IAW Leaves A Campus Divided
Tuesday, March 16, 20100 Comments
March 1-7th marked the 6th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) at the University of Guelph capus. Sponsored by the CSA Human Rights Office and campus groups such as the Ontario Public Interest Research Interest Group and the Peak, the week’s events mirrored those of other campuses and communities around the world, where people are concerned about the ongoing conflict that has been present in the Middle East for decades.
In an effort to raise awareness about the struggles faced by Palestinians, IAW Guelph included film screenings, speakers, and an art showing. It opened with a reading of personal testimonies from people affected by the conflict, accompanied by an information booth in front of the cannon. Passersby looked on curiously as participants read testimonials, and many students stopped to engage in discussions with the organizers about the issues at hand.
A common theme during the event was controversy over the use of the word “apartheid,” which some thought too harsh and not representative of the current relationship between Israel and Palestine. Although many prominent figures, including Nelson Mandela, have compared situation in the Middle East with that of South African apartheid, not everyone agreed that the shoe fit.
“[The word] really promotes an atmosphere that’s inflammatory and hate-filled,” commented student Haley Gotfrid. “That type of language excludes cooperation.”
Gotfrid is a member of the Israel Action Committee, a campus group whose recent focus has been to provide education to Guelph students about the situation in the Middle East in a different light.
“[We’re] trying to promote Israel in a way that’s not conflict-driven,” she said of the group, whose counter-events included a talk on how peace can be achieved, as well as a presentation by a Palestinian journalist.
“It’s not meant to mitigate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” she added. “Rather than singling out one side…it’s really supposed to be a conflict-neutral way of [facilitating] a dialogue.”
Gotfrid also expressed concern over the fact that the Human Rights Office was involved in IsraeliApartheid Week, and whether it would remain a safe place for students to go if they held differing perspectives than those presented at its events.
Israeli Apartheid Week events were hosted globally in over 40 cities this year, and focused on the challenges faced by Palestinians due to the occupation of their land by the Israeli government. Both Gaza and the West Bank are currently divided into fragments by wall and fence to mark the borders of the land occupied by Israel and the remaining Palestinian territories.
“The Israeli state continues to impose an illegal occupation and state of apartheid over the stateless Palestinian people, while denying a growing refugee population the basic right to return to their homes and land,” IAW organizers said in one press release. “The conflict is one between colonizers and colonized, with the Israeli state in violation of numerous international laws.”
In similar fashion to what took place during the South African apartheid era, emphasis was placed on the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The Global BDS Movement encourages those in opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestine to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel…until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law,” according to the Global BDS Movement website.
“Through the BDS campaign and Israeli Apartheid Week we hope to build a movement that demands an end to the occupation of Palestine, the right of return for refugees and an end to the illegal settlements on Palestinian land,” stated IAW organizers.
Despite objections to the use of the word “apartheid,” IAW event organizers stood by the title. “It's hard to argue that military occupation, restrictions on land ownership and the use of roads and natural resources, house demolitions, checkpoints, and a massive wall that cuts people off from family and friends, as well as discriminatory laws and policies within Israel and the refusal of the Palestinian right of return, could be viewed as anything but systematic oppression of one racial group over another,” organizers stated in defense of the choice of words.
“We are willing to work with anyone that has a just peace as their end goal,” IAW organizers said, “however, limiting debate by removing the term "apartheid" or failing to acknowledge the power disparity between an oppressing nation (Israel) and a colonised people (Palestine) cannot result in a lasting peace.”