A Senior’s Reflection on Apartheid Week

Another year, another Apartheid Week.

Once again, Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP) erected their Wall. The emails came in from Jewish organizations. Facebook and YikYak exploded with partisanship. All of a sudden, I was thrown back to this time last year.

It was February 2015, and the student body faced its first Apartheid Week in recent memory. Insults were hurled, counter-programming was held, more walls were built and walls were vandalized. Our campus reeled from the sudden outpour of political fervor, but at the end of it all, did we emerge as more engaged voters? Were we better educated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Not really.

Instead, we were left bleeding, forced to confront the deep wells of vitriol, ignorance and unquestioning nationalist zeal embedded deep within our student body. Last year’s Apartheid Week revealed serious wounds in our community, wounds I hoped would heal by 2016.

Yet here we are, a year older, but apparently not much wiser.

The programming and the content of the Wall are but a few aspects of a wider campus issue. Indeed the majority of information that covers this year’s Wall comes from the progressive Israeli NGO B’Tselem. Their printouts accurately describe the placement of the separation wall between Israel proper and the West Bank, the majority of which indeed lies over the Green Line in what should be Palestinian territory. ESJP’s Wall speaks of unequal access to water resources, another true if unfortunate reality for those in the West Bank. In short, the Wall describes Israel’s occupation. The descriptions may be polemic at times, but they’re never false.

Instead the polemics grow around the Wall, as those supporting SJP tag pro-Palestine images with “#FromTheRiverToTheSea” — a phrase used to describe an imagined Palestine that totally erases Israel from the map. They grow, as pro-Israel students tag rosy Birthright pictures with “#EmoryPeaceWeek,” as though the antithesis of Apartheid were peace, and peace could be achieved with a well-placed Valencia filter.

Two issues lie at the heart of this hysteria. First, the word “apartheid,” which comes from the Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart.” The word was meant to describe the conditions of total racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Israel is many things — a center for technological innovation, the inventor of the cherry tomato, an occupying military power — but it is not an “apartheid state.” To label it thusly insults not only Israelis and American Jews, but also South Africans who lived under apartheid, and most vitally, Palestinians who live under a very real and distinctive occupation. Calling Israel an apartheid state distracts from the unjust reality of what in Hebrew is called the kibush, and in Arabic al-ihtilāl. It is inflammatory, ineffective and incorrect.

But so too is this counter-labeling of “Emory Peace Week.” As a peace activist, I take personal issue with the Right’s casual, nominal commitment to ending the conflict, one that calls for us only to post a picture of a camel on Instagram, in which the Bedouin man leading that camel is tastefully edited out.

Indeed, too often the vision of peace promoted by Hillel, the Emory-Israel Public Affairs Committee (EIPAC) and Emory Students for Israel (ESI) is conveniently devoid of Arabs and Palestinians. When “Day of Coexistence” is hosted only by the aforementioned groups, without mention of Emory’s progressive Zionist organization Emory J Street U, much less the actual Palestinian voices on campus, the traditional pro-Israel bloc reveals its true nature: two-states in name only, a coalition committed to maintaining a status quo that oppresses Palestinians and threatens the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel.

My love and commitment to the State of Israel is not a matter of falafel or Dead Sea mud products or engraved silver rings from Jerusalem. Too often we think of loving Israel as a matter of consumption. Indeed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which consistently invokes the “apartheid” label, targets this element of the pro-Israel psyche as much as it does the Israeli economy.

But supporting Israel is not about consuming; it is not about birthright or saying “sababa” or using clever hashtags in the last week of February. Being pro-Israel is a matter of action, of waking up every day of the year and facing injustice that is too often perpetrated by people you love, in a place you love and working tirelessly to end it.

This is what we have lost sight of, the essential truth that escapes us every Apartheid Week: every Zionist pep rally, every comparison of Zionism to white supremacism, every new wall built on campus does not bring us any closer to peace.

If we want to provoke our neighbors, to stir up controversy, to condescend our detractors, then yes, by all means bring on Apartheid Week. But if we truly seek to improve the lives of Palestinians; to live by the values on which Israel was founded; to end violence, racism and the occupation, then we need a different strategy, a different conversation.

I hope that when next year’s Wall goes up, we will use it as a stepping stone away from divisive rhetoric and instead towards conversation, action and peace.

Leah Michalove is a College senior from Atlanta, Georgia. 

4 comments

  1. Avatar
    Arafat 3 years ago

    Page 1.

    February 12, 2016, was a day of fresh hope for the suffering Christians of the Middle East. Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met in Havana, Cuba, to issue a joint message to the world. After pledging themselves to change the history of schism between Eastern and Western Christianity, they placed the contemporary merciless persecution of Christians at the top of their agenda:

    “Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed…”

    These were not empty words. The Moscow Patriarchate has collected large sums of money from its faithful to help the persecuted Christians of Syria. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church, and specifically the Franciscan Order, is working at its own peril on the ground in Syria to relieve the suffering.

    By coincidence, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Olav Fyske Tveit (pronounced to rhyme with “state,” not “twit”), was on the ground in the Middle East. Only he was not there to show any concern for the Christians victims of Islamic militias in Syria and Iraq. Nor had he time for the persecution of Copts in Egypt, which continues despite the efforts of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to suppress attacks by Muslims upon Christian churches.

    As many will have guessed, Tveit came to Jerusalem to pursue the decades-old obsession of the WCC with Palestine, Palestine and Palestine, to the detriment of Middle East Christians elsewhere, as an earlier article detailed. At a service in a Jerusalem church, hosted by Lutheran Arab Bishop Munib Younan and accompanied by the Archbishop of Sweden, Tveit was there to launch “Seven Weeks of Water 2016.”

    We can let others describe the solemnly nonsensical ceremony and concentrate on the “sermon” (or rather pseudo-Christian political harangue) delivered by Tveit. It is available for download from the relevant webpage of the WCC. But first, consider some basic definitions.

    Palestinian propagandists constantly disseminate false accusations that Israel steals Palestinian water. Those allegations have been thoroughly refuted many times and are to be catalogued under the rubric of typical Palestinian propaganda lies. This does not worry the propagandists themselves, who continue to repeat the same lies to every newcomer.

    A person who hears such lies for the first time, maybe from a Palestinian cleric, and naively believes them is to be defined as an innocent dupe. Someone who repeats such lies year in and year out, despite being given every opportunity to know the truth, and who even sets up a long-term mechanism to perpetuate them, is a shameless liar.

    To the former category, in a moment of uncharacteristic hasty judgment, belonged Martin Shulz, the otherwise prudent President of the European Parliament. When he visited Israel in February 2014, he was confronted in Ramallah with such a false statement by a Palestinian youngster, himself a victim of the Palestinian education system. This is the same education system, in place for two decades, that currently produces wave after wave of deluded teenage terrorists.

    Shaken by what he heard, Shulz inserted that statement at the last moment into a speech that he was about to give to the Knesset. The Israeli legislators, who recognized the lie immediately as such, broke into a hubbub and some later walked out. Subsequently, Shulz added to the published version of his speech a disclaimer, to the effect that he was merely repeating what he had heard without having time to check the facts. Also the leader of the walkers-out, Naftali Bennett, went to Brussels to seek reconciliation with Mr. Shulz and even presented him with an ancient coin as a sign of friendship. Both men realized that they had made their respective mistakes and both made due amends.

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      Arafat 3 years ago

      Page 2.

      Among others, this author then explained in a readily available article the truths and falsehoods of the matter. Moreover, the WCC has had for years a mechanism, its Ecumenical Water Network (EWN), to deal with water in general, but above all with Palestinian water. Such a mechanism, we may assume, must be aware of the refutation of all the Palestinian lies and irrelevant claims on the matter, at least since 2014. Nonetheless, Tveit’s so-called “sermon” merrily repeated them.

      Leaving aside the window dressing of biblical quotations and theological platitudes, let us proceed to the heart of the “sermon,” Tveit’s allegations against Israel, which he takes unhesitantly as gospel truth from the “advocacy group of Palestine, EWASH.” Says he: “80% of the ground water from Palestine’s mountain aquifer is pumped underneath all the way to Israel; and, the Palestinians are left with only 20% of the available water.”

      This is an incredible claim: that Israel steals 80% of the water of the Palestinians and pumps it all the way to Israel. Needless to say, no such apparatus of pumps and pipelines exists. The truth, here totally garbled, is quite different. Almost all the Palestinian population is concentrated in a series of cities and villages on the central mountain range running from north to south (Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron). It is also here that rainfall is concentrated, brought by prevalent winds from the west. Much of this water, however, passes through underground rock formations either to the east (mainly to Jericho) or to the west, where it emerges in springs in pre-1967 Israel. So the only person that Tveit can denounce for this “theft” is the Creator of the World.

      Nor is the situation unique. Similar cases exist elsewhere on the planet. The standard answer is an agreement whereby the beneficiaries of the situation give a certain percentage of their water to those who live where the rain fell. Naturally, there is no standard formula to calculate the percentage, since it must depend on local factors. Moreover, Israel and the Palestinians made exactly such an agreement in 1995 as part of the Oslo II Accord. In recent years, the amount of rainfall has decreased, but Israel continues to transfer the agreed amount of water and even more.

      In other words, the central accusation of Palestinians – that Israel steals water from them – has been refuted for more than twenty years. Nevertheless, Palestinian propagandists – since truth matters neither to them nor to their eager audiences of Israel haters – continue to propagate the lie.

      Says Tveit further, also quoting EWASH: “on an average, Ramallah receives more rainfall than London. However, the average per capita water consumption in London is 150 litres/day compared to that of only 70 litres/day for an average Palestinian. On the other hand, the per capita consumption for Israel is 300 litres/day.”

      It does not matter whether these figures are true or just more lies. The point here is that the figures are utterly irrelevant. Israel’s obligation to the Palestinians is based exclusively upon the volume of rain that falls in the mountains. How much this works out per capita depends upon something else: how many Palestinians there are to use it. The obligation is the same whether the areas of the Palestinian Authority contain just one hundred Palestinians or one hundred million Palestinians. If the Palestinians are engaged in a population explosion that doubles their population every twenty years, as they claim (whether truthfully or not), that is entirely their own responsibility and not Israel’s.

      Consequently, any accusations against Israel that allege per capita figures of water usage are null and void and should be immediately rejected and ignored. Whenever Palestinians confront you with such per capita data, as they invariably do, you should know that they are attempting to blind you with irrelevant information. As does Tveit.

      What Tveit should have thought and spoken about, if he seriously wanted to help Palestinians, was to explain why Israelis enjoy so much more water per capita – to contrast the brilliance of Israel’s elimination of its former water problems with the utter incompetence of the Palestinian Authority to deal with its own problems. And to exhort the Palestinians to learn from Israel instead of vainly slandering Israel. Indeed, his whole Ecumenical Water Network, if it is worth anything, should be recommending the Israeli model worldwide.

      1. Avatar
        Arafat 3 years ago

        Page 3.

        Until a few years ago, Israel was highly susceptible to sharp variations in annual rainfall. It has now solved the problem by a combination of legislation and technical initiatives. Recycling now reclaims some 80% of waste water. New desalination plants have been erected along the Mediterranean coast, so that now Israel has an abundance of water to start with. All this costs money, so Israelis do pay more for their water and there is a punitive water price for anything above a legally defined level of domestic per capita water.

        Under the Palestinian Authority, it is all the opposite. Up to 30% of their water has been estimated to go lost in the systems that deliver their water. Waste water is released, polluting the Palestinian Authority’s land and some of it flows downhill to pollute Israel as well. What is recycled, as in Tveit’s case, are just dirty old water lies. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) lacks a coast, Oslo II did permit it to exploit the eastern mountain aquifer, which it barely does. In addition, very large numbers of Palestinians either do not pay water bills or simply steal water by illegal connections to the water grid. It is the same with Palestinian electricity: bills are not paid and illegal connections are made with impunity.

        Rather than enforce whatever laws it has, the Palestinian Authority simply orders more water and electricity from the Israeli grids. Yet it, too, does not pay its bills: it is typically hundreds of millions of shekels in arrears.

        Israel spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few years to build water desalination plants on its Mediterranean coast, so that now Israel has an abundance of water. At the same time, Palestinian propagandists constantly disseminate false accusations that Israel steals Palestinian water. Pictured above, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro tours the Hadera Desalination Plant on July 26, 2012. (Image source: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

        And do not let anyone deceive you with claims that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are stealing Palestinian water. The major settlement blocks have been connected to the Israeli water grid, so they are receiving and paying for Israeli water.

        The third claim taken by Tveit from EWASH is that “only 1.5% of the applications by the Palestinians for digging wells and other water facilities in Area C have been approved by Israeli authorities over the past 4 years.” Anyone with an understanding of hydrology should applaud this fact, if fact it be. Area C (the Palestinian population of which has always been small) comprises arid or semi-arid regions, where the sinking of wells has to be strictly controlled.

        This situation can be seen in Gaza. Here the natural rock formations are the reverse: rainwater falling in Israel is funnelled underground to Gaza. That is why Gaza was a fruitful oasis throughout millennia of human history. Since the Palestinian Authority was set up in Gaza in 1993 (under the Oslo I Accord), and since Hamas seized power in 2007, the proliferation of uncontrolled well-drilling by Palestinians has led to a drop in ground water level and an encroachment of sea water. It has made the ground water undrinkable. The Gazans have destroyed God’s gift, taken from Israel and given to them. So they now only import drinkable water from water-thrifty Israel.

        1. Avatar
          Arafat 3 years ago

          Page 4.

          The WCC’s Seven Weeks of Water will be in effect Seven Weeks of Brainwashing. As the WCC’s dirty water pours into member churches, it will pollute the minds of naïve ignorant Christians and it will be lapped up by pretend-Christian Israel haters, as if they were giving themselves shots of a Class A drug. As for the miseries of Middle East Christians, the WCC will succeed, as usual, in removing them from the agenda for the sake of “Palestine.”

          Regarding Tveit himself, he no longer has any excuse for repeating lies. If he truly was utterly ignorant of the truth, he can show it by admitting ignorance hitherto, expressing remorse and cancelling his seven wet weeks. We have no confidence, however, that any such thing as a true evaluation of the matter is of any interest to him and his like.

          One of Tveit’s predecessors, Konrad Raiser, did once admit that the WCC had wrongly disregarded the truth. It had done so, he said, in its attitude to Soviet dissidents. But his was merely a sin of omission, easier to regret. In any case, he admitted it only after he had left office and the Soviet Union had disappeared.

          The current WCC has multiplied sins of commission by founding an alphabet soup of subsidiaries that militate against Israel: EAPPI, KP, EWN, PJP… (never mind the inventive titles that they stand for). EAPPI, for instance, recruits volunteers from churches all over the world to have their heads stuffed for three months with Palestinian allegations. (Three months – because that is the longest visa that Israel grants to visitors who claim to be tourists.) The well-intentioned volunteers are afforded no opportunity of verifying those accusations against Israel. They are then obliged to spend another three months touring their own churches and repeating the allegations. Truth is not merely ignored, it is of systemic insignificance.

          Malcolm Lowe is a Welsh scholar specialized in Greek philosophy, the New Testament and interfaith relations.

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