Protestors speak out against aggression
Last year, more than 40 cities participated in Israeli Apartheid Week, and this week, Students for a Democratic Society of UH are observing it in Houston.
Israel was established as a sovereign state in 1948, after the holocaust and World War II. As a result, Palestinians were forced to move out of their homes and into the West Bank and Gaza regions. This attracted much international attention, and the conflict is still going on today.
The week-long SDS events have included lectures, demonstrations and film screenings aimed at raising awareness about Israel’s controversial policies toward Palestinians and to gather support for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Lecture attendees said the testimonies of people who have been to the region supplied a lot of insight. This includes stories from Houstonian Sally Tawfik, who shared her experience of traveling to Israel and the Palestinian regions.
“It went pretty well,” political science sophomore Dana El Kurd said. “There was an American perspective because a year ago Sally Tawfik didn’t know anything about Gaza. She didn’t even know where it was, and she went this summer with Palestine Summer Encounter, which is a program with the Middle East fellowship.”
El Kurd said Tawfkin’s offered unique insight, as she is someone who recently witnessed the controversy in Gaza.
“We had both support and obviously opposes there, but I think we had an OK discussion of it,” El Kurd said.
SDS also put together a demonstration in the Butler Plaza in front of the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library on Tuesday. Members set up a mock barrier wall, replicating the Israeli government-approved 400-mile wall in Israel that limits Palestinian movements.
The U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s construction of the massive wall through the West Bank.
According to the Democracy Now Web site, before the wall was built, the Israel government argued that the wall is needed for security reasons but Palestinians view it as an apartheid wall.
During the UN reporting period — September 2008 through March 2009 — the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 634 physical obstacles in Israel. Physical obstacles include checkpoints, roadblocks and the wall barrier.
“Israelis have a couple different kind of checkpoints. They set them up in towns and roads, some are called flying checkpoints,” El Kurd said. “An Israeli Jeep can just drive by and set up a checkpoint wherever.”
History senior Robinson Block said that although people tend to have the perception that the West Bank is run by Palestine, there are military checkpoints run by the Israeli army spread throughout the region.
“It’s just a bad situation. You have folks trying to get places, and it’s basically up to the discretion of the soldiers of what they want to do,” Block said.
He said that at a checkpoint, people must wait in a line and present proper identification. But Israeli soldiers decide who is searched.
“We feel like this is on racial terms and a racial segregation because Palestinians aren’t allowed through, but Internationals and Israelis are…it separates (Palestinians) from their families, from their lands, from their homes and from jobs,” El Kurd said. “It’s a pretty tragic situation. There’s a lot of disrespect that happens at these checkpoints.”
Another complex issue involved in this region is settlements. Many UN resolutions and policies have attempted to resolve this issue, but it still remains a problem.
“The far right in Israel basically thinks that all of Palestine, and even other Arab countries, (are) land that should belong to the Jewish people for religious reasons,” Block said. “That’s extremely controversial, even in Israel. A lot of people in Israel oppose this, but they basically are trying to buy land in the occupied territories and build settlements. And the parties in power have alliances with them and help them fund (the purchase) of land from Arabs.
“They’re basically trying to ethnically cleanse the West Bank — to put enough settlements in there that try to force the Palestinians who live there out.”
Block said that roadblocks and checkpoints are to defend the settlements and there are a lot of Jewish-only roads.
El Kurd said she sees a lot of similarities between Palestine and South Africa. She said both have been involved in racial segregation, and both have had Boycott Divestment and Sanction movements.
“That’s what got rid of Apartheid in South Africa, and that’s what’s going to be a part of the solution in Palestine,” El Kurd said. “Being in the 21st century, we’ve learned from Ireland and we’ve learned from South Africa, and we’re still doing it.”
El Kurd said she hopes Palestine will receive the same benefits as South Africa did from BDS. She also said the media is to blame because they haven’t properly educated people about this situation.
“A majority (of people) don’t know about the realities of the occupation. They have a lot of misconceptions which the media has perpetrated,” El Kurd said. “People don’t understand exactly what’s happening in Palestine and Israel, so that’s why (SDS) is here trying to get the word out. That’s the point of IAW, is to bring attention to Israeli policies of racial segregation,” El Kurd said.
The BDS National Committee has reserved March 30 for a global day of action in solidarity with the Palestinians against Israel.
“The local events help to sort of raise this issue at UH, but are also a part of global week of action,” Block said. “Our voice here is important. But it’s even more important because we’re part of a global movement that’s pushing for justice for the Palestinians.”
The group is hosting a screening of the film To Shoot an Elephant, which is about Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008, with a discussion led by activist Greta Berlin at 7 p.m. today in the Baltic Room of the University Center.
Members of SDS such as El Kurd said they always encourage alternative perspectives.
“Research more, learn more (and) don’t take our word for it,” El Kurd said. “That’s the first way to know what the truth is, to research by yourself. We’ve given you sources, but you can use any sources — both pro and con — and come to your own conclusion.”