This week marks the fourth annual Israeli Apartheid Week at Brown. It comes at a time of great Palestinian resistance. These are some of the broadest protests we’ve seen in a while, which makes solidarity with this resistance to apartheid all the more important.
The first major protest was held Feb. 21 in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners at Ofer Prison. Many of the prisoners at Ofer are Palestinian children. These hundreds of children were prosecuted by military court — something that, of course, would not occur to a Jewish Israeli citizen. Most of the children plead guilty, whether or not they actually were. They pled guilty because the alternative would mean detention whilst awaiting the outcome of lengthy court proceedings. This detention could ultimately last three times longer than detention for a guilty plea. These protests intensified after it was revealed on Feb. 24 that one of the detainees, Arafat Jaradat, was tortured to death.
This and many other forms of legal discrimination are made possible by the unique distinction Israel draws between citizenship and nationality. While it is much easier for Jews to gain Israeli citizenship than it is for Arabs, technically anyone can become an Israeli citizen. But only Jewish people can obtain Jewish nationality, which grants a whole distinct set of rights. There are some thirty laws that specifically privilege people of Jewish nationality, in areas such as immigration rights, naturalization, access to land and employment. Citizens of Israel are also required to carry identification cards that allow the Israeli military to immediately determine whether a person is Arab or Jewish.
Another major protest took place in response to the continued closure of Shuhada Street to Palestinians in Hebron. This street is the heart of the Hebron market. While Jewish settlers are allowed to set up shops on this street, Palestinians are legally forbidden to do so. Palestinians are also not allowed to use certain Israeli-only highways in the West Bank. Most of the Hebron settlement is illegal under international law, as are many other settlements in occupied Palestine. And yet the Jewish settlers are protected by the Israeli military, while this same military does very little to protect Palestinians from regular violent abuse by the settlers.
Meanwhile, there was a protest last Friday against the separation wall. The wall puts many parts of the West Bank on the Israeli side, de facto annexing these parts for Israel. It is one of the many elements severely restricting Palestinian movement. Palestinians sometimes have to wait days at checkpoints before being allowed to pass between regions — if they are allowed at all. Palestinians cannot return to their homeland or move freely in the area that is supposedly Palestine.
The Israeli army responded to this series of protests with gas canisters, rubber bullets, skunk water, flashbangs, live rounds and, in the last case, tank-fire.
These protests aren’t just a response to recent events. They are about decades of occupation and apartheid. The United Nations’ definition of apartheid is “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.” As the definition suggests, the crime of apartheid is not something that is meant to apply only to South Africa.
The system in place in Israel today, while of course in some ways different from that which occurred in South Africa, fits the definition of apartheid perfectly. The Israeli laws mentioned above are inhuman and specifically set up so that Jewish people systematically dominate the Arabs.
The purpose of this apartheid is the removal of Palestinians from the land. It is a settler-colonial project meant to create a modern, Jewish state — at the expense of the Palestinians. Israel has managed to make about 5.5 million Jewish people the majority in a state which encompasses most of the native homeland of about 10 million Palestinians. Around half of the Palestinian people have been forced out of their land and are now refugees. This is the secret of the so-called democratic state of Israel. Palestinians can vote, but the Israeli government keeps them artificially in the minority by not allowing the Palestinians that they forced out of Israel to return.
The Palestinian people are fighting back against Israeli apartheid, but they could use all of the help they can get. Not only are all of the forces of the Israeli state against them, but this state is propped up by $3 billion every year in United States foreign aid as well as the technical expertise of many U.S. companies. Israeli Apartheid Week is meant to help people learn about Israeli apartheid and the hardships of the Palestinian people. But more importantly, it is meant to involve people in the goal of divesting from this apartheid state.
Luke Lattanzi-Silveus ’14 is a member of Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and would love to be contacted at email@example.com.