Wedding in a time of apartheid

March 18, 2013

Patrick O. Strickland reports on high-profile protests against Israel's apartheid system.

MORE THAN 200 activists were dropped off on both sides of the Hizma checkpoint in the illegally occupied West Bank on March 8 for a "wedding protest" to draw attention to Israel's reactionary apartheid laws.

From one side of the checkpoint, a groom attempted to reach his bride, who waited on the other side, surrounded by solidarity activists bearing Palestinian flags and placards.

The mock wedding procession was staged by Love in a Time of Apartheid, a grassroots initiative that aims to highlight the racist and discriminatory nature of citizenship and entry laws that intentionally divide Palestinian citizens of Israel from their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza.

Soldiers prevented the meeting from taking place by showering unarmed demonstrators with liberal amounts of tear gas and firing sound bombs into crowds from close range. Despite the Israeli military spokesperson's accusations that "100 rioters at Hizma threw stones at security services," demonstrators maintain that they were peaceful.

Love in a Time of Apartheid activists celebrate a mock wedding at the Hizma checkpoint
Love in a Time of Apartheid activists celebrate a mock wedding at the Hizma checkpoint

"The bus was stopped several times on the way to Hizme village, the army tried to prevent us from reaching the village," said Khulood Badawi, a Palestinian human rights defender, in an interview. "They deployed soldiers to stop us, and the soldiers were aggressive from the onset. When we started the wedding processions, soldiers began pushing everyone--women, men, old, young. The Palestinian side did not react violently; the videos prove this."

The demonstration's creativity allowed it to gain wide attention, and its effectiveness was felt on several planes. "It put Israeli apartheid policies in a human perspective, one that the international community has failed to put on its agenda," said Badawi. "The wedding was also a way for Palestinian youth to tell Israel that we will choose our partners and create our own futures."

In January 2012, Israel's High Court upheld the Citizenship and Entry Law and rejected petitions from NGOs and politicians, including the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The law disqualifies West Bank Palestinians from living in Israel if they marry an Israeli citizen, Jewish or Palestinian. Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis justified the decision by asserting that "human rights" were not worth the price of "national suicide."

Adalah denounced the ruling, pointing out that the law "forbid[s] citizens to have a family life in Israel solely on the basis of the ethnic background of one of the spouses." Israel, which absurdly claims to be both "Jewish" and "democratic," had unsurprisingly passed and upheld a law "that does not exist in any democratic nation in the world."

The Citizenship and Entry Law is one of many laws that differentiate between Arabs and Jews on ethnic grounds, privileging the latter and systematically dispossessing the former through an ongoing process of occupation and colonization.

In the West Bank, Israeli settlers, whose presence is unequivocally illegal under international law, live under Israeli civilian law, while Palestinians live under the suffocating imposition of martial law. Unlike settlers, Palestinians must confront an immense apartheid wall, land confiscations, a permit-regime that requires Israeli permission for traveling, some 500 checkpoints, sparse access to resources (particularly water) and settler violence that is generally looked on by the state with marked indifference. This by no means exhausts the extent of institutionalized discrimination.

In October 2012, Adalah released a list of 31 discriminatory laws, most of which maliciously target the Palestinian Arab minority--some 1.5 million citizens--inside Israel. With a clear echo of South African apartheid, the wave of legislation limits this minority's access to purchasing land, establishes admissions committees that decide who can live in nearly 475 communities across the county, and permit the state to expel Negev Bedouins from their lands and homes for the purpose of erecting Jewish settlements, among an array of other discriminatory policies.

AS A global Palestinian solidarity movement continues to grow, creative forms of resistance are resonating more and more with human rights activists across the world, particularly those on the international left.

Solidarity activists recently chalked up a pair of successes against the defenders of apartheid in New York: one, by overcoming efforts to silence a panel discussion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement at Brooklyn College featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, and two, through pressuring a New York LGBT community center to overturn its reactionary ban on Palestine solidarity events.

In the first case, activists, who were labeled as anti-Semites and terrorist bedfellows, dispelled the bias-steeped propaganda promoted by pro-Israel groups and local politicians. On February 7, some 200 students filled the auditorium to hear Butler and Barghouti discuss the global strategy of BDS.

On February 13, an LGBT community center in New York denied a request for scholar Sarah Schulman to speak about her new book on Israel. In response to the valiant efforts and heavy pressure of solidarity activists, the center reversed its two-year-old moratorium on Israel-Palestine related events within days.

Meanwhile, demonstrations and protests continue to increase in frequency in Palestine. Following the death of prisoner Arafat Jaradat, believed to have been caused by extensive torture by the Israel's intelligence agency Shin Bet, clashes broke out across the Occupied Territories, prompting speculation about "a new Intifada," or uprising, in media outlets across the world.

The day after the announcement of Jaradat's death, Israel Prison Services estimated that roughly 4,500 Palestinian prisoners launched a one-day hunger strike. Addameer Prisoner Support Network reports that there are presently eight prisoners on long-term hunger strike, including administrative detainee Samer Al-Issawi, who has gone well over 200 days without food. Ma'an News Agency recently reported that he escalated his strike and stopped taking water.

"The hunger strikers have focused international attention on prisoners and thus brought attention on the brutality of the occupation," said Addameer's Gavan Kelly in an interview. "Everyone has a role to play, and from their prison cells, prisoners have the ability to unite and mobilize the masses." Alongside on-the-ground efforts in Palestine, a mass movement continues to develop.

Whether in New York or Palestine, whether conducted through an empty stomach or against efforts to stifle freedom of criticism, these struggles are connected because the ends are identical: ending colonialism and apartheid with a stout dose of justice.

"I believe in cumulative impact and merging forms of resistance," said Abir Kopty of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. "One act of resistance cannot create a huge change unless it is happening hand-in-hand with others."

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