This week, many organizations around the world are holding events for “Israel Apartheid Week” in solidarity with Palestinian resistance against settler colonialism. As part of this week, we at Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine painted “End Israeli Apartheid” over a Palestinian flag on the Blue Jay statue Wednesday morning. The response to this action by some members of the Hopkins community has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the term apartheid.
Apartheid – a term originally coined to describe the systematic discrimination and segregation in South Africa between 1948 and 1991 – refers to “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (see: 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article II, included in full below). Article II also states that “the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” (emphasis added)
We, Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine, do not use the word apartheid lightly or for controversy’s sake. We use it to accurately describe atrocities committed in Palestine/Israel, and to shed light on how exactly they manifest. In the West Bank, we have the most obvious parallels with the South African experience. There, Israel maintains a system of separation geared toward privileging the 600,000 Jewish Israelis who live in settlements beyond the Green Line. They receive generous benefits from the state; access to education, jobs, and services; and are subject to, and protected by, Israeli law. Palestinians who live in the same territory, on the other hand, face a different set of circumstances: land confiscations and home demolitions; decaying infrastructure and schools; and martial law, harsh sentences, and extended imprisonment without trial. Within Israel itself, the situation is more complicated. Palestinian citizens of the state enjoy voting rights, but face numerous forms of institutional discrimination. Perhaps the most glaring is Israel’s Law of Return, which gives any Jewish individual the right to full citizenship in Israel. Palestinian refugees are offered no such luxury. In the Gaza Strip, Israel controls the movement of goods and people into and out of the area, and has maintained a veritable siege since 2005. As it stands, Gaza’s unemployment rate is the highest in the world, and nearly all of the enclave’s water is undrinkable. Grinding poverty is punctuated by regular assaults on the territory, which have claimed thousands of lives. Apartheid has manifested: according to a recent UN report, the territory will be uninhabitable by 2020.
The extensive backlash at the usage of the term apartheid – in relation to Israel – stems from those who either participate in it, or are complicit in it. The painting over of the Palestinian flag on our campus this week was a microaggression geared towards silencing any criticism of the Israeli settler state. We invite anyone interested in pursuing justice in Palestine learn more by joining us in our weekly meetings. We encourage our allies to remain steadfast in the fight against racism, imperialism, and settler colonialism everywhere.