Growing Support for Israeli Apartheid Week in South Africa

By Anna Majavu · 5 Mar 2012

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The first ever Palestinian-South African music collaboration between musicians and activists from both countries will be screened by video link between Gaza City and Soweto next Monday [12th March] as part of this week’s 8th international Israeli Apartheid Week.

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events (including rallies, lectures, cultural performances, film screenings and multimedia displays) held by ordinary people in well over 100 cities, communities, churches and campuses across the globe.

The week began – Sunday 4th March - with a rally and Film Screening of "Roadmap to Apartheid" at the Red Location Museum, in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. The city’s mayor, and former metalworkers union leader, Zanoxolo Wayile and former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils were scheduled to speak at the rally.

Other well-known academics and human rights activists including Zapiro, Zackie Achmat, Breyten Breytenbach, Professor Steven Friedman, Professor Andrew Nash, and Reverend Allan Boesak will speak at a total of 42 events across the country this week.

The South African events will culminate in the launch of the song “The New Black” at 2pm on Monday 12th March at the Hector Peterson Memorial Centre in Orlando West. South African acoustic folk/jazz band The Mavrix, lead by Jeremy Karodia, have teamed up with Palestinian oud player Mohammed Omar to produce the song, which will be launched simultaneously in Soweto and Gaza via a skype video link.

Naazim Adam, coordinator of South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA), South African-Palestinian professor Haidar Eid and Siphiwe Thusi, South African anti-apartheid activist and the chair of the PSA’s Soweto branch, will be speaking by Skype from Soweto to Gaza.

While the Israeli government has sent out 100 public relations envoys all over the world in an attempt to counter the activities taking place, Eid says this only goes to show that the week has become a growing and successful international phenomenon which cannot be ignored.

Israel, according to the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper, had to put its envoys – which include militarists and Israeli settlers - through “several weeks of training in the Public Diplomacy Ministry" before sending them out on their mission.

“We really think that Israel has taken notice of the week; hence, their decision to send 100 delegates to cities including Cape Town and Johannesburg in an attempt to beautify its tarnished image” says Eid, a former lecturer at Vista University’s Soweto campus, member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and an activist in the One Democratic State group, based in Gaza.

The joint Soweto-Gaza event “is a very significant step forward in solidifying the growing idea we have been advocating, namely the apartheid nature of the state of Israel” says Eid.

The event has also received the support of the influential South African Council of Churches, who last week called on its members to remember Israel as “the single supporter of apartheid when the rest of the world implemented economic sanctions, boycotts and divestments to force change in South Africa”.

“Today the Palestinians cry out to the world and to God, saying: How long, O God, will they steal our livelihood? Oppress, imprison and humiliate our people? Deprive our children of their childhood? Indeed how long, God, will the multitudes of Christians of the world ignore the anguish of our Palestinian sisters and brothers and all of the oppressed?” SACC general secretary, Reverend Mautji Pataki and its president, Dr Jo Seoka said.

Calling on churchgoers across the country to “repent of the ignorance and oblivion” they had shown towards Palestinians, Pataki and Seoka said their organization had come to the conclusion that Israel “continues to share a similarity with the old South Africa in implementing apartheid where all non-Jews of Palestine are discriminated against, displaced of their land and homes, and subjected to refugee camps and a permanent state of violent military rule”.

The week has not gone off without a hitch internationally. The University of Paris, France last week cancelled an Israeli Apartheid Week conference after pressure from the Israeli lobby, but officially citing the potential of public disturbances after “strong reactions” to the conference’s theme.

But the sheer diversity of the speakers at this week’s events in South Africa, and the breadth of the events themselves, which include art exhibitions and mass balloon releases in Pretoria, show that the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa has firmly taken root – in South Africa at least. Events are even being held in “dorpies” like Pietermaritzburg, and the University of Stellenbosch, where a simulated Israeli military checkpoint will be set up at the main entrance of the faculty of Theology.

The growing list of academics, many of whom ten years ago were silent on Palestine but who are now willing to speak out, is at the very least a sign that freedom for the Palestinians is not the taboo subject it used to be.

**For a full list of events this week, please visit BDS South Africa.

Majavu is a writer concentrating on the rights of workers, oppressed people, the environment, anti-militarism and what makes a better world. She is currently studying for a Masters Degree in New Zealand.

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