Students and faculty held events including mock checkpoints and poetry readings to draw attention to the occupation of the Palestinian territories and settler-colonialism, says scholar-activist Yara Hawari
On Monday, Israel Apartheid Week began on university campuses across Europe, North America and Africa.What is it? It’s an annual informal week of information organised by pro-Palestinian activists about illegal Israel policies towards Palestinians. The first Israel Apartheid Week was held in Toronto in 2005, and has been held every year since then, in an increasing number of cities.
This year it is marked with two milestone dates: 50 years of Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights. And a 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, in which the British Empire promised, “A national home for Jews in Palestine.
Demonstrations, banner drops, flash mobs, workshops, as well as the annual Israel Apartheid Week, are different forms of actions organised by D.S. activists to raise awareness about Israeli’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians. And to build boycott divestment and sanctions, BDS campaigns, as part of a growing global BDS movement. Israeli Apartheid Week’s rapid expansion, alongside that of the BDS movement, has arguably established the two as the most prominent global projects by Palestinian activists, and their supporters.
KIM BROWN: Joining us to discuss 2017’s Israel Apartheid Week, we’re joining with Yara Hawari. She is a Palestinian PhD candidate and lecturing assistant at Exeter University. She writes for The Independent, Electronic Intifada and is a policy member at the Al-Shabaka Think Tank. She is involved in the U.K. BDS campaign, and local Palestinian organisations. She joins us today from Washington, D.C.
KIM BROWN: So, Yara, what kind of activities can we expect to see for this year’s Israel Apartheid Week, and what has already started for this year’s activities?
YARA HARWARI: Okay so, Israeli Apartheid Week actually took place last week in the U.K. across campuses, and there were lots of different events, such as, lectures, panel discussions, conferences and then, of course, more creative stuff… such as mock checkpoints, poetry nights, and that kind of thing.And basically, it’s a week to educate people about the situation in Palestine. To organise and to build support for BDS campaign. And the people that are involved in it are not just students. We also have academics; faculty members involved, and also the local communities often get involved, as well.
KIM BROWN: So, I want to ask you about the name of the event. I mean, it could have been called Israel Occupation Week, or Israel Racism Week, so, why the focus on apartheid?
YARA HAWARI: Okay, well, as you already mentioned, Israel Apartheid Week was born out of Toronto in 2005. And the activists there decided to call it apartheid week, so they would accurately portray the situation on the ground in Palestine. The apartheid regime in South Africa is well-known across the world, so not only is the term accurate for Palestine, but it also helps people make that link in comparison with South African apartheid.And actually, loads of South African organisations endorse Israeli Apartheid Week, and I think it’s something like, over 85 organisations and trade unions support us. And we all know that Nelson Mandela said, that the liberation of the black South African people is not complete without the liberation of Palestine. And similarly, also Desmond Tutu, also said, frequently said, that Israel’s an apartheid regime. And so, there’s a lot of links to be made there. But, importantly, it accurately represents the situation on the ground.
KIM BROWN: Do you think about the situation in Palestine could be described in something different than apartheid? Or, even something further than apartheid? I mean, are we witnessing a sort of political, and actual genocide of the Palestinian people?KIM BROWN: I would say that apartheid is a very accurate way to describe what’s happening there. Apartheid means separate, right? It’s an institutionalised form of separateness. And what Israel has done since 1948, is enforce this separateness, in order to maintain the Jewish/Israeli domination over the Palestinian people.And how it does this, is through a load of different laws. And regimes have controlled our freedom of movement, it’s heavily restricted, there’s different legal systems for Palestinians.
So, I think apartheid is a very accurate way to describe what’s going on the ground. And of course, apartheid goes under the umbrella of settler colonialism, which many of us are using to frame Israel and Palestine. Israel as a settler colonial project, and the way that it maintains that is through a system of apartheid. So, I think it’s a very fair term to use.
KIM BROWN: So, what kind of efforts, if any, have been made to silence Israel Apartheid Week? And if so, who has been trying to quell this event?
YARA HAWARI: So, actually in the U.K., we’ve seen quite a lot of attempts to silence us. The university institution, and administrations, has actually stopped events from going ahead. We also receive leaked letters that came from ministers in the government that directed the universities to crack down on these events.So, we did see a lot of opposition coming up from the high level, down. And, but you know, despite that, our activities went ahead on over 30 campuses. There were lectures, there were different talks and panels, there were mock check points. And, yeah, I mean, in the face attempts to silence us, we still managed to do everything that we wanted to do.
KIM BROWN: And, Yara, finally, I think that it’s pretty clear why the 50 years of military occupation is a milestone date, because this year is also marked, however, with the title, “A Hundred Years of Settler Colonialism”.So, what is meant by that? And what has happened over this past 100 years that is considered the start of settler colonialism in Palestine?
YARA HAWARI: Yeah, so, obviously the 100 years of settler colonialism is referring to the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which you’ve already mentioned. The start of Israeli, of Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine, didn’t begin with that date. It’s used as sort of a marker. Settler colonialism in Palestine began a lot before then.But we’re using the Balfour Declaration, because it was a catalyst for the settler colonial project, and the final colonisation of Palestine. And the reason we use settler colonialism, is because it’s very accurate in describing it, and making a distinction between regular colonialism.So, settler colonialism, as a framework, it explains how the settler colonist goes to another place, to remove the indigenous people, rather than exploit them. And that’s what we have seen in Palestine, and that’s what saw in the United States and Canada, in New Zealand and Australia.So, all of these places are settler colonial projects, and Israel is no different from that. And then apartheid fits in to that very well because it’s one of the methods that is used to control, contain, and eventually eliminate the indigenous people.