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bloor 11/03/2013 - 03:00PM

CP @ The Bloor ROADMAP TO APARTHEID Intro with Randa Farah

Last Tuesday Cinema Politica @ The Bloor held a screening in collaboration with Israeli Apartheid Week - Toronto of ROADMAP TO APARTHEID. The event took place on March 5th with over 300 in attendance, and some great local activist guest speakers in attendance. In particular, we'd like to include the video and the text below of professor Randa Farah's excellent introduction to the evening. Farah teaches as an Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario.


Thank you for inviting me to comment on this excellent documentary, I am thrilled to be here to participate in this activity.

I was born in Haifa, after Israel was established in 1948. By then over 500 Palestinian villages had been destroyed and depopulated. Prior to that, villagers who had inherited agricultural skills and indigenous knowledge from previous generations transformed their village lands into bountiful places that yielded grains, fruits and vegetables. There were also thriving and growing Palestinian industries: Before 1948 Palestinian Jaffa oranges reached far away into world markets.

In the rush and frenzy of ethnic cleansing, the Zionist militias left fragments that attested to the Palestinian places that had once throbbed with life, such as a cactus shrub, a wall belonging to a school, or a harvest that was reaped by the newcomers; but they also unintentionally perhaps left a small fragment of the indigenous population. In 2004, Benny Morris would express his regret that Ben Gurion did not finish the job, and complete the ethnic cleansing. The debris and scenes of cold-blooded massacres were subsequently covered with trees many of them brought from Europe, enabling Israel to market itself through the Jewish National Fund (JNF) as a green country that made the desert bloom. In cities and towns, with the exception of Nazareth, most of the Palestinian inhabitants were also expelled, and their erstwhile homes were occupied by the settlers who confiscated their furniture, books, clothes, and even their family photographs, and children’s toys.

Not far from our home in Haifa lived an Arab Jewish family originally from Yemen. In later years I would often wonder how they and other settlers felt living in stolen homes. I would question if, when and how the family shed their Arab Yemeni heritage, and why Yosi - the son - felt empowered to call me a dirty Arab? My childhood memories are imprisoned in particular and shredded places?? There were colonies, misnamed socialist kibbutzim, and vast tracts of land that we Palestinian Arabs dared no longer tread upon.

In Israel’s legal system, the vast areas of Palestinian land stolen in 1948 became the eternal property of the Jewish people. A whole legal edifice was constructed, refined, and modified not to align with international law, but to adapt to the key Zionist precepts, namely: a) to maintain Jewish control of the expropriated land and expand further b) to make it impossible for the Palestinian refugees to return and/or reclaim their property, c) to systematically try to get rid of as many more Palestinians as possible.

Palestinian Arabs were placed under military rule to snuff out our resistance, basic liberties, and initiate a process of dehumanization that continues until today. In our segregated schools, we were forbidden to learn our own history and forced to close down to celebrate the establishment of the Jewish state on the 15th of May, that is, our Catastrophe and our destruction. My father like all other Palestinians had to get a permit to visit his own family in another town, I shudder to think how he and Palestinians of his generation must have felt standing in front of a newly-arrived European settler, to ask for a permit to move from one place to another in a land, he and his ancestors had traversed for centuries. The settlers acquired absolute power to stop us from living our lives as Palestinians, to shoot and kill villagers who attempted to return home, in the Israeli Orwellian language, these small farmers were called ‘infiltrators’.

Many more new racist laws have been passed since then, and many more lands and villages continue to suffer from Jewish settler encroachment, some under the insidious title of “economic development”. If anything, racism has become more blatant: only yesterday the Afikim bus company began operating Palestinian-only bus lines from the checkpoints to Gush Dan because their presence was upsetting Jewish passengers.

I began with this introduction to make a point that apartheid is something natives learn through experience. It becomes manifest when we attempt to live a normal life, to live as humans with equal access to space, to rights, to life, but are prevented from doing so.

The documentary accurately reveals the shocking and valid comparisons made between the apartheid regimes in Israel and South Africa before it was dismantled. The similarities are impossible to deny, but I want to point to some features that are specific to the Zionist model:
In South Africa, the apartheid regime and its controlling grid enabled the exploitation of African cheap labor: Africans were placed at the bottom of the hierarchical scale, that is, Africans were incorporated into the apartheid system, albeit at the bottom. In the Zionist state we can speak of two coexisting hierarchical systems. First there is an Israeli Jewish class society infused with a racist ideology. For example, American and western European Jews generally occupy a higher economic and social status compared to East European Jews, and both look down on “Oriental” Jews or the Sephardim who are lower in the hierarchy, as less civilized. Israel exerted tremendous efforts trying to estrange and alienate Oriental Jews from their Arab roots.

There are other groups like the Falasha or Ethiopian Jews who encounter horrendous discrimination. Nonetheless all Jews are accepted as citizens of the state, worthy of benefits and rights, but not so the Palestinian Arabs, who are the other, those, whose “bare life” to use Agamben’s term, is outcast from the whole Jewish body. In the case of the refugees, they were automatically denationalized; in the WB and Gaza they are bereft of citizenship altogether; within 1948 their citizenship rights are diminished, contingent, uncertain, vulnerable and dependent on fulfilling a Jewish humanity and rights first, and on the degree of obedience and surrender.

Another distinction, is that Palestinians have to contend with two very powerful narratives that work simultaneously rendering it difficult to reach western audiences: a) First, the history of the Holocaust where western guilt and anti-Semitism combined in ways that favored Zionism against the Palestinians; the creation of a Jewish state was seen a redemptive event. But herein lay the conundrum, because European anti-Semitism cannot be forgiven by enabling ethnic cleansing and colonial settlement on another people’s land. Antisemitic Europeans on the other hand were reluctant to allow Jews to immigrate to their countries. b) The second narrative is that of the Bible and the Biblical stories that are instrumentalized to obtain sympathy with the Israeli state. Thus, the fact that the colonizing European Jews of the mid- 20th century are not the descendants of the Hebrew tribes that roamed in Palestine some 2000 years ago, according to Shlomo Sand (Israeli historian), or that the Palestinians are much more likely to be the descendants of ancient Jews than European Jews are arguments that are not allowed to circulate widely in the public sphere.

The Palestinians encounter a powerful media machine that promote the official Israeli line, and reinforces Orientalist images about Arabs and Muslims. The Palestinian history and memory survives but silently in small private spaces, and stands against walls made up of thousands of “embedded journalists” who are complicit with power, very few of them daring to challenge the Israeli narrative. Whereas the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa had the solidarity and support from many progressive organizations and leftists in the world, Canada included, it is difficult for Palestinians to even get the status of victims and are often regarded as the terrorists.

Israel’s apartheid system is much more sophisticated and avoids petty apartheid whenever possible, but makes sure that only 3% of historic Palestine within the 1948 borders for example is available for Palestinians, the rest is forbidden and inaccessible.  But that façade is quickly dismantled, when one becomes aware that not a single new Arab town or village had been built since 1948, while hundreds of new Jewish colonies were built and continue to expand perpendicularly and horizontally on the Palestinian landscape.

Apartheid is a manifestation and a symptom of a settler-colonial state; it did not begin in 1967 rather in 1948 and its ideological sources even prior to that. Its aim was to expel the indigenous population and rewrite Palestine’s history as Jewish. The fundamental cause of the Palestinian tragedy then is displacement and exile. Consequently, the key focus of struggle is or should be the refugees’ right of return, the core issue in the Palestinian national struggle.

The Israeli apartheid regime warehouses, controls and manages the remaining and unwanted population, slated for further displacement, if and when the opportunity arises, a symptom of an undemocratic and racist state that covets another people`s land without them in it.

Finally, as early as 1895 Herzl wrote: We should try to spirit the penniless Arab population across the borders by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly”.

The Zionists have succeeded in pushing the Palestinians out into the desert, to the sea, and internally, into unlivable Bantustans, but have not killed the spirit or will to resist. Historical examples from South Africa, and elsewhere are critical in this struggle, because they show that ethnic cleansing, apartheid and brutal force have never succeeded in halting the human spirit and yearning for liberation, freedom and social justice.

Thank you.


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