Recognize issue of apartheid in Israel


Human-rights activists throughout the world are recognizing “Israeli Apartheid Week” as a time to spread awareness about the system of oppression faced by Palestinians and Arab-Israelis at the hands of the Israeli government. The assertion, of course, is that the conditions in Israel and the occupied territories are akin to those of apartheid South Africa, wherein the black population lived under a system of racial segregation and were subjected to separate systems of laws, rights, education, and agency designed for their suppression. This analogy is not bold or hyperbolic — rather, prominent activists of the South African anti-apartheid struggle attest to its validity. Activist Desmond Tutu, for example, has said, “If I change the names, the description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be a description of what is happening in South Africa.” Nor is the analogy somehow offensive to those who lived under South African apartheid. As Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, puts it, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

About 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab. Their status is a blatant affront to the designation of Israel as a democracy with equality and freedom for all its citizens. A measure approved in 2010 requiring new non-Jewish citizens to pledge loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” is inherently discriminatory. In these words, new citizens are required to accept the primacy of their Jewish neighbors.

They are denied freedom of speech when it comes to their plight or concerns. Another bill proposed last year bans commemoration of the Nakba day, which mourns the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from Israel during its 1948 founding. Another law stifles the nonviolent Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement by allowing anyone to sue parties engaging in BDS actions without proof of damages.

Arabs are sequestered into small, separate sections of Israel that face severe restrictions on expansion and receive disproportionately poor government funding — an average of $1,415 is spent on each Jewish citizen and $310 on each Arab citizen. The result is overpopulated ghettos that lack basic needs such as garbage collection, water and sewers. Furthermore, other long-existing Arab towns, as a result of a 1965 zoning law, were retroactively reclassified as “non-residential.” The state literally does not recognize the existence of these villages and the needs of their residents. So they receive no water, electricity, connection to sewer systems, public support for school or health care. They also face the constant threat of unjust home demolitions aimed at dislodging these citizens from their land.

As college students, we recognize the importance of basic education as a tool of empowerment. In Israel, schools for Arab students are completely separate and inferior to schools for Jewish children. According to figures by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2004, Jewish schools received as least four times as much funding as Arab schools. This translates to schools that lack computers, lack science equipment, have unmanageably large classrooms and are subject to strict control of curriculum. Recall that there was a time in America when school systems, among other things, were segregated and unequal. Most of us today would agree that this was a shameful time in our history.

The conditions of life for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which I cannot contain in a 750-word limit, are considerably more atrocious. The infrastructure of Israeli domination is manifest in the military law to which Palestinians are subject, which allows for indefinite detention without cause or trial, collective punishment in the form of 24-hour curfews, road closures, military raids, violence and harassment and unwarranted home demolitions; hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks or barriers that chop up the West Bank’s 70 small cantons and strip Palestinians of their freedom of movement within their own land; the expropriation of most of the West Bank’s water for use in Israel or in illegal Jewish settlements; the daily annexing of Palestine’s internationally recognized land through settlement expansion and the Israeli separation barrier. These characteristics of oppression are synonymous with the policies of apartheid.

I implore students of conscience — and anyone who disagrees with this characterization — to learn more about Israel’s form of apartheid during this “Israeli Apartheid Week.” You can find members of BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, our allies and me at the “Apartheid Wall” this Thursday at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.

Murtaza Husain is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in religion and Middle Eastern studies. He is the treasurer of BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice.

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