RAMALLAH, Mar. 3 (JMCC) - A growing international campaign known as Israeli Apartheid Week is now underway in 40 cities worldwide.
The two-week long function kicked off on Monday and will host speakers, workshops, films and other activities that educate about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system, according to the website apartheidweek.org.
Ultimately it's not an end in of itself, says Hazem Jamjoum, one of the event's founders and current organizer in Bethlehem. The week is just a time when there is an increase in international coordination to highlight the work of campaigning in different cities.
One thing that unites all of these campaigns is that they are all calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli apartheid regime until they comply with international law.
The week of events was started in 2005 by a student group at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Jamjoum describes the first year as a pretty humble event, but since then the campaign has kind of exploded, he says.
IAW is now one of the main avenues for the youth movement associated with the boycott, divestment and sanctions push.
The campaign largely revolves around a nucleus of college campuses and is maintained by a core demographic of students and young people.
This year in Bethlehem, youth in Azza refugee camp launched an effort to clear the camp of Israeli-made products. Jamjoum considers this a major step forward for the BDS campaign locally.
The Palestinian Authority is also now working to rid the occupied Palestinian territories of goods produced in Israeli settlements.
The week's organizers ascribe its success to flexibility. Each location produces its own campaign according to its context.
When South Africans organize for IAW, apartheid means something in the people's living memory, says Jamjoum.
When we organize in Palestine, apartheid is something that has not always been used to describe the Israeli system. During the '70s and '80s people focused their attention on 'the occupation,' in some sense to the marginalization of refugee rights and the rights of Arab citizens of Israel.
When people organize in Canada, they are interested in the way their government supports the Israeli regime and the link between indigenous sovereignty struggles in Canada and the Palestinian liberation struggle. Each place takes on a different meaning among a larger debate.
IAW will be hosted in Gaza City for the first time in 2010, starting events with a film on South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Beirut will also join the list of cities involved in 2010, the first Middle Eastern location to participate outside of the occupied Palestinian territories.
'ISRAEL IS NOT SOUTH AFRICA'
As Israeli Apartheid Week has grown, so have its critics.
The Canadian Parliament has protested the event, calling it anti-Semitic and seeking to ban the annual events.
The Israeli government is also taking the BDS movement and the activities of the IAW seriously.
Apartheid is an internationally defined crime, explains Jamjoum. And what people do during Israeli Apartheid Week is show the different aspects of how Israel is committing this crime.
Benjamin Pogrund, a veteran of South Africa's anti-Apartheid movement, described Israel's regime as occupation, not apartheid in an interview in Haaretz.
While Pogrund objects to many actions taken by Israel, he says the South African government was motivated by racism and Israel is motivated by security.
But Jamjoum says that Israel is guilty of apartheid because it sets one group over another group through a regime of institutionalized discrimination.
Just from my window, I can see Har Homa settlement right across the valley from me, he illustrates.
That's part of the West Bank, yet the people of that settlement are governed under Israeli civil law. I am not allowed to go live in that settlement because I am not Jewish. Palestinians with a West Bank ID can't even get to it.
A settler living there lives under laws created by the Knesset; if he has an issue he can take it to Israeli civil court. A Palestinian with a West Bank ID is governed under Israeli military law. Our outlet is Israeli military court. We have two sets of laws for different people.