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Israeli Apartheid Week has been taking place over the last month at different locations across the world. Over 154 events have taken place in this period from Montreal to Auckland to Oxford University to Jordan and Palestine itself. Here follows an interview with a Palestinian Law student, Juman A., who is studying at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. The following interview is based on Jumans involvement in founding Students for Palestine (Southampton) and being part of the organising group of IAW in the UK.
We have recently seen Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) taking place throughout the world for the 10th consecutive year, could you explain to our readers what this event was trying to achieve?
Juman: IAW is a series of events staged to highlight Israel’s apartheid policies that systematically discriminate against Palestinians. In addition to raising awareness about Israeli Apartheid, the initiative aims to strengthen and engage students and activists in the Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) . IAW and BDS are grassroots civil society movements stemming from the heart of the Palestinian struggle. Both had been initiated and are organised independently and hence receive no support or funding from any government. Even though the BDS campaign is a means of nonviolent resistance against Zionist colonisation and Israeli Apartheid, BDS has not been supported by the Palestinian Authority.
What reaction did you receive from the university and those who attended your events?
Juman: The University of Southampton was non-partisan to the event and do not get involved other than giving us permission, as a society affiliated to the Students’ Union, to hold the events. In regards to the reaction of people who engaged with us we found an overwhelmingly positive reaction from university students and staff, including academics who were fully recognised that Israeli policies towards Palestinians has created a de facto apartheid. We had a handful of students who either refused to acknowledge the Palestinians rights to struggle against Israel and/or did not agree that Israel’s discriminatory policies amounted to apartheid. They were invited to attend the events we have organised during the week and indeed very few turned up to some of our lectures, such as the talk titled Overcoming Apartheid by Salim Vally, a veteran anti-apartheid activist and South African academic, and Ben White, who is a freelance journalist, author and activist specialising in Palestine and Israeli Apartheid. We are an open society, we welcome people from all walks of life and try to reach out to everyone.
Were you surprised by this negative reaction?
Juman: No. Some people are brought up to believe that certain things are not true or that certain truths are myths. It is a form of political brain-washing. There are people who grew up all their lives believing to be true what they have been taught until they were presented with the facts about the historic colonisation of Palestine and the ongoing apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing. In fact, they even, some with whom I have personally met, underwent a total transformation from being defenders and adherents of Israel by virtue of the process of political brain-washing to becoming activists seeking justice for Palestinians and supporting Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli colonisation.
What are your organisations plans for future events in regards to raising awareness of the occupation?
Juman: We will look to continue to engage with as many people as possible. We do not pretend to offer solutions, but we do two main things. Firstly, we aim to inform those who are unaware of the conflict or who do not understand its true nature, of the facts that exist on the ground in Palestine. Secondly, we aim to get as many people of different levels of activism and awareness involved in the international movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We will continue reach out to different societies across the University of Southampton and locally; make ourselves visible on campus through leafleting, stalls and future events as well as through BDS campaigns and petitions. One of the events we held during IAW was a day on Celebrating Palestinian Folklore. Through this event we hoped to highlight the rich history that Palestinians have, a history that has been lived in on the lands of Palestine. The denial of this history is one of the crucial aspects of the apartheid and colonisation. Israel attempts to eradicate, distort and take for their own the history of Palestine and the Palestinians. They claim to have invented Hummus, the ruins of Palestinian villages destroyed by Zionist and terrorist groups especially between 1946 and 1948 are covered over by forests planted by what is now the Israeli government, football games played in Palestine pre-1948, before Israel even existed ,are now claimed by Israel. This is just a small part of a long list of this coordinated strategy to distort our culture, and destroy our history and connection to the land of Palestine.
What is your personal connection with Palestine?
Juman: Palestine is my homeland, I have been living in exile for 21 years, all of my life. My family still hold the keys and deeds to our family home in Jaffa and will continue to do so until we return to our homeland.
In broader terms how do you/your organisation view the current “peace process” taking place between some of the political leaders in Palestine, Israel and the US?
Juman: It is an illusion to talk about a peace process whilst settlements are constructed everyday on Palestinian land, with Palestinians being subjected to violence every day, I ask you what peace process? Many Palestinians reject the representation of the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. It is not a democratic government, due to its refusal to hold new elections even though its mandate to govern expired in 2010. Even before that, it continually excluded opposition and did not represent the true demands of the people. Despite this lack of legitimacy it bargains with Palestinian rights in its negotiations with the Israeli Occupation. They bargain with our right of return, this is an indispensable right held by the millions of Palestinians living in exile across the world and internally displaced within Palestine. Neither the PA, or anyone else for that matter, has the authority to negate the right of any single Palestinian to return to their homeland let alone six million Palestinian refugees. We will never accept this bargaining to be done in our name and any such bargaining is simply Illegitimate.
Do you see the possibility of a “just peace” between Israel and Palestine? What does this peace look like to you?
Juman: The media and the international chorus tend to address the Palestinian struggle within the confines of what is now labelled as Gaza Strip, West Bank and sometimes East Jerusalem. This fails to recognize that Palestine has been torn apart into fragments of land and since the “control” of these fragments is being attributed to the Palestinian Authority the Palestinian struggle is being generally confined to these labels with occasional reference to refugees and even less occasionally to what is labelled as 1948. However, the essence of the struggle is historic Palestine – the Palestine from which we have been brutally expelled and ethnically cleansed, a single un-fragmented Palestine.
Therefore, a just peace is a peace founded on the principles and pillars of justice and universal human rights. Justice is a prerequisite to peace. The colonisation of Palestinian land is often referred to as a conflict but how can this be so? The term conflict implies two equally matched forces, but this is colonisation not a conflict. It is the story of a coloniser and a colonised. As Nelson Mandela said “Only free men can negotiate”. Nothing about a Palestinians everyday life can be described as free. Checkpoints prevent the freedom of movement in the West Bank, the Palestinians in Gaza are living in this “open prison” by the overwhelming might of the Israeli occupation military, refugees do not have the freedom to enter Palestine and the Palestinians living under the Israeli colonisation of 1948 face systemic discrimination. Yet, this does not even capture the whole picture. How can a just peace be reached under such cruelty and inhumanity? The original Catastrophe, Al-Nakba, which we experienced in 1948 has become institutionalised, look at what is happening to the Palestinian Bedouin in Naqab (Nagev) and again this is only a mere example. I can only say what I have already said: justice is the prerequisite to peace.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of the Palestinian state and its people?
Juman: I hope to see a growing unity between the Palestinians. I want to see an end to institutional corruption and the party politics that pretends to represent Palestinians and pretends to represent their struggle. I fear a continued lack of awareness and education of people involved in the struggle.
I have read and written about the unequal struggle between Zionist Israel and the Palestinians for some time. To sit in front of a Palestinian woman and experience the emotion that she feels in not being able to return to her homeland is a unique moment. The human rights catastrophe that is the occupation and apartheid of the Palestinians is corrosive and despite the denials by many Israeli-policy apologists, is at the heart of issues in the Middle East, in particular basic human rights such as freedom and democracy. Solve this issue with the just peace that Juman and the Palestinian people demand and many other issues between the states of the Middle East could be solved. Israel’s position would become normalised. Trade, tourism, diplomacy could flourish and the benefits would be felt in Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and perhaps co-operation could break-out over the divisive conflict in Syria and relations with Iran. Will the statesmen of the world find a way for Palestine to exist or will it be down to civil rights groups such as IAW and BDS to force Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians? The words of Salim Vally, the South African anti-apartheid veteran, may have the answer for us all.
There are moments in modern history when particular struggles galvanise millions around the world to act in solidarity. This occurred during the Spanish Civil War, the struggle of the Vietnamese people against US imperialism and the liberation struggles of Southern Africa. The time has now come for progressive humanity to cut through the obfuscations, canards and calumnies and meaningfully support the resistance of the Palestinian people.
Interview conducted by Jonathan Woodrow Martin on 26th March 2014.
Jonathan Woodrow Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org