the police of the apartheid regime.
As Jeenah explained “one big difference was that in South Africa we never experienced collective punishment. Collective punishment, which is illegal under international law, is the daily experience of Palestinian people living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It takes a number of forms: house demolitions and the destruction of property, removal and relocation of people or ‘transfer’ as it is called, imprisonment of family members, and deportation. All of these kinds of things and the world does nothing about it”.
In apartheid South Africa privileges flowed from one’s being white, whereas in Israel privileges flow from one’s being Jewish. Palestinians living within Israel –those pejoratively called “Israeli Arabs” –are denied a number of basic rights, including the right to buy land and have equal access to social services and assistance.
In the West Bank and Gaza, the restrictions on free movement clearly go beyond what Blacks in South Africa endured. Palestinians towns, separated as they are by military checkpoints, walls, and Jewish-only roads, have been compared to the Bantustans to which Blacks were relegated. In the current environment of siege, with the constant curfews, travel can be virtually impossible.
Indeed Jeenah’s tour coincided with a desperate time for the Palestinian people. Ariel Sharon’s regime is employing a combination of violence and starvation to try and stop their resistance. A recent study found that 1 in 5 Palestinian children suffer from acute malnutrition. The Israeli army’s shoot-to-kill curfews literally force families to stay in their homes for days at a time.
Over half the population is unemployed, resulting in 62% of Palestinians attempting to survive on less than /day. Many that can find work have jobs within Israel, but they spend hours each day at the ubiquitous military checkpoints. This economic hardship, deliberately imposed, has led to mass emigration, with tens of thousands leaving the West Bank for Jordan and other countries already this year.
The urgent situation in Palestine could become even worse in the likely event of a new U.S. attack on Iraq. Whereas in the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was held back from joining in by the U.S., this time the Tel Aviv regime has threatened to respond massively to even a single Iraqi shell. Credible observers have even speculated that Sharon would use the cover of an Iraq war to conduct mass expulsions from the West Bank and Gaza. This policy amounts to “ethnic cleansing”, although you’ll be hard pressed to hear it described in such words by the mainstream media.
The coming war against Iraq will very much be a war on two fronts. The Palestinian people could well be every bit as much the victims of this war. Many observers have noted that it has been the resistance of Palestinian people, through over two years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, that has forced the U.S. to delay its attack on Iraq.
Anti-war sentiment around the world is growing. In Italy, there were recent protests across the country involving 1.5 million people, while in London 400 000 demonstrated against the war and in support of the Palestinian struggle. October 26th saw close to 300 000 people mobilized across the United States –in the proverbial “belly of the beast” –to oppose Bush’s war drive. These mass mobilizations point as well to a great potential to build an international solidarity movement worthy of the Palestinian cause.
Of all the lessons of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa perhaps the most important is the crucial role of international solidarity. By the late 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement was active on every campus in North America and had the support of union, community and church groups. Divestment, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation helped finish off apartheid. This is not to diminish the struggle of the South African people, whose resistance was decisive in victory.
At a public forum in Vancouver, Jeenah was asked how the Palestinians could hope to achieve victory, faced as they are by a world with a lone superpower that backs Israel with the help of a powerful international lobby. The optimistic response of this veteran of the fight against racism and domination was inspiring. “There was a time when I didn’t believe that I would see a non-racial South Africa in my lifetime, but perhaps my children or grandchildren would see it. But here I am, having seen the end of apartheid in South Africa, and now I have the same hope for Palestine.”
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