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60 Years of Nakba – Palestinian Refugees and the New Anti-Apartheid Movement

By: 
Rafeef Ziadah
Date Published: 
April 09, 2008

At approximately 8pm on Sunday, January 20, the Gaza Strip power plant ran out of fuel and shut down, plunging the Gaza Strip into darkness. The closure of the Gaza power plant, in addition to Israel's continuing siege of the Gaza Strip, have had a catastrophic effect on the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, who are already suffering chronic shortages of fuel and medicine. "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key," said United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard. New Anti-Apartheid The residents of Gaza had no choice left.At approximately 8pm on Sunday, January 20, the Gaza Strip power plant ran out of fuel and shut down, plunging the Gaza Strip into darkness. The closure of the Gaza power plant, in addition to Israel's continuing siege of the Gaza Strip, have had a catastrophic effect on the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, who are already suffering chronic shortages of fuel and medicine. "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key," said United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard. New Anti-Apartheid The residents of Gaza had no choice left. As the international community aided Israel in the strangulation of the Gaza Strip, they took matters in their own hands and blew up the wall on the Egyptian border. With that, they both destroyed the Israeli siege and highlighted the Egyptian regimes complicity in the siege. The story of the Gaza Strip is the story of the Palestinian Nakba-the Catastrophe that saw the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48. The majority of those living in Gaza are refugees who can see their lands from inside the Gaza Bantustan. What we see in Gaza today is the model that Israel wants to implement in the West Bank. It reinforces the fact that the Israeli state is a settler-colonial project that closely resembles features of South African apartheid. Right of return The Israeli system of apartheid affects every single group of Palestinians, wherever they reside: those who are citizens of Israel, those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and refugees living in exile. Israel was founded on the expulsion of more than three-quarters of the Palestinian indigenous population, who became refugees in neighboring countries and around the world. One of the first laws passed by the Israeli state was the so-called Law of Return, which permitted any person of Jewish background from anywhere in the world to immediately become an Israeli citizen. Yet Palestinians, who now constitute the largest refugee population in the world, are still denied the right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled. The campaign against Israeli apartheid is fundamentally centered upon the right of Palestinian refugees to return. Israeli Apartheid supporters claim that Israel is a democracy because of its equal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel. However, those Palestinians who managed to remain on their land and became Israeli citizens are deliberately denied equal access to social services and the material resources of the state. Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute one-fifth of the Israeli population yet it is illegal for any individual or party to run for the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) if they do not support the Jewish character of the state. Open-air prisons In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians under military occupation have been herded into isolated cantons; they are divided from one another by illegal Israeli settlements, Israeli-only roads, military checkpoints, electric fences, and concrete walls. Palestinians are forced to carry different colored ID cards and apply for permits from the Israeli military in order to travel between areas. At the entrance to each of these large "open-air prisons," checkpoints with cattle-like turnstiles have been erected to control Palestinian movement. Palestinians are subject to military law-a separate and discriminatory "legal" system drawn up by the Israeli military and regulated by Israeli military courts-while Israeli settlers in the same area are under civil law. Over 10,000 Palestinians are being held as political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers because they have been accused of violating this military law. While Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert attempt to hide Israel's crimes behind the lie of "peace negotiations," thousands of individuals and organizations around the world are building a real and effective alternative movement centered on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid. This movement is quickly gaining momentum. IAW This year Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which began in Toronto four years ago, took place in 25 places across the world including, for the first time, Palestine and South Africa. In a symbolic gesture, exiled Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bishara, gave the opening address of IAW in Soweto, South Africa. Bishara said, "Reconciliation happened in South Africa after apartheid was dismantled, not instead. The message sent to the Palestinians is that you have to make peace and reconcile. We can reconcile after racism and occupation is dismantled." Dr. Bishara's lecture was screened during IAW in participating cities around the world, a sign of the new level of coordination between anti-apartheid activists on a global level. The 2008 IAW was held under the banner "60 Years of Nakba: End Israeli Apartheid." The analysis of apartheid put forward during IAW in previous years has played an important role in raising awareness and disseminating information about Zionism, the Palestinian liberation struggle, and its similarities with the indigenous sovereignty struggle in North America and the South African anti-Apartheid movement. A number of unions have passed divestment motions with labor activists working continuously on rank-and-file education in their workplaces. The latest of these divestment motions is one by the London School of Economics' student union calling for divestment from corporations that support the Israeli occupation. In academic institutions, the debate on the academic boycott of Israel is ongoing despite attempts by university administrations to shut it down. Ethnic cleansing The articles in this special Nakba issue of Left Turn capture the changes the Palestine solidarity movement is undergoing as it transforms itself from a movement which has to constantly respond to Israel's ethnic cleansing to one that focuses on a campaign of BDS aimed at ending the apartheid system that drives the ethnic cleansing. The articles confirm that a new anti-apartheid movement is taking shape with Palestinians themselves at the forefront-rethinking what needs to be done and how to do it in new, dynamic, and creative ways. There's also a sobering sense that this will be a hard fought struggle which will not be won overnight. As Salim Vally points out in his article, it took several decades for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa to begin to make any real gains. Key to this new anti-apartheid movement's success will be deepening its connections to struggles against neoliberalism, racism, and war. Rafeef Ziadah, a third generation Palestinian refugee, is a member of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (www.caiaweb.org).