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Abunimah speaks at Israel Apartheid Week

By Fiona Lockyer
On March 5, 2012

"It's uncomfortable and ugly," renowned journalist Ali Abunimah said at the event "Who is Afraid of the One-State Solution?" during Israeli Apartheid Week last Wednesday, "but the good news is that apartheid can end."

Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Infitada, a Palestinian news website, and author of a book called One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, presented his views on a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, capping off Brandeis' first Israeli Apartheid Week, which had previously been called Israeli Occupation Awareness Week.

"The two-state solution ignores the physical and political realities on the ground," Abunimah said. "It is predicated upon the unjust premise that peace can be achieved by granting limited national rights to Palestinians living in the areas occupied in 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while denying the rights of Palestinians inside the 1948 borders and in the diaspora."

Referring to basic political science principles, he said that "principles that people have died for [in the United States]" are the principles which are being argued for in academic circles embracing a one-state solution, and which are being fought for by Palestinians.  He pointed to the separation of church and state enjoyed in the United States, not as an oppression of religion but as a freedom to practice one's own religion among others. 

However, "In terms of Palestine," he said, "these ideas are dangerous."  A large part of his presentation after the theoretical discussion revolved around the idea of "one person, one vote," stemming from reporting done by Thomas Friedman years ago for the New York Times. Stating that Palestinians made up roughly half of the population of Israel but were not largely allowed to vote—and otherwise voted in a system that was structured to maintain the status quo of having conservative Jewish leadership—he surmised that the Israeli state today is a "government by, for and of half the state," an "untenable situation" that requires large amounts of violence to maintain itself.

The second part of his talk centered around the justification of referring to Israel as an apartheid state, a phrase most notably used to describe the segregation and discrimination imposed on native Africans in South Africa. Whites, he said, who were outnumbered nine to one by native Africans, thought that "majority rule would threaten physical safety."  He drew the comparison to Israel, where the ratio according to Abunimah is closer to one to one, saying that external pressure from other countries is required to incite change where the ruling party gives "no respect to the opposition."

Two other events preceded the Abuminah event. One focused on the current Bedouin lifestyle in relation to Israel. The other was an activist panel, in which several students shared pictures and videos of what they had seen during their activist work in Palestine and Israel. Co-President of Students for Justice in Palestine Noam Lekach '14 said that he was happy with the overall turnout at Israel Apartheid Week events.

"We were worried before that people would be too alienated from this and not want to listen … and we would not be able to deliver our message because of the word [apartheid]," Lekach said in an interview with the Justice. Students in support of the term "apartheid," as well as those opposed, commented on the Facebook pages for the Israeli Peace Week.

"Compared to last semester when we did Palestine Awareness Week there was higher attendance and there was more debate. For example, on our Facebook pages, if you look at the events for Palestine Awareness Week and Israeli Apartheid week, for the Israeli Apartheid Week there are hundreds of comments and for the Palestine Awareness Week there were not," Lekach continued.  "So I think the use of this term really provoked important debate and I am happy about that."

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