On October 13, anti-apartheid activist Na’eem Jeenah presented a lecture at McGill University in Montreal entitled “The African Apartheid and the Palestinian Plight.”
During his lecture Jeenah made mention of various practices of the South African government during apartheid and showed how these practices share commonalities with the current Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
Jeenah, a South African Muslim, is also an author, journalist, community leader, and post-graduate student, and is currently on a North American speaking tour as thespokesperson for the South African based Palestine Solidarity Committee, and the recently formed International Anti-Apartheid Movement Against Israel.
According to a communiqué from the organizers, the purpose of the tour is “to draw a clear understanding of the reality of occupation and exploitation currently being inflicted upon the Palestinian people by the Israelis.”
Jeenah mentioned that on the Israeli birth certificates religion, nationality, and citizenship are listed. But for non-Jews, in this case Palestinians who were born within 1948 Palestine and what is now referred to as Israel, the citizenship section is left blank and thus undefined.
“Even though they have lived on this land for generations, they in essence have no clearly defined citizenship,” stated Jeenah.
“The ‘Law of Return’ is one of the pillars of the apartheid system,” stated Jeenah. Under this law, Jews can come from all over the world to live on stolen Palestinian land- even if they have no connection to this land through lineage - and they are granted entitlement rights to this land in addition to many benefits. Palestinians, on the other hand, do not have this right, and are systematically kept away from their ancestral homeland.
Land dispossession in the South African situation began in 1652, stated Jeenah, with the advent of colonization. Jeenah also made mention of the South African 1948 “Group Areas Act” - where land was designated exclusively for certain racial groups. Many homes were destroyed and people were removed from their land to accommodate this new rule and were forcibly dumped elsewhere.
Likewise, Jeenah reminded his audience, 92.6% of land in Israel - most of which was previously owned by Palestinians who were forcibly removed from this land by either force or sets of laws- is designated for exclusive Jewish use, even though 20% of the Israeli population are in fact Palestinian. The Palestinian people have no right to this land even though they have lived on it for generations.
“Israeli Settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, established on stolen Palestinian land, are illegal under international law,” stated Jeenah, “and I refuse to recognize them at all.”
These settlements, which are in fact colonies, are connected by a series of eight lane highways with a hundred meters cleared on either side, and are for exclusive Jewish use only. This is all done on stolen Palestinian land.
“Even in apartheid South Africa we did not have road for exclusive use for whites only,” stated Jeenah.
Jeehan also reminded his audience that collective punishment - whereby families would be targeted and punished for the activism of a another family member - did not exist in apartheid South Africa.
“But this is the daily diet if the Palestinian people,” stated Jeenah.
In contrast, members of Palestinian families are targeted by the Israelis on a routine basis, are assassinated, their homes are destroyed, they are imprisoned and tortured, all due to the activism of a family member who the Israelis want to punish.
“Collective Punishment is illegal under International Law,” stated Jeenah.
Jeenah also discussed some of the lessons from the South African anti movement. He mentioned four pillars of the anti Apartheid movement including: international solidarity and isolation, internal resistance, underground struggle, and armed struggle.
“The first two are the most important,” said Jeenah.
“We as international solidarity activists,” stated Jeenah, “believe that in the Palestinian context, we need to recognize and acknowledge both of these. As much as we might develop and strengthen the campaign to isolate the apartheid state of Israel, at the same time we also have the responsibility to support and strengthen the resistance amoungst Palestinians.”
Jeenah stated that activists must support boycotts, divestment campaigns, sanctions etc, in order to place pressure on the Israeli state to end its practices against the Palestinian people.
“We cannot give up just because it is too difficult a task,” said Jeenah.
Jeenah closed his speech by stating that today anti-apartheid activists around the world are all saying the same thing, namely that: “South Africa and South Africans will never be free as long as Palestinians are not liberated.”
Sunday’s lecture was sponsored by the McGill University chapter of the Solidarity For Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). The SPHR is a non-profit, student association based in Montréal, also with branches in Ottawa and Toronto, which was established with the aim of educating the public about the human rights status of the Palestinian people.
Background on the “International Anti-Apartheid Movement Against Israel”
On August 31, 2001, in Durban, South Africa, in the midst of the World Conference against Racism held in that city, the “International Anti-Apartheid Movement Against Israel” was officially launched. The group was initiated and proclaimed by South African activists, many of them already involved in the Palestinian Solidarity Committee of South Africa, which was formed in 1998, whose own victorious struggle against apartheid provided them, they say, with “a unique solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Jeenah was appointed the spokesperson and his group hopes to accelerate the end of “Israeli apartheid” through activism and education, and to create a global solidarity movement “to bring to the world a clear understanding of the reality of occupation and the systemic exploitation currently being inflicted upon the Palestinian people.”
In fact, in their original declaration when the group was newly formed they stated, “We, South Africans who have lived through apartheid, cannot be silent as another entire people are treated as non-human beings; people without rights or human dignity and facing daily humiliation. We cannot permit a ruthless state to use military jets, helicopter gun-ships and tanks on civilians. We cannot accept state assassinations of activists, the torture of political prisoners, the murder of children and collective punishment.”
The declaration further referred to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as “a strange survival of colonialism in the 21st century.”
Furthermore, the declaration stated “Only in Israel do we hear of ‘settlements’ and ‘settlers’. Only in Israel do soldiers and armed civilian groups take over hilltops, demolish homes, uproot trees and destroy crops, shell schools, churches and mosques, plunder water reserves, and block access to an indigenous population’s freedom of movement and right to earn a living.”
“These human rights violations were unacceptable in apartheid South Africa and are an affront to us in apartheid Israel,” the declaration read.
The declaration ended with a set of six demands, including the immediate and urgent international protection for the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, dismantling of all Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, and the right of return and reparations for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees.