On Israeli Apartheid Week: Let us not shy away from controversy

By Hannah Evans

This upcoming week Macalester Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (MacSUPER) will be observing Israeli Apartheid Week. This week is observed worldwide as an answer to a Palestinian call to educate people on “the nature of Israel as an apartheid system (IAW website).” Next week there will be mock Separation Wall on campus and a screening of Budrus, a movie about non-violent resistance to Israeli policies. I know this week will be contentious, and I am not writing this article to convince anyone one way or another on how to respond to the situation in Israel/Palestine. The nuances of this conflict are too intricate for me to attempt to summarize in an opinion piece of this length. If I’ve learned anything in my extensive study of the situation, it is that every single person has their own genuine narrative for how and why Israel/Palestine looks the way it does today. I am not speaking on behalf of MacSUPER; rather, I felt moved to write this because I want to elaborate on my own personal thought process behind choosing to observe this week despite its controversy. I want to urge everyone, regardless of where one stands going into this week, to approach the events with an open mind, to engage with and consider the information critically and thoughtfully, and most of all, actively seek differing opinions. As for my own thought process going into this week, I am under no impression that apartheid is a term to be used lightly. With its roots in the South African Apartheid regime the term itself carries a very heavy weight in hearts and minds of every justice-oriented person. Though I can personally understand and defend the use of the term apartheid in describing the systems in place in the West Bank and Gaza, I usually refrain from using it because I know that such strong language can be polarizing. I have found that if I use the term apartheid the opportunity for constructive dialogue is often lost—my comrade has (falsely) categorized my opinion and is no longer interested in engaging with “the enemy.” Unfortunately, it is hard for anyone to talk about this issue without triggering a negative reaction from people invested in it. There are times when I have intentionally avoided speaking my opinions for fear of offending someone or cutting off dialogue. I am choosing to end the fear of speaking up by openly participating in this week at Macalester. I want to honor my own discomfort with the systems I saw in person in the West Bank and honor a call from Palestinians who feel that they are living under apartheid policies. It is a powerful thing to identify with such a historically significant term, and Palestinians have offered me an opportunity for direct non-violent action to work against their suffering by raising awareness of their current situation. Personally I want Israel to exist, but not with the policies it has now. By calling out the oppressive systems in place, worldwide peace activists are appealing to the Israeli government to cease oppressive policies that do not serve Palestinians’, or Israelis’, best interests. I hope this piece and this week inspires constructive conversation. Putting a face on whoever our so-called enemy is can lead us to engage in dialogue that allows people to place themselves in each other’s shoes. Rather than shy away from controversy, let us consider others’ opinions and not be afraid to challenge them. Please bring your voice.