Israeli Apartheid Week connects Gaza with South Africans, Palestinians in exile

Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif speaking to Israeli Apartheid Week participants in Gaza

Israeli Apartheid Week Gaza

Everything in Gaza testifies to its deep-rooted culture of resistance against a ruthless system that continues to besiege, murder, and expel the Palestinian people who, instead of lamenting their endless losses, refuse but to find life in its fullest sense.

As Israel’s F-16 aircrafts dropped its bombs on whoever it deemed a “terrorist,” including a twelve-year-old boy, Palestinians still went to work, schools, universities, and even wedding parades were still to be seen in the streets.

Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) also went ahead, and on its first day, the first-ever musical collaboration between Palestine and post-Apartheid South Africa was launched. “The New Black” is the name of the eight-minute video clip, a name that accurately depicts the oppressive reality of the Palestinian people.

Mohammed Omar, a Palestinian oud player based in Gaza, and the South African band The Mavrix coordinated their efforts, despite siege and distance, to produce this powerful account that identifies the struggle of the Palestinians with that of the South African apartheid regime until it was torn down in 1994.

“We salute every Gazan and every Palestinian; we will remain committed for the liberation of Palestine,” said Siphiwe Thusi, a former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist.  About the video clip, he said, “We wanted to make sure the issue of Palestine becomes a daily basis in our people’s lives. We will take up your struggle to the government, to the media, until Palestine is liberated.”

Thusi spoke to us from Soweto, the South African township and heart of the South African intifada against the oppressive white supremacist regime in 1976. Although the Skype connection with Soweto was somewhat difficult due to Gaza’s fragile Internet network and sudden power cuts, Thusi’s talk ended with a standing ovation from over fifty IAW participants.

Following the screening of the video clip, the majority of the participants voted for a second one. Both times, the audience rose to their feet and applauded.

Second day: conversations with Arab authors

Susan Abulhawa, author of the heart-wrenching and beautiful Mornings in Jenin, spoke for the first time about her personal experience in exile. “This is the first time I speak for an audience about my personal life in the Exile,” she said. “In the Exile, there are those who will exploit you, those who will beat you up, and those who will be empathetic to your condition.” She continued: “Living without your land beneath your feet means that your life will be pinned at the whims of those who will always put you in a place wherein nobody will treat you with dignity.”

Abulhawa’s speech was interrupted by several Internet and power failures. Her talk, however, penetrated our hearts. Some attendees almost cried when she suddenly stopped while describing her personal experience away from Palestine, her homeland. Abulhawa also said the only thing Israel has is its arms and military power, while Palestinians, unlike Israel, own the word of justice. “We are following the steps of those who struggled for their freedom in the past, whether in South Africa or North America. We have the word of justice; this is what Israel fears, and this the field in which we have to play.”

Ahdaf Soueif, the Egyptian writer and activist, followed Abulhawa. “The Sinai Peninsula will not remain a desert for a mere treaty between Egypt and Israel [in 1979],” she said. “The struggle of the Palestinian people is the struggle of the Egyptians. If you forgive us for the iron wall the old regime had built up to further suffocate our people in Gaza, we do not forgive ourselves.”

Soueif generously agreed to extend the link’s original time to answer six questions from both young students and academic participants. Most of the questions revolved around the Egyptian Revolution, while a few others tackled post-Revolution Palestinian-Egyptian relations. Soueif stressed that without lifting the part of the siege for which Egypt is responsible, it cannot be said that the revolution has succeeded.

Third day

Many participants were moved to tears as they watched the first screening of the excellent documentary film Roadmap to Apartheid. Intellectual figures including Jeff Halper, Na’eem Jeenah, Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pappe and others from B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, drew a perfect analogy between the repressive procedures imposed by then-Apartheid South Africa and those of Israel.

“I usually tweet during Israeli Apartheid Week but today I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen,” said Ebaa Rezeq, a young Gaza blogger and frequent participant in Gaza’s Apartheid Weeks. “Roadmap to Apartheid is so capturing, informative and heart-breaking because we are living the struggle and suddenly you find out that South Africans lived the same struggle as ours decades ago. We are in the twenty-first century and we are still living the plight.”

High turnout

This year’s IAW had the highest turnout in its three years of Gaza history. The events, too, are more organized. The idea of the academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel is gaining more ground among university students and recent graduates.

“Israeli Apartheid Week in Gaza is getting better and better every year,” said Rezeq. “The events are becoming more and more interesting, and are offering more information and facts to us as activists and Palestinians. It is really great to be here.”

“It is really wonderful to know that there are other people who support us,” said Bessan al-Masri, a 23-year-old recent graduate of English literature who has attended all IAW events until now. “The week helps prove the apartheid nature of Israel.”

IAW organizers also had their own observations. “During the first Israeli Apartheid Week in Gaza, the number of participants was very limited,” said Ayah Bashir, a recent graduate and IAW organizer. “Today the number has increased significantly, and I can tell from the huge number of attendees that this year’s IAW is incredibly successful.”

Tomorrow we will have a video link with Goldsmiths, University of London students in the United Kingdom. The discussion will mainly concern student activism and campus-based BDS campaigns. The coming days will feature Samah Idrees, a Lebanese BDS activist and writer, Skype connection with the Palestine Solidarity Alliance and South African anti-apartheid activists, United Arab Emirates-based Palestinian musician Tariq Shadid, the documentary film Tears of Gaza, and finally a Palestinian dabkeh dance show and music festival.

Here you can see PressTV’s interview with some Israeli Apartheid Week organizers in Gaza: