Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sheikh Jarrah evictions and court rulings reveal apartheid policies

Last week we reported on the eviction of 53 Palestinians, members of the Al-Ghawi and Hanoun families, who were evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Joseph Dana, an Israeli-American activist and independent journalist who works with the group Ta'ayush (Living Together), reports on a vigil organized in response to these evictions:
"Last night in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah there was a vigil, a memorial to the families’ homes from which they were evicted. First they were refugees and now they are homeless. After weeks of legal battles, sit-ins and press conferences, several hundreds gathered to acknowledge a critical defeat in the battle over the future of this land and the two peoples who want to live here in peace."
Take a look at Dana's video of the vigil below, and note in particular Rabbi Arik Ascherman discussing the "discriminatory behavior" that these evictions represent just before his arrest at the hands of Israeli military police: There is a specific term in international law for this type of discriminatory behavior when it comes from the official apparatus of the state. That word is apartheid--a fact not lost on Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who writes in Ha'aretz:
"We should perhaps thank the court for its scandalous ruling, which not only sparked a justifiable international wave of protest against Israel, but also revealed its true face. "There are judges in Jerusalem," as Menachem Begin said, and they have made it official: apartheid. Ownership rights are for Jews alone."
The 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines apartheid as a crime against humanity, not specific to South Africa, consisting of "inhuman acts" designed to impose racial segregation and discrimination on a targeted group. Specific acts falling under the crime of apartheid include denying basic human rights of freedom of movement and residence and the expropriation of landed property in order to create separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups. Of course, calling apartheid by its name doesn't earn one many friends, as evidenced by the current controversy surrounding the United Church of Canada's resolutions on Israel/Palestine. There are signs that the discourse is changing, however, not the least of which is the decision by President Obama to honor key critics of Israeli apartheid with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama is scheduled to present these awards today. A change in the discourse isn't enough, though. Policies have to change, and we're the ones who have to organize to change them. Just as the international community spoke out and took action to end apartheid in South Africa, activists, human rights advocates, and civil society groups must speak out and take action to end apartheid policies directed against Palestinians. And just as apartheid in South Africa was brought down thanks in large part to the international solidarity of groups advocating for boycott, divestment, and sanctions directed against the apartheid regime, today there is a growing global BDS movement targeting Israeli apartheid. Join the movement today!