For the third consecutive year, students in Gaza are holding a series of events to mark Israeli Apartheid Week.
Gaza’s contribution to this international on-campus initiative is largely the work of the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel. This group was founded early in 2009, shortly after Operation Cast Lead, on the belief that Gaza students should provide inspiration to Palestine solidarity groups around the world.
PSCABI has established links with numerous universities and student groups in many countries including the US, Britain and Italy, and will hold joint events using media such as Skype during Israeli Apartheid Week, which begins 12 March in Gaza. And members of the Gaza-based Israeli Apartheid Week organizing committee are working around the clock — both with each other, and with authors, poets and activist groups worldwide — on a schedule that will reflect the successes chalked up by the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
“Every year it gets better and bigger,” said Haidar Eid, an al-Aqsa University English literature professor in Gaza. “This year we have a very exciting program. We have a list of great speakers and activists. Ahdaf Soueif, author of Map of Love and In the Eye of the Sun, among other works of fiction, will address the impact of the Egyptian revolution on Palestine, and vice versa. We will also host Susan Abulahwa, author of the brilliant Mornings in Jenin. She will talk about the meanings of exile in the Palestinian narrative. Lebanese BDS activist and intellectual Samah Idriss will also be our guest; he will deal with importance of BDS in the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates-based musician Tariq Shadid [also known as Doc Jazz] will discuss the growing cultural boycott of Israel.”
Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week joins an ambitious global lineup. Last year’s Israeli Apartheid Week included events in 97 cities on six continents. This year, the total is expected to grow, according to Palestinian spoken word artist and London-based activist Rafeef Ziadah, a member of the international Israeli Apartheid Week coordinating committee. In Britain, she says, groups at 15 campuses have planned events.
Israeli Apartheid Week began less auspiciously. “It was a humble effort by a group of students at the University of Toronto, with support from students at York University,” Ziadah, a speaker at the March 2005 event in Ontario, Canada, recalled. “It was of course attacked right from the start, with many lobbying efforts to get us to change the name to something ‘softer.’ But the group insisted that it was the time to start using the term apartheid both as a legal definition, and also as a way to make the connection with the South African anti-apartheid struggle and its boycott movement.”
That connection would prove essential to Israeli Apartheid Week’s identity as it evolved over the next seven years. Its start was followed, five months later, by the July launch of the BDS movement. The close timing was coincidental, said Omar Barghouti, a founder of the both the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the wider BDS movement. “However, IAW quickly became the global BDS movement’s foremost campus activity,” he added.
Duty to boycott
“The goal of IAW, here and everywhere, is to educate people about Israel’s apartheid system and how to build BDS around the world,” said Eman Sourani, a 22-year-old PSCABI coordinating committee member. “For Palestinians, BDS is a duty: something we should know, and an action we should take.”
Speakers during last year’s events in Gaza included Barghouti, Ziadah and the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. The high turnout at the events, as well as positive feedback from speakers and participants, reflected their success. Lina al-Sharif, a Palestinian blogger who joined last year’s Israeli Apartheid Week and now lives in Qatar, answered the question of whether she would like to attend this year’s by saying, “one big yes.”
“Many things have happened since last year’s Israeli Apartheid Week,” said al-Aqsa University journalism student Nalan al-Sarraj. “This year, the event will bring a lot to the table.”
Omar Barghouti commended Gaza’s participation in the global event. “I was thrilled to participate in Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week last year,” he said. “Despite the siege and the inhumane conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation against our people in Gaza, activists there were able to put Gaza with pride on the Israeli Apartheid Week map. We all learn lessons in steadfastness and creative resistance to oppression from our people in Gaza.”
Ziadah also enjoyed her appearance. “The students were all eager to learn about the successes of the BDS movement internationally and the lives of Palestinians, especially Palestinian activists, in exile,” she said.
Israeli Apartheid Week’s rapid expansion, alongside that of the BDS movement, has arguably established the two as the most prominent global projects by pro-Palestine activists.
“Israeli Apartheid Week’s growth over the years shows beyond doubt that the idea behind it was creative, timely, even revolutionary,” Barghouti said. “Israeli Apartheid Week has played a key role in raising awareness about the apartheid aspect of Israel’s multi-tiered system of colonial oppression against the Palestinian people and in empowering campus communities to contribute to Palestinian freedom.”
As a global mobilization, Israeli Apartheid Week builds connections between Gaza activists, isolated by Israel’s siege, and their counterparts elsewhere.
“Today Israeli Apartheid Week acts to connect the various Palestine solidarity organizations, especially student ones, in one united action that is internationally coordinated,” Ziadah said. “And it acts against the fragmentation of Palestinians by seeing the Palestinian people as one entity — of course living under different conditions — but a single people seeking liberation. The only part I didn’t like about my participation in Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week last year was that it had to be via Skype. It reminded me how Israeli apartheid separates us from each other. My hope is to one day make it there in person.”
Israeli Apartheid Week also bridges similar struggles for liberation, she added. “The week is not only about solidarity with Palestine, but also seeing Palestine as part of a broader struggle for global social and economic justice. It 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.”
Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week will begin with a Skype connection to Soweto, South Africa and the launch of “Palestinian: The New Black,” a collaborative music video by Palestinian and South African artists. “This is a very significant step forward in solidifying the growing idea we have been advocating, namely the apartheid nature of the state of Israel,” Haidar Eid said. “This is precisely the aim of IAW.”
“Israeli Apartheid Week is important, especially in Gaza, to spread awareness about the BDS campaign,” Eman Sourani said. “It’s already known worldwide. But it’s also a Palestinian movement, and a key way for Palestinians to participate in our own liberation.”
Rana B. Baker, 20, is a student of business sdministration in Gaza and a PSCABI member. Rana blogs on The Electronic Intifada and at Palestine: Memory Drafts and Future Alleyways and she can be followed on Twitter at @RanaGaza.
Joe Catron is a member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) and an international solidarity activist in Gaza. His blog is www.joecatron.wordpress.com and he can be followed on Twitter at @jncatron.
Both are members of Gaza’s Israeli Apartheid Week organizing committee.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the musician Tariq Shadid was based in the United Kingdom. He is based in the United Arab Emirates.