By Rana B. Baker and Joe Catron
After two successful Israeli Apartheid Weeks (IAWs) in 2010 and 2011, the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), together with the One Democratic State Group (ODSG) and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), are gearing up for Gaza’s third IAW.
PSCABI is a group of young Gaza students and recent graduates who are highly committed to the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. They founded the organization early in 2009, shortly after Operation Cast Lead, on their belief that Gaza should encourage and further inspire international solidarity groups around the world.
PSCABI has established links with numerous universities and student groups in many countries including the United States, Great Britain, and Italy, and will hold joint events with several over Skype during IAW, which begins Monday in Gaza. And members of the Gaza-based IAW organizing committee are working around the clock, both with each other, and with authors, poets, and activist groups worldwide, on a schedule that will reflect quickly-growing BDS successes and developments.
“Every year it gets better and bigger,” said Haidar Eid, an al-Aqsa University English literature professor and member of ODSG and PACBI. “This year we have a very exciting program. We have a list of great speakers and activists. Ahdaf Soueif, author of Map of Love and In the Eye of the Sun, among other works of fiction, will address the impact of the Egyptian revolution on Palestine, and vice versa. We will also host Susan Abulhawa, author of the brilliant Mornings in Jenin. She will talk about the meanings of exile in the Palestinian narrative. Lebanese BDS activist and intellectual Samah Idris will also be our guest; he will deal with importance of BDS in the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates-based musician Tariq Shadid (Doc Jazz) will discuss the growing cultural boycott of Israel. We are also planning to screen the documentaries Roadmap to Apartheid, Occupation 101, and Tears of Gaza.”
Gaza’s IAW joins an ambitious global lineup. Last year’s IAW included events in 97 cities on six continents. This year, the total is expected to grow, according to Palestinian spoken word artist and London-based activist Rafeef Ziadah, a member of the international IAW coordinating committee. In Great Britain, she says, groups at 15 campuses have planned events – up from two last year.
IAW began less auspiciously. “It was a humble effort by a group of students at the University of Toronto, with support from students at York University,” Ziadah, a speaker at the March 2005 event in Ontario, Canada, recalls. “It was of course attacked right from the start, with many lobbying efforts to get us to change the name to something ‘softer.’ But the group insisted that it was the time to start using the term apartheid both as a legal definition, and also as a way to make the connection with the South African anti-apartheid struggle and its boycott movement.”
That connection would prove essential to IAW’s identity as it evolved over the next seven years. Its start was followed, five months later, by the July launch of the BDS movement. The close timing “was coincidental,” says Omar Barghouti, a founder of the both the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the BDS movement. “However, IAW quickly became the global BDS movement’s foremost campus activity.” IAW 2012 reflects this focus on BDS, from a “stop shop” targeting merchants of Israeli products in Johannesburg, to forums on normalization and the academic boycott of Israel in Beirut, to a “Free Hummus, Free Palestine” cooking lesson on homemade, “anti-apartheid” hummus in New York.
“The goal of IAW, here and everywhere, is to educate people about Israel’s apartheid system and how to build BDS around the world,” says Eman Sourani, a 22-year-old PSCABI coordinating committee member. “For Palestinians, BDS is a duty: something we should know, and an action we should take.”
Building on Success
Last year’s Gaza events featured Palestinian intellectuals, historians, and South African anti-apartheid activists, including Barghouti, Ziadah, Na’eem Jeenah, and Ilan Pappe. The activities’ high turnout, as well as positive feedback from their speakers and participants, reflected their success. Lina al-Sharif, a Palestinian blogger who joined last year’s IAW and now lives in Qatar, answered the question of whether she would like to attend this year’s, “One big YES.”
“Many things have happened since last year’s IAW,” says Al-Aqsa University journalism student Nalan al-Sarraj, who plans to participate over the next week. “This year, the event will bring a lot to the table.”
Barghouti commended Gaza’s participation in the global event. “I was thrilled to participate in Gaza’s IAW last year,” he says. “Despite the siege and the inhumane conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation against our people in Gaza, activists there were able to put Gaza with pride on the IAW map! We all learn lessons in steadfastness and creative resistance to oppression from our people in Gaza. “Ziadah also enjoyed her appearance. “The students were all eager to learn about the successes of the BDS movement internationally and the lives of Palestinians, especially Palestinian activists, in exile,” she says.
A Global Movement
IAW’s rapid expansion, alongside that of the BDS movement, has arguably established the two as the most prominent global projects by pro-Palestine activists. “IAW’s growth over the years shows beyond doubt that the idea behind it was creative, timely, even revolutionary,” Barghouti says. “IAW has played a key role in raising awareness about the apartheid aspect of Israel’s multi-tiered system of colonial oppression against the Palestinian people and in empowering campus communities to contribute to Palestinian freedom.”
As a global mobilization, IAW builds connections between Gaza activists, isolated by Israel’s siege, and their counterparts elsewhere. “Today IAW acts to connect the various Palestine solidarity organizations, especially student ones, in one united action that is internationally coordinated,” Ziadah says. “And it acts against the fragmentation of Palestinians by seeing the Palestinian people as one entity – of course living under different conditions – but a single people seeking liberation. The only part I didn’t like about my participation in Gaza’s IAW last year was that it had to be via Skype. It reminded me how Israeli apartheid separates us from each other. My hope is to one day make it there in person.”
IAW also bridges similar struggles for liberation, she adds. “The week is not only about solidarity with Palestine, but also seeing Palestine as part of a broader struggle for global social and economic justice. It has played an important role in raising awareness and disseminating information about Zionism, the Palestinian liberation struggle and its similarities with the indigenous sovereignty struggle in North America and the South African anti-apartheid movement.” In Vancouver this year, speakers from the Blackfoot and Yellowknives Dene First Nations considered how the Canadian government’s history of ethnic cleansing and colonization shapes its support for Israel, while activists across South Africa have screened From Selma to Soweto, a documentary about the US campus-based BDS campaign that supported their own anti-apartheid movement. Gaza’s IAW will begin with a Skype connection to Soweto and the launch of “The New Black,” a collaborative music video by Palestinian and South African artists.
“This is a very significant step forward in solidifying the growing idea we have been advocating, namely the apartheid nature of the state of Israel,” Eid says. “This is precisely the aim of IAW.”
“IAW is important, especially in Gaza, to spread awareness about the BDS campaign,” Sourani says. “It’s already known worldwide. But it’s also a Palestinian movement, and a key way for Palestinians to participate in our own liberation.”
– Rana B. Baker, 20, is a student of Business Administration in Gaza and a PSCABI member. Rana’s blog is Palestine: Memory Drafts and Future Alleyways and she can be followed on twitter at: @RanaGaza.– Joe Catron is a US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) organizing collective member and an international solidarity activist in Gaza. He also blogs and tweets. Both are members of Gaza’s IAW organizing committee. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com. (A version of this article originally appeared on the Electronic Intifada.)