Israel: beautiful country or apartheid colony?

The word Israel brings many sorrows and joy, depending on with whom you are speaking. In the description from the Folklorama 2009 Travel Guide, you will find the Israel Pavilion description as follows: “Come and discover the small and beautiful country of Israel. Set in a modern and cosmopolitan landscape it is steeped in history and traditions [ . . . ] Come and enjoy falafel [ . . . ] and dip into some delicious hummus [ . . . ]” For everyone who reads this and thinks, “Damn that sounds amazing!” you are lagging behind, lost in the herd.

What dark and wretched humor is this? No, I am not talking about the falafel and hummus that is painted as an authentic Israeli menu, ignoring its Arabic roots, but the bigger colonial picture that is being drawn to silence and deny the others, the Palestinians. Israel is a “beautiful” country only if you choose to spend your time exploring tourist attractions. But if you bother to see the other picture, Israel is far from beautiful.

Since before the 9-11 attacks in the United States, Israel has been imposing anti-terrorist legislations. One of the most damaging of these legislations was the creation of racially segregated Palestinian enclaves. The building of the “Apartheid Wall” or what the Israeli government would call a “separation barrier,” created these enclaves around Palestinian lands. In certain areas, Israel did not confine itself to the traditional use of a wall where its ends never meet. For instance, in Qalqilia, a city crowded with Palestinians, the whole area is encircled, like an open prison. It is important to note that Israel placed the wall on Palestinian land, Gaza and the West Bank, which it forcefully occupied in the 1967 war between the Palestinians and Israel.

In keeping with the anti-terrorist agenda is the recent anti-terror military offensive during the 2008 Gaza war. In this war, Israel, over the course of three weeks during the month of January 2009, slaughtered more than 1,300 Palestinians, including many children and civilian bystanders. While there were many war crimes committed against Palestinians during this war, most notable were the use of civilians as human shields, restricting human aid, and the use of white phosphorus bombs fired by the Israeli military over crowded areas of Gaza repeatedly and indiscriminately. Most of these war crimes were not accidental, but intentional and legally carried out. This is not only coming from Palestinian sources, but from Israeli soldiers themselves, who say that they were “urged by their commanders to shoot first rather than worry about killing civilians.”

Palestinians were, and continue to be, in a constant battle against an existential colonial cancer, physically, psychologically, and socio-culturally. To put it into a Canadian context, last month, in an unprecedented move, the United Church of Canada tried to seek a “comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions at the national and international levels.” They are referring specifically to the recent assault on Gaza, in January 2009, as a “visible reminder of the ongoing Israeli regime of exclusion, violence and dehumanization directed against Palestinians,” Charles Lewis reported. The United Church also said that Israel was “built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners,” and makes reference to the effectiveness of boycotts when dealing with state-sponsored racial discrimination and violence as was the case in the apartheid state of South Africa. Unfortunately delegates at the United Church of Canada’s national meeting rejected these motions, thanks in part to some Canadian Jewish organizations, like the Canadian Jewish Congress, who deemed the church’s action as anti-Semitic.

Israel is not a “beautiful” country as the Israel pavilion paints it to be. Such representations are restrictive and silencing in that they make it hard to talk about, or even imagine, things beyond what is portrayed at the pavilion, including the other side of the picture. Israel’s willful exclusion, exploitation and actions that can be considered as war crimes against the Palestinian people inflicted everyday by Israel’s army and its illegal paramilitary settlers.

Having said this, I am all for Jewish/Israeli culture, dancing and falafel-eating in the Pavilion, but not if it is implicit in silencing and denying the Palestinians’ voices. Please re-think any official Israeli affiliated organization and boycott Israel, because you would not be celebrating diversity, but supporting the elimination of diversity. Besides, Folklorama is, after all, about “celebrating diversity,” is it not?

On this note, I call upon all fellow students and Winnipeggers to lift their heads from the sand and stop being ostriches! Not only Palestinians and Arabs are protesting the Israeli occupation, but people inside and outside of Israel are doing the same. For instance, Israel punishes its own soldiers for refusing to serve in the army. Be responsible for life and its potential for all, and try to think, act, and willfully challenge colonization. End colonialism at home, and abroad.

Fadi Ennab is a Master’s student in Sociology at the University of Manitoba.