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Calling a spade a spade

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 14:02

Israel and Palestine Demonstration


It is with a heavy heart that I begin writing this op-ed, but the time has come to call a spade a spade. Seeing the word "apartheid" next to the word "Israel" might come as a punch in the face to some students.  As a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine, I would like to explain how we — a diverse group of Jewish, Palestinian, American, and international students — came to the consensus to draw the campus' attention to the unfortunate reality of the situation in Israel/Palestine. We are organizing the ongoing "Israeli Apartheid Week" at Tufts as a message of solidarity and love for the Israeli and Palestinian people. We also see ourselves as part of the global nonviolent struggle against the pervasive and institutionalized racism that Palestinians have suffered through for far too long.

We are a horizontally run group: no president, no vice-president, just individual members pulling their own weight. At a meeting earlier this month, we decided to join the growing Toronto-based movement of hosting an "Israeli Apartheid Week" here at Tufts. As one of our brave new members said, "If there is apartheid out there, and we don't call it apartheid, that's just wrong. Silence in the face of apartheid is also a crime, isn't it?"

When the arc of history leans towards justice and the apartheid system in Israel/Palestine comes to an end, we want to be remembered not as a university whose students took the easy way out and used timid, palatable terms, but rather as those who, like true Jumbos, addressed the elephant in the room.

Literally, "apartheid" means "separation" in Afrikaans. Calling the situation in Israel/Palestine an apartheid was not our idea. In fact, former president Jimmy Carter was among the first to take the leap and call Israel an Apartheid state in his 2006 book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." But please, don't take our word for it. Go online and research the issue, read the president's book; that is the purpose of our week. We are encouraging people to drop in, to do their own research and come to their own conclusions.

According to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, the "crime of apartheid" is defined as follows:

"Similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa…[namely] 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."

Many famous human rights activists have agreed that this definition applies to Israel. Noam Chomsky, South African ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair are just some of the leaders that have spoken out denouncing Israel for its racist treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Even Nelson Mandela said, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." In the words of the Israeli historian Dr. Ilan Pappe: "To pretend that Israeli racism against Arabs is no different from other countries is to fail to understand the imperatives and dictates of Zionism."

Recently, the International War Crimes Tribunal, based in Cape Town and founded by Bertrand Russell, has come to the official conclusion that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid due to "inhuman acts" against the indigenous Palestinian people. While the situation in Israel isn't exactly the same as it was in South Africa in every respect, that doesn't mean it's not apartheid.

In fact, the living conscience of South Africa, the Reverend Desmond Tutu, has repeatedly spoken out against Israel's apartheid policies after witnessing firsthand "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." He shares our belief that Israel will "never get true security and safety through oppressing another people."

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that within Israel, politicians hardly attempt political correctness in regards to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. In fact, Avigdor Lieberman, the Deputy Prime Minister and head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, openly calls for the "transfer" of Arab-Israelis out of Israel.

It is easy to hide behind the veil of wanting "peace" when, really, you support the same essential power distribution and oppression that is perpetuated by the status quo. We want peace more than anything, but we want a positive peace free of structural violence, not a negative peace wrought with oppression and suffering, as is the bitter reality faced by far too many Palestinians today.

In line with Tufts' philosophy of active citizenship, we've planned a week of grassroots initiatives to promote the message of social justice and equality, including a number of lectures by well-regarded intellectuals. On Feb. 27, Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO Negotiations Support Unit, delivered a talk titled "Israeli Apartheid?"  We want to draw attention to the resilience of the people of conscience who are working hard to create a better reality.

On Thursday, we will commemorate Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who was illegally detained and held like many others in Israel, by hunger striking the whole day until 6 p.m. At 6 p.m., we will meet at Dewick Dining Hall to have a community dinner. Fasting is optional, and all are welcome to join. We invite anyone without a meal plan to come and get swiped in by us.

On Friday, March 2 at 2 p.m., journalist and author Max Blumenthal, a Jewish-American, will be giving a talk on "Birthright-Israel and the Whitewashing of Apartheid." We encourage people of all perspectives to attend, come to their own conclusions and maybe even contribute some new ideas for nonviolent action. There is hope. Not long ago, campuses all over America and around the world united to bring a halt to the apartheid regime of South Africa.

Now, a picture of the Jumbo protesters hangs in Hotung for all to see. We are confident that students here at Tufts will once again choose to be on the right side of history.

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