March 21 was selected as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination because it is the day in 1960 when police forces killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass law” system in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Today an equal if not more extensive pass law system dominates the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is briefly described in a February 2009 UN report, which attests to the existence of 626 checkpoints and obstacles to movement throughout the West Bank. Israel additionally disregards the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice calling for the dismantlement of Israel’s illegal wall, which snakes over 700 kilometers through the West Bank, stealing its natural resources and dividing Palestinian communities from one another.
Indeed, Israel’s system of racial discrimination is fundamental to the regime it has imposed on the Palestinian people. It denies the return of over seven million Palestinian refugees to the homes and lands from which they were expelled over the past sixty years despite the fact that return is a right enshrined in international law and affirmed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) and UN Security Council Resolution 237 (1967). Meanwhile, Israel grants full citizenship to any Jewish individual through its discriminatory ‘Law of Return.’ This same regime relegates Palestinian citizens of Israel to an inferior status as the ‘non Jewish’ citizens of ‘the Jewish state.’ The effects of this discrimination include ongoing forced displacement, land confiscation, and denial of essential services such as health and education.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racial discrimination, Mr. Githu Muigai recently noted that “History speaks for itself. Genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes have been traditionally linked to the emergence of exclusionary ideologies based on race or ethnicity.” Zionism, the movement to create and maintain a Jewish state on the land of Palestine, is such an ideology, systematically relegating non-Jewish Palestinians to an inferior status. The recent brutality inflicted upon the Gaza Strip resulting in over 1,400 deaths, 5,000 injuries and 14,000 homes damaged and destroyed, is the latest manifestation of the contempt with which Palestinian life is regarded by Israel.
Perhaps more important than recollecting the extensive evidence incriminating Israel’s discrimination and its disastrous affects on the Palestinians is to shed light on the popular mobilizations fighting to counter it.
Governmental inaction towards Israel’s crimes is increasingly being met with a determined and growing popular campaign to build an international Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, based upon a 2005 call by broad sectors of Palestinian civil society. Consciously using the tools of the South African anti-apartheid struggle, this campaign seeks to make important advances at the Israel Review Conference being organized by the BDS National Committee, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland on 18-19 April, two days before the launching of the UN Durban Review Conference (See: http://israelreview.bdsmovement.net).
Now is the time for people of conscience to join arms through the struggle of BDS to ensure Israel is held accountable for its violation of Palestinian human rights. This is part of the tradition of the Montgomery Bus Boycott for civil rights in the U.S south, and the dock workers of Denmark and the U.K, who refused to handle South African cargo as an act of protest against Apartheid. From these previous people’s victories we gain inspiration knowing that no serious effort to eliminate racial discrimination can take place on a global scale without progress on this front.