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PACBI-Working to end Israeli apartheid

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Will Youmans | The Arab American News | September, 2006

Working to end Israeli apartheid

Israelís recent invasion and destruction of Lebanon should have some interesting long-term political repercussions. Israelís unreserved show of brute force against so many civilians exposed the reality that the problems between Israel and its neighbors are more fundamental than a dispute over land, hostages, or terrorism.

Israel has had fifty-eight years to become part of the region its founders chose to colonize. Still, it remains a pariah and an aberration; and the Bush administration treats the 300 million-strong Arab world as the oddity, and 5 million Israelis as the gold standard for excellence.

Israel’s short history is defined by the belligerence and conquest best personified by the four million Palestinian refugees still kept from their ancestral homes. Now, the rubble in Lebanon shows the same.

Successive American administrations have only bolstered the basic arrogance that puts Jewish security in the region over Arab rights. Each president seems to embrace Israel more closely; and at the same time, American Middle East policy gets only more disastrous.

The Lebanon fiasco showed how closely integrated Israeli policy is with American militarism in the region. This should signal to progressive anti-war activists in America that support for Israel is clearly at odds with humanitarianism and peace. How can so many oppose the American occupation in Iraq, yet forgive U.S.-funded Israeli domination of Palestine and devastation of Lebanon?

Israel’s status as a Jewish state on a land peopled by members of the three major monotheistic religions is inherently troubling. This is not to deny that all peoples have a rightful claim to self-determination. It just cannot be at the expense of others. This, more than anything, explains the conflict, yet it is a fact popular understanding in America misses.

Palestine solidarity activists in America will likely look at fundamental issues more carefully. For a long time, they focused on Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As problematic and significant as the occupation is, it fails to capture the breadth of what lasting peace and justice require. The discourse of ending the occupation does not address the refugees stemming from 1948 and 1967, discrimination against the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel, water access rights, the Golan Heights, and the future of Jerusalem.

One term that captures Israel’s ethno-religious supremacy, as well as its infrastructure of segregation against the Palestinians, is apartheid. It captures Israel’s essence. Like apartheid South Africa, Israel is a regional rogue that shows no regard for the sovereignty of the surrounding states, nor the people whose land it took.

This is no novel analogy. Nobel Peace Prize winner and famed South African leader, Desmond Tutu wrote about the similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israel in 2002. "Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you about today's life in the Occupied Territories," he wrote. He added, "the indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar."

Tutu also pointed out that "divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people at the grassroots." He called for Palestine solidarity activists to take a similar path. They have. Last July, 170 Palestinian NGOs put out a call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Labor unions, churches, and universities around the world have become battlegrounds for peace activists to demand an end to Israel’s brand of apartheid.

Last weekend, the Washington D.C-based U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation held its 5th Annual National Organizers' Conference in Dearborn, MI. Hosted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Government, the three day conference brought 150 organizers from around the country to network and strategize. The conference decided collectively to join the July 2005 call for BDS, and to focus as a network on ending Israeli apartheid.

The U.S. campaign is a broad coalition consisting of progressive, church-based and community groups. By emphasizing Israeli apartheid as the focal point of activism, it will join an international movement that aims to get at the heart of the problem. Any real peace in that land will require equality between Israelis and Palestinians. Apartheid leads to conflict. No people accept subjugation.

Will Youmans is The Arab-American News’ Washington, DC-based writer. He blogs at

Posted on 09-09-2006

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