This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Students for Palestinian Rights member Rowland Robinson at the rally by SFPR and Laurier 4 Palestine against Israeli Apartheid on March 1st, 2010.
Rowland is in his 4B Honours Anthropology and Sociology term at the University of Waterloo. Much of his academic work has been on colonialism, post-colonialism and indigenous issues.
Apartheid. Apartheid is a powerful word that evokes many thoughts and feelings. It comes from Afrikaans, the language of the largest, primarily Dutch descended group of European settlers in South Africa. It means separateness, and was used to initially describe the National Party’s system of enforced racial segregation. But apartheid is more than that; it is more than a system of laws that existed in a particular country over a specific period in history. Apartheid is a way in which groups with power structure their relationships with groups they have power over. This is of course why we are here today. We are here because we recognize the fact that apartheid is alive and well today in the land of historic Palestine.
We are far from alone in our recognition of this simple fact. In a letter to the President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario, Willie Madisha, the President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions wrote, “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed against the South Africans by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.” Also, On the 6th June 2008 Kgalema Motlanthe, the Deputy President of the African National Congress, who had recently visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, told a delegation of Arab Knesset members visiting South Africa that conditions for Palestinians under occupation were “worse than conditions were for Blacks under the Apartheid regime.” This point is driven home even more so by the fact that COSATU and the ANC were two of the lead organizations in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
However, we don’t have to rely simply on the testimony of those who lived under and struggled against apartheid in South Africa in order to make this point, because the white minority government that instituted these unjust laws recognized these parallels themselves. Hendrik Verwoerd, former prime minister of South Africa and the architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, said in 1961 that the Israelis “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”
The struggle against apartheid, whether in South Africa or in Palestine is a struggle for the rights and dignity of all people, and as such it touches all of us. You might be gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, Asian in Europe, Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a poor farmer in West Bengal, Mayan on the streets of San Cristobal, Jewish in Germany, Gypsy in Poland, Mohawk in Québec, pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a Brazilian peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, or an unhappy student, the struggle against apartheid speaks to all of you. It demands for us not just the right to be who we are, but rather, as the Zapatistas say, “to become who we want.”
This is why it is so important that we are all here today. We are here to demand that the world move towards ending a situation which is unjust, and illegitimate. One in which pregnant women are forced to give birth at checkpoints; where children are used as human shields as soldiers invade the streets of their towns; and where schools and hospitals are destroyed under the cover of fighting “terrorism.” But deeper than that we are asking for an end to a situation in which apartheid exists. We want a world in which all apartheids have been brought crashing down to the ground.
Because of this I think that Israeli Apartheid Week is about more than just calling for an end to the occupation of Palestine, because in reality it is about all the struggles for true freedom, justice and equality by people all around the world, including right here in Canada. With that in mind I would also like to borrow a phrase from French Philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault, in his introduction to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s book Anti-Œdipus, wrote that one could easily subtitle the book “an introduction to the non-fascist life,” and I think that we could something like that here today and say that Israeli Apartheid Week is an introduction to the non-apartheid life, because that is what so much of this week is. We are not just here to shout slogans, wave flags and hold signs, we are also here to educate people about just what is going on in the world.
Finally, before I go I would like to leave you with a quote that I hope you will keep in your mind, both as we march here today, and throughout the rest of this week. It is a quote that I think helps us to remember both what it is that we are struggling for, but also that must continue to keep the struggle going beyond this week. It comes from Stendhal’s Vie de Napoléon, and says this “People only ever have the degree of freedom that their audacity wins from fear.” Let us always remember those words. Let us be audacious this week as we stand for Palestine and all people struggling for freedom around the world.
Long Live Palestine!