The 12th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) has been a remarkable success, with more than 250 cities worldwide marking the week of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Although it doesn’t please everyone, those who criticise IAW activities were brought abruptly to their senses last week when Israel demolished a Palestinian primary school in Al-Azariyeh, east of occupied Jerusalem. It is an action of the kind that highlights why IAW activism remains essential.
Israel’s deliberate targeting of the Palestinian education sector is, in fact, nothing new. During its 51-day war on the Gaza Strip in 2014, the Israel “Defence” Forces (IDF) completely destroyed six government and private schools, eleven kindergartens and three higher education institutions. Around 450 other education facilities – more than half of them kindergartens – sustained minor, partial, major or severe damage; 83 UNRWA-run schools were also damaged.
At the time, the justification given was that the schools were either being used to store weapons or as bases from which to fire rockets at Israel. Of course, no rockets were ever fired into Israel by the Abu Al-Nawar Bedouin of Al-Azariyeh. Nevertheless, their school was demolished. The only difference is that whereas F16 bombers were deployed to destroy education facilities in Gaza, bulldozers were used in Al-Azariyeh.
So why was the school knocked down by the Israelis? Did it pose a threat to Israel’s national security? Hardly. Palestinians believe it was because it was located too close for comfort to the illegal Ma’ale Adumim settlement, which Israel wants to expand still further. Even the most dedicated friends of Israel find the actions of its government revolting and indefensible in this respect. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron described the settlements around Jerusalem last week as “genuinely shocking”.
There is no doubt that the sorry sight of children sitting on the ground in the bitter Jerusalem cold, or the image of them scurrying for shelter from the rain, brought back memories of the bad old days of South African apartheid. It is no wonder, therefore, that this year’s IAW was marked with 200 events at over 20 campuses in South Africa, and endorsed by more than 85 national organisations.
Not satisfied with the demolition of the Abu Al-Nawar School, the IDF confiscated its benches and tables, according to the school director Asma Sheha. While the demolition of a primary school is about as vile as it can get, taking its benches and tables speaks of an official mindset that is much worse; it is the sort of petty, vindictive action for which the white-run government in Pretoria used to be reviled.
It is exactly 10 years since the Guardian’s Chris McGreal wrote his devastating two-part appraisal of South African and Israeli apartheid. He quoted John Dugard, the former UN human rights rapporteur in Palestine, who said that under South African apartheid the best parts of the country were reserved for the whites while blacks were sent to the least habitable and desirable areas: “One can draw certain parallels with respect to South Africa that, during the heyday of apartheid, population relocation did result in destruction of property, but not on the same scale as the devastation in Gaza in particular, [or in] the West Bank."
Having funded the Abu Al-Nawar School, the French government rightly condemned its demolition by the occupation forces. A statement by the foreign ministry deplored the demolition policy and called “on the Israeli authorities to end it.”
Unfortunately, “concern” and timid calls of this kind will not bring an end to the destructive campaign, which many view as a form of 21st century ethnic cleansing. Last week, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov, told the Security Council that since the beginning of 2016, Israel has demolished, on average, 29 Palestinian structures per week, three times the weekly average for 2015. Although 79 of the destroyed structures were funded by international donors, their response has not gone beyond verbal condemnation.
In Britain, the Conservative-led government has, despite the prime minister’s apparently genuine shock, moved to reward Israel by threatening to withdraw funds from public bodies which support the international Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign against the Zionist state. It is precisely because of this kind of calculated indifference and collusion by Western governments that IAW has grown among caring citizens around the world; ordinary people are determined to make a difference by turning their backs on racism and religious bigotry.
Like the BDS campaign, IAW has provided a platform for people from across the political divide, of all racial backgrounds and faiths, including many Jews, to support what is right and just in Palestine.
The destruction of the Abu Al-Nawar School is a gross injustice and, above all, an act of naked racism, the type of which could only come out of an apartheid state. Israel’s claim that the inhabitants did not have a permit to build on the land epitomises its arrogance. It is Israel which is on the wrong side of the law. Thankfully, through the efforts of initiatives such as Israeli Apartheid Week, the world has woken up to what is going on in the name of Israeli democracy. If you have any doubts about the travesty of the latter, just ask the children of Abu Al-Nawar School what they think.
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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.