Israeli Apartheid Week: futures of freedom from Massachusetts to Palestine

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From March 30 until April 8, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held its eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week. Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is a globally recognized series of events, featuring movie screenings, lectures, discussions, performances, and direct actions, to educate community members on Israel’s apartheid regime and occupation of Palestine, the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and Palestinian struggle and resistance. Currently, IAW takes place in 200 cities and college campuses throughout the world. Since 2012, Tufts SJP has annually organized an Israeli Apartheid Week, providing educational opportunities for the Tufts community to learn more about the apartheid policies and practices of Israel’s settler colonial state.

This year, Tufts’ IAW began with a vigil honoring the one-year anniversary of the Great Return March in Gaza and the martyrs who have been killed. Beginning on March 30, 2018,  Palestinian Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza strip organized protest marches to the Gaza border, demanding a return to the homes they were forcibly removed from 70 years ago, and an end to the Israeli blockade and siege on Gaza which restricts access to food, water and medicine. These demonstrations, which have occurred every Friday since Land Day, have been met with brutal force from the Israeli occupation forces. According to Al Jazeera, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed and 18,000 more injured, most of them civilians including medics and children. Lex, a student organizer and a member of SJP, described the vigil as, “a space for us to honor the many who’ve lost their lives in the past year, demonstrating for the right of return and to center ourselves in the voices of Palestinians struggling daily against occupation and oppression.”

The second event of IAW was the keynote address by Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, founder and director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. Abdulhadi’s lecture on Palestinian Feminisms and Transnational Solidarity, engaged over 50 Tufts faculty, students, and community members in a discussion on the history of Palestinian women’s roles in the anti-colonial liberation movement, and the lessons such participation can teach us about transnational solidarity. Abdulhadi drew on her own oral history in 1980s where she co-organized and co-founded the Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations in North America (UPWA) and the Palestine Solidarity Committee. She shared memories of collaborative work with the Boston Palestinian Women’s Association that collaborated with Women for Women in Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent Sabra and Shatila Massacre.

Abdulhadi explained the principle as well as the necessity  for solidarity, saying, “How can you advocate for one type of justice without advocating for others? You can’t advocate for Palestine and ignore gender and sexual justice and you can’t struggle for gender and sexual liberation while refusing to advocate for justice in/for Palestine?”

Stressing the centrality of the indivisibility of justice, she argued that “even from purely pragmatic terms, it does not make sense to just organize around one issue. You need a critical mass and a collective approach to to win.”  

Abdulhadi also shared her experience as a public intellectual who has been subjected to a McCarthyist style campaign to smear, intimidate, and threaten Palestine campus advocates. She attributed this Zionist campaign to their failure to cover up and justify Israel’s colonialism, racism and apartheid that has escalated in all sorts of bullying tactics. Stressing the need to have each other’s back, she described how she, her pro bono legal team and a broad based “community of justice” came together and succeeded in defeating an 18-month litigation in federal court that was filed by the Lawfare Project  and an international mega firm of over 900 lawyers. Discussions of safety and collective liberation for all through solidarity would be a recurring theme in the rest of the IAW events.

The first week of IAW came to a close with two events focused on the military and police exchange between the United States and Israel, that has come to be known as the Deadly Exchange, first coined by Jewish Voice for Peace. In January of 2019, Tufts SJP became the first college campus to launch a campaign to End the Deadly Exchange, as a response to the Tufts’ chief of police, Kevin McGuire, attending a military training trip in Israel in December of 2017.  SJP’s campaign calls for the end of Tufts police militarization and an increase in transparency, along with Tufts’ public promise to never go on a military training trip again. These two IAW events were another opportunity to reinforce the implications of these exchanges, particularly on already marginalized groups on and off campus, and Tufts’ complicity.

First, Tufts SJP welcomed Eran Efrati, executive director and researcher at Researching the American-Israeli Alliance with his talk “Palestine is Here.” Efrati began with the history of joint Israeli Palestinian resistance against British colonialism, and the change to associating Judaism in Israel with whiteness in contrast with Arab Palestinians. Being raised and serving his required time in the IDF, Efrati recognized the de facto systems of separate policing – from control and mapping of Hebron to tear gas and grenades being used to clear out and segregate cities. The daily injustice and violence he witnessed and inflicted upon Palestinians resulted in his work as a researcher with “Breaking the Silence,” an organization that shares IDF veterans’ experiences of daily life in the Occupied Territories and violence committed by IDF soldiers against Palestinians. These patterns of separate policing and state violence are all too familiar in the U.S.; the Israeli-American military complex connects some of the Israeli and U.S. state forces’ worst practices: expanding surveillance particularly against Muslim communities, justifying racial profiling, and suppressing public protests through excessive use of force. From Tufts’ chief of police being trained in Israeli military prisons to Boston’s Logan Airport being the first airport to bring in the Israeli racial profiling system, Tufts is part of a joint oppression; therefore, ending the Deadly Exchange must be a joint struggle because the people profiting from the Israeli occupation are in the U.S. Bringing IAW to Tufts means understanding our complicity in the occupation.

That evening, we hosted a Drag the Deadly Exchange: Dabke and Drag Night, featuring Brooklyn drag queens, Merry Cherry and Ana Masreya, as well as several student performers. Elise Sommers, the student organizer of the event, and a performer themself, connected SJP’s campaign and the significance of the drag show:

“The deadly exchange campaign is so important to challenge militarization of police at Tufts and [Tufts’] continued support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Dance and drag are especially queer forms of resistance, and this party celebrated the immense power that we have to make change while having fun! We really tried to center drag that was explicitly political, especially highlighting Arab performers and performers of color.”

As queer people and people of color are often targets of police and military violence, the campaign to end the Deadly Exchange must include their realities of safe and free existence.   

The final event of IAW was a conversation led by Dr. Khury Petersen-Smith, Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Professor Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and professor at George Mason University, on solidarity between Palestinian and Black movements for freedom. Focusing on the history and parallels between these two resistances was an opening into larger conversations of collective liberation. As Dr. Petersen-Smith said, “Black Palestine solidarity is an entry point into a world of solidarity.” In that same way, we hope that IAW can be an opening for Tufts students to learn and understand Israeli occupation through struggles they are already involved in. By centering the work of radical Black and Palestinian activists, Petersen-Smith offered “an invitation to think about resistance, instead of thinking about oppression. We talk about Israel much more than Palestinians. We talk about the U.S. and police instead of Black people.”

IAW is one step in the process of restructuring the language surrounding the occupation of the Palestinian peoples and lands into that of resistance. Erakat continued explaining how the conversation surrounding Palestine has shifted over time, “Apartheid [in South Africa] falls and we enter into the time of the Oslo Accords. This shifted things from an anti-racist struggle to a depoliticized conflict resolution framework.” Often the conversation surrounding the occupation is treated as an equal two-sided dialogue; however, that normalizes the continued military occupation, unequal apartheid system distribution of resources, and daily violence against Palestinian people, while erasing their resistance against the occupying forces. Using the language of apartheid is an important part of this process of changing the language used to describe the situation in Palestine.

This Israeli Apartheid Week engaged more than 250 people in lectures, discussions, and performances to educate the Tufts community on Palestinian struggle and resistance, the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime in Palestine, and the campaign to end the Deadly Exchange.

Each IAW event offered a new window into our campaign against ending police militarization – from the lives that are lost at the hands of this violence (the Great Return March Vigil) to the particular effect on women of color (Abdulhadi’s talk on transnational feminism) to the unjust and systemic effect on Black communities (Black-Palestine Solidarity Event) to how the U.S.-Israeli exchange contributes to a global military-industrial complex (Eran Erafti on the Deadly Exchange). Junior, Molly Tunis, noted that the messages and overall success of this year’s IAW resonated with the members of Tufts SJP. “I think many of us feel even more excited and energized to continue to take on this campaign after such an amazing week of events!” The struggles and movements for liberation that IAW focused on do not end after the events do; our work must continue.

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“The times, they are a’changin’,” – RAPIDLY!! “Pro-Palestine event at UMass draws 2,000 attendees, 10 protestors” Mass Live, May 5/19 AMHERST — “Just 10 people were outside protesting the Palestine solidarity event Saturday night at the University of Massachusetts that opponents failed to block via court action. “About 2,000 attendees passed through security check-points before entering the packed Fine Arts Center auditorium –- many more had to be turned away — where speakers denounced… Read more »

“Outside, a Needham man who was protesting the event said the organizers erred by not including ‘an opposing viewpoint.’

The opposition to palestinian freedom and peace in the middle east is on twitter 24/7 and has a network dedicated to demonization of all things palestine. There’s your opposing viewpoint. WTF more do you need?