Israeli Apartheid Week: The view from Lebanon

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Liberal Party of Canada Leader Michael Ignatieff motions the following: "On university campuses across the country this week, Israeli Apartheid Week will once again attempt to demonize and undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state".

Far from such a representation of Israeli Apartheid Week is the scene in Lebanon. The American University of Beirut hosted a number of students, faculty and staff alike who came together for the first time in 2010 to join the international event.

This movement began in 2005 in Canada, initially by Canadians for Canadians who originally united with the resistance against apartheid in South Africa, and by analogy, with the Palestinian resistance against Israeli apartheid.

The week's program included local and internationally renowned artists and scholars such as Palestinian poet Murid Barghouti, the scholar-activist Natasha Thandiwe Vally, resistance fighter Soha Beshara, and the political artist Juan Fuentes.

Opening night for IAW took place at AUB's West Hall where graduate students read the dedications sent to them from international artists such as the poet/actress Suheir Hammad. This Palestinian-American wrote a poem about Beirut for IAW. The night progressed as the powerful voice of Barghouti filled the room while he described the Palestinian ethos in times of resistance and struggle.

Other presentations included film screenings from South African Apartheid (Amandla), student roundtables moderated by Matthew Cassel from the Electronic Intifada, and the dissemination of AUB Arts and Design resistance posters published in the local Al-Akhbar newspaper.

When asked about the making of Beirut-IAW, Daniel Drennan, assistant professor and creator of the student-poster initiative said, "the event was rather spontaneous and unique in many ways which I think are very interesting for Lebanon. We sent out invitations to some of the more internationally renowned speakers/activists on this issue -- our "dream" wish list. The response was entirely positive, which speaks to the importance of this event and the growing critical mass behind the movement".

The AUB student group for IAW is not aligned with any local political party nor does it demonize other groups of people.

"The students working under the aegis of the collective effort found support from their parents, the previous generation that has not been as active post-war in an effort to focus on their children and futures," said Drennan. "It was inspiring in many ways to hear a positive response from a previous generation".

Rapper Shadia Mansour sang about the symbolic power of the Palestinian "Kuffiyyeh," and cartoonist/vocalist Amal Kaawash explored the meaning of art in discourses of resistance and struggle.

"In case of Palestinian artists, even if the art work holds no direct political message, it still holds the artist's identity and life concerns which are part of our long Palestinian struggle. Art is a form of resistance for existence," Kaawash said.

"Art is not a gun or an army tank, but it is better than silence in the face of oppression. The power of art can still reach the heart of the Palestinian and give him hope".

The concept of IAW expands further than "entertainment" into the realm of educational activism especially for graduate students, both local and international, who are enrolled at AUB.

Laurel Harig, one of the creators of IAW and a graduate student from the U.S. explains: "We are a small group of about 10 to 15 mostly graduate students here at AUB. We met once a week and tried to make all of our decisions collectively. We have had a strong positive response from the AUB community, including faculty and staff. We have also managed to fundraise thousands of dollars, which is a miracle, really. It's hard to believe that what we started as just an idea back in November has become what it is now."

About the sentiment that IAW is an "anti-semitic" event, Harig says: "I don't really have any response to anyone who might call our event anti-Semitic, except to say that I really wish they would spend their time thinking up real honest criticism rather than hurling these base and really meaningless accusations around."

Click here for more information on Bierut- IAW.

Amany Al-Sayyed is a Palestinian-Canadian based in Beirut. She has freelanced for media in Canada, Europe and Lebanon. 

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