Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Move beyond conferences and fine words": Bill Fletcher, Jr. addresses UN on Israeli apartheid, civil society action

On November 30, 2009, in commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People addressed the UN General Assembly. Among the speakers who were invited to present was US Campaign Steering Committee member, trade union activist and anti-apartheid activist, and senior editor of Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Fletcher's speech to the General Assembly, which represented the voice of civil society in working for a just peace in Israel/Palestine, addressed the connections between racism and apartheid in the United States, South Africa, and Israel/Palestine, noting that the UN has been slow to oppose apartheid in the past:
"As an African American in and from the United States, I am keenly aware of the similarities between the systems of Israeli apartheid, South African apartheid, and the home-grown apartheid in the United States of America once known as “Jim Crow segregation.”.... Notwithstanding the efforts of heroic individuals such as William Patterson, Paul Robeson and Malcolm X to bring the case of African Americans before the United Nations, the international ramifications of the oppression suffered here were often and conveniently ignored by the great powers of the global North. The South African apartheid system was, to a great extent, modeled on the Jim Crow system in the United States, a fact noted by many people in South Africa and in the global South. The United Nations failed to take up the challenge to racism in my own country a generation ago; it must not fail to take up the struggle against Israeli apartheid today."
Fletcher noted the importance of the Goldstone Report and highlighted the role that international civil society must play in holding Israel accountable for violations of international law. After analyzing some of the conditions and characteristics of Israeli apartheid, he ended with the following challenge for all of us:
"Common sense says that oppression, discrimination and, indeed, genocide, committed against one group never explains away or justifies crimes committed by that same group against another people. The flaunting of international law through an occupation lasting more than 40 years accompanied by clearly illegal colonial settlements, along with the institutionalization of a system of racial/national-ethnic apartheid in order to guarantee that the subordinate group never exercises their human rights and instead disintegrates as a people into the dust of the Middle East, simply cannot be tolerated. Not only are the governments represented in these halls called upon to take action against such criminality, but people of conscience around the world, including WITHIN Israel, must and are taking a stand. Whether through public statements in the mainstream media; petitions; resolutions; or through the boycotts, divestments and sanctions to bring non-violent pressure on the Occupying Power, the international desire for peace, equality and justice for the Jewish Israelis and for the Palestinians—including, Israeli citizens, the refugees and those under Occupation—must move beyond conferences and fine words and materialize ultimately as actions that those who have perpetrated this oppression and who profit from the suppression of the Palestinian people will not only hear, but will clearly understand."
You can watch the entire speech below, and read the full speech here. Fletcher is introduced by Ambassador Paul Badji of Senegal, Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee. Notice that he thanks all civil society actors working for justice for Palestinians. That means us, and it is both a thank you and a challenge:
video You can read more about the United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People by clicking here. Fletcher challenged the UN to move beyond words to actions. As members of civil society, we need to do the same. To learn more about Israeli apartheid, click here. To find out how you can get involved for the movement to end apartheid and occupation through boycott, divestment, and sanctions, click here. Sign up to be a local organizer for our Motorola, Caterpillar, or End U.S. Military Aid campaigns by clicking here. And learn how you can sustain the important work of the largest national coalition working to end U.S. complicity in Israeli apartheid by clicking here.