Four and a half years ago I started my university career at the University of Winnipeg. Up until then, I had never heard the word Palestine.
I wouldn’t until the bombing of Gaza in 2008 and 2009 when TV screens showed images of Palestinians running from white phosphorous, and Israeli tanks roaming the streets of Gaza.
I was a student in the Human Rights and Global Studies program for close to four years and was never taught about international systems of colonialism, or what role Canada plays in perpetuating oppression at home and abroad.
Not once was the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories ever framed in the context of colonialism, never mind apartheid.
Israeli Apartheid Week will run for the seventh consecutive year this March, continuing with its aim of contributing to the international opposition to Israeli apartheid, and bolstering support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement - called for by Palestinian civil society in 2005.
The BDS movement has three demands that accompany their intended economic and cultural isolation of the state of Israel: full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, an end to the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the separation wall, and the protection of Palestinian refugees’ right of return as per UN resolution 194.
This year, IAW will take place in various countries across five continents, including events in both South Africa and Palestine.
The crime of apartheid as defined by the Rome Statute of 1989 “means inhumane acts of a character similar to (crimes against humanity) committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
As recently as December 2011, Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian rights, concurred with the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an independent people’s jury made up of prominent civil society actors that the state of Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid in relation to the Palestinian people.
This will be the second year that IAW runs at the U of W.
This will be the second year that the Winnipeg Jewish Review will laud the efforts of Lloyd Axworthy and the administration for countering (our supposed) “attempts to demonize Israel” with a schedule of events aimed at “respectful dialogue” between Muslims, Jews, and Christians over Middle Eastern topics, or, as they are advertised on campus, “Emerging Conversation among Abraham’s Children.”
Since its inception, the anti-Israeli apartheid movement has been branded as a forum for hate speech.
Denouncement of IAW came last year in the form of a resolution from the Manitoba Legislature, arguing that IAW is offensive to victims of apartheid in South Africa.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, denounced Israeli apartheid in 2002.
The legislature, along with Dr. Axworthy has advocated for a “respectful dialogue” between the two groups, rather than what is considered an ontologically biased presentation of the conflict.
What is absent in their desire for balanced dialogue between the two groups, or their supporters, is the recognition that the Israelis and Palestinians do not come to the table with equal capacity.
Their proposal for, and Axworthy’s project of “respectful dialogue” happens in a power vacuum, where the military, economic and diplomatic advantage on the side of Israel and lacking with respect to Palestine are purposefully excluded from conversations regarding peaceful settlement of the dispute.
A secondary goal of IAW is to bring to light the international structural power imbalances that are at the core of systems of oppression and apartheid.
In the Americas and Oceania, indigenous people have had land taken from them by self-legitimizing colonizers, who have built civilizations on top of the ruins and bones of peoples they keep apart from their societies.
Palestinian territory has been similarly annexed and occupied by the Israeli state.
These events are not possible without international support that lends these actions legitimacy.
An example is Canada’s voting record with respect to Palestinian-Israeli affairs.
Since 2007, Canada has voted 15 times both for and against resolutions condemning Israel at the UN General Assembly, with 11 abstentions, including votes against Palestinian self-determination and Israeli infringement on the human rights of Palestinians.
Of importance is that every time Canada votes “no,” it is one of less than 10 countries that does so.
When Canada votes against the rights of Palestinians, all of Canadian society legitimizes Israel’s gross mistreatment of an “other” within a colonial society.
When Lloyd Axworthy organizes a week of events that seek to present watered-down arguments for peace, he is legitimizing Israel’s claims of suffrage, and requirement of robust self-defence capabilities - marginalizing Palestine’s structural disadvantage and refusing to acknowledge the effect this has on the nature of violence in the conflict.
Israeli Apartheid happens because the world allows it; IAW seeks to challenge that.
Alex Garcia is a fifth-year honours politics student and member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid at the University of Winnipeg. Israeli Apartheid Week runs March 5 to March 9. For more information, visit www.apartheidweek.org.
Published in Volume 66, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 7, 2012)