Last weekend, amid resolutions on health care, pensions, social services, education and matters of social justice, CUPE Ontario delegates attending our annual convention in Ottawa voted
overwhelmingly to support a global campaign against Israel’s apartheid-like policies until that state recognizes “the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.”
The conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories have been likened to the apartheid system in South Africa. This was the official government policy of racial segregation that divided people
by the colour of their skin.
Blacks were segregated into so-called homelands, or Bantustans, with their own institutions and voting procedures. Non-whites were forced to carry passes to travel outside the Bantustans. Checkpoints were set up to police this racist policy. Blacks living in white South Africa were treated as less than citizens and only held rights in their far-away designated “homeland.” In effect, they became aliens in their own land.
As the famous Jewish South African cabinet minister, Ronnie Kasrils, who fought against the apartheid South African regime, said on a visit to Jerusalem, “Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land. That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the occupied territories; the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common.”
There are two groups of Palestinians living under Israeli rule. One group is in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank. The others are Israeli citizens, but even so with fewer rights than Jewish citizens of Israel regarding where they can live.
Those living in the occupied territories have no Israeli citizenship, yet are subject to the military might and laws of Israel and need the permission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to move about, thus restricting their ability to go to school, work or even get health care. Israel has allowed Israeli settlers to grab prime pieces of land and set-up settlements for Israelis only. The Palestinians are forced to use inferior quality roads that take hours longer to travel. The network of roads combined with the labyrinth of checkpoints has carved up Palestinian communities and created long and humiliating waiting periods at the checkpoints.
The former archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, said after visiting the occupied territories, “I have seen the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” Israel is now building what has been called the “apartheid wall” because it has led to the expropriation of land, expelled Palestinians from their homes and separated farmers from their livelihood. As NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough said in a letter last week to Minister Peter MacKay, it is a “685 km barrier — deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004 — which annexes 8% of the West Bank and places internationalized East Jerusalem firmly within a unilaterally-drawn Israeli border by 2008.”
It was this wall that spurred CUPE Ontario delegates to adopt a policy in support of an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Like members of many church congregations, a large number of organizations in Quebec and the 67,000-member union of
university lecturers in the United Kingdom, they are frustrated by Israel’s lack of response to what has been tried through reason and law with United Nations resolutions and the International Court of Justice. The resolution submitted by several CUPE Ontario locals was
designed to draw attention to the lives of ordinary innocent civilians living in horrific conditions in Palestine.
For the record, our members have also decided at a previous national convention to “call for and actively work towards an end to all acts of violence that take the lives of innocent people, whether they be Palestinian or Israeli.” We continue to support a negotiated peace process based on equality — and that means the wall must come down.
— Ryan is president of CUPE Ontario