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Knesset-member challenges Israeli democracy

by Archives February 28, 2007

Jamal Zahalka, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, called the segregation of Palestinians in Israel worse than South Africa’s former policy of apartheid.

A hundred people gathered at Concordia University Feb. 15 to hear the four-year-member of the Knesset speak about Israeli democracy and the system of apartheid it engenders. Zahalka sees the situation is worsening for the Palestininans, and said that those who refute the fact of Israeli apartheid acknowledge the situation but prefer to ignore it. He said, “I don’t think we should lie to ourselves and to the public.”

The event was organized jointly by Concordia and McGill Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) groups as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week 2007, an event raising awareness on the Palestinian cause for the past three years.

“The suffering of the [Palestinian] people is continuing,” said Zahalka, opening his lecture. The international community needs to take action in Israel to free Palestinians from the apartheid system segregating them, but also to save Israelis from their own government, he said. According to Zahalka, who’s also the Chairman of the National Democratic Assembly Parliamentary Group, the Israeli government’s policies are becoming “crazier,” which does not help reconciliation with Palestine. “Both Palestinian people and also Israeli people need your help,” he told the crowd.

The Jewish state was created in Palestine in 1948 when, freed from the British hegemony, Israel became self-governing. The Zionist leadership “insisted on a Jewish democratic state,” said Zahalka. “[Palestinians] are victims of the Israeli democracy, not of a Jewish state.” The apartheid system was a product of the Jewish Israeli form of democracy and meant the expulsion of Palestinians or the establishment of an apartheid system. Zahalka went even further, stating that the Israeli democracy is based on the transfer of Palestinian land to Jews.

The segregation of the Palestinian population took on new meaning when the Israeli government began building a wall separating Palestinian cities. Zahalka said this situation “is much worse than apartheid” because the walls cut between neighbourhoods, separating families, as opposed to South Africa’s apartheid pre-1990s, where non-whites were segregated from the white population but still lived together.

According to Zahalka, 80 per cent of Palestinian land was confiscated to the profit of Jews. Zahalka said the land confiscation was not a question of discrimination for Israel, it was rather a matter of liberating the land. Palestinians have no way to get back their land since everything was done according to the law, he said, adding, “Israel is a state which respects its laws.”

The apartheid system makes Palestinians second-class citizens, said Tania Tabar, a member of SPHR. “We’re humiliated,” she said. The segregation makes her feel like she does not belong to the land of her parents and her grand-parents, said Tabar. According to her, Palestinians are in the same situation as refugees who cannot return.

Benjamin Hadid, the Vice-President of Jewish student organization Hillel Concordia, said Palestinians should live together with Jews. “We did not want them to leave,” he said. According to him, it is a shame that Palestinians and Jews cannot cohabitate.

The question period was punctuated at times with strong opinions and a few Jewish students who expressed their point of view were met with hostile comments. Concordia University security was on hand in case of incidents, but nothing more than some heated exchanges took place. Montreal was among eight cities in Canada, the United States and England hosting an event in relation to the week.

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