BEIRUT: When it comes to expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, some Arab states go no further than financial support. In the 62 years since Israel drove thousands of Palestinians from their homes and into exile, there have been sparingly few efforts by nearby countries to institutionalize boycott schemes.
This week, Lebanon, a wary neighbor to Israel and home to some 400,000 Palestinian refugees, is taking up the call long demanded by anti-Zionist activists. The American University of Beirut (AUB) is hosting the first Israeli Apartheid Week ever held in the Arab world outside of Palestine. Between March 1 and March 6, AUB will host debates, film screenings, art workshops and visits to refugee camps in the hopes of mobilizing “the next generation of students in the spirit of resistance to apartheid and injustice,” according to the Israeli Apartheid Week website.
Israeli Apartheid Week was initiated five years ago this week by a handful of activists from the Arab Student Collective at the University of Toronto, Canada. Their goal was to draw attention to the everyday suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and garner support for the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. It also hoped to lay bare Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians, such as the illegal construction of the separation barrier, house demolitions, land appropriation, segregated roads and settler extremism.
Today, Israeli Apartheid Weeks take place in over 40 cities across the world, from Caracas, Venezuela to Melbourne, Australia. The week forms the symbolic backbone of the BDS movement, with South African anti-apartheid activists also playing a role. Last year, Former African National Congress member Ronnie Kasrils inaugurated events in New York, London, and Toronto.
“The importance of coordinated Israeli Apartheid Weeks around the globe is that it shows international solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation and in exile,” said Matthew Cassel, who is moderating a talk about Israeli apartheid policies later this week. “As the so-called ‘international community’ remains silent to Israel’s numerous violations of international law, it’s important that those of us who care about peace and justice continue to make our voices heard.”
Cassel said that use of the word “apartheid” was especially important. “It relates what’s happening in Palestine to the decades of struggle in South Africa, and shows how the same tactics – namely the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – that helped bring down an oppressive and racist system in South Africa are now being deployed to bring down a similar system in Palestine.”
Key demands of the BDS campaign include ending Israel’s occupation, recognizing the rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to equality, boycotting institutions and corporations with links to Israel, and upholding the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
“It is of extreme importance that we, around the world, as people of conscience, show our solidarity with Palestinians’ daily struggle for dignity, respect, and freedom,” said 28-year-old Shireen Tawil, who will be participating in the week’s activities. “I think that using the word ‘apartheid’ … forces people to rethink the daily reality for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” she added. “I think it gives a necessary jolt of urgency and moral outrage to the segregation Palestinians bear daily. If people are uncomfortable with the use of ‘apartheid,’ it’s a good thing. Nobody should be comfortable with apartheid.”
Israeli Apartheid Week was inaugurated at AUB on Monday with a poetry reading by Palestinian writer and poet Mourid Barghouthi. It will end at Midday Saturday at Hamra’s Ta Marbouta café with a presentation by Stop the Wall Campaign on the Egyptian border wall.