Justice, not hate
Israeli Apartheid Week comes to a close in Regina
“I don’t want to coexist! I want to exist as a human being! And justice will take care of the rest!”
These were the words of poet Remi Kanazi on Mar. 16, as he addressed his Regina audience. Kanazi was one of three Palestinian guest speakers this month for Regina’s first Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).
IAW was established in Toronto seven years ago, and has now become an annual international event that takes places in more than 40 cities across the world. Over the course of two and a half weeks, students at the University of Regina and the Regina community at large were invited to attend film screenings and guest lectures raising awareness about the conflict occurring in the Israeli-Palestinian, which organizers say involves continuous injustice and human rights violations against the Palestinian people.
“The whole purpose and meaning behind Israeli Apartheid Week is not to talk about going against the [Jewish people] or the faith. It has everything to do with Israeli apartheid and their apartheid policies, meaning the wall they’re building, the separation, and the [displaced] refugees,” explained Palestinian student Jameel Rashid.
IAW organizers Brian Gordon, John Mailhot, and Carmen Rollins agree.
“It’s important to remember that ‘apartheid’ is a legal definition, it’s not a subjective [one],” said Mailhot. “It’s when one group of people physically or otherwise dominates [and segregates] another group of people within the geographic area.” By legal terms, this defines the struggle in Palestine.
To put it into perspective, Rashid explained, the occupation and colonization of Palestine can be compared to the Canadian government’s ill treatment of the Aboriginal people. Much like the Aboriginal people, Palestinians have been displaced from their own land. With their homes demolished, and their rights taken, many Palestinians end up living in segregated villages or refugee camps. The struggle is a daily battle of survival for the Palestinians.
IAW paves a way for the facts to be told as they are, without making excuses for the injustices. It is a direct force going against the occupation and oppressive nature of the Israeli government, and its policies towards the Palestinian people. And the movement is not solely Palestinian.
“It’s not just the Palestinians who are raising the awareness, but there are other people who are supporting them” IAW organizer Rollins said.
Gordon agrees, recalling that many people had come up to him asking if he was Palestinian, and why he was supporting this cause.
“What was important for us is the idea of global solidarity,” he says. “Just because we had not had those exact same experiences, does not mean we can’t work and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Mailhot, Rollins, and Rashid could not agree more. However, others have criticized IAW, seeing it less as a declaration of global solidarity and more as an inflammatory gesture.
In Canada, for instance, IAW has received much criticism. University administrations and the government have denounced IAW labeling it as offensive, unfair, and disrespectful to Canadian society. Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has even gone so far as to call the week a “dangerous cocktail of ignorance and intolerance”.
In response to the criticisms and allegations, Gordon emphasizes that IAW does not advocate for either hatred or violence.
“[It’s about] educating people in Canada to what is actually going on, because they don’t think of it like that. The picture we are painted in the mainstream media is that this is a war. And it’s just not. We have to make the point that apartheid is apartheid, wherever it occurs…we want to make people aware that this is … segregation.”
Rashid and Gordon both stress this fundamental aspect of IAW – to critically look at the oppressive Israeli policies against the Palestinians, and put a stop to discrimination.
“In the end we aren’t attacking individual people, [but] it’s the government. Israeli Apartheid Week is all about the government policy, it’s not about [an Israeli individual] but about what your government represents, in your name,” Rashid points out.
Overall this is the message that IAW’s organizers echo. The movement claims members from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. And many who’ve protested the conditions in Palestine and been killed for their efforts – from the men and women who were attacked and killed on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, to Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, Tristan Anderson, and other human rights activists, to the many ordinary Palestinians who’ve been the victims of violence – have come from diverse backgrounds.