Tonight I was among the fortunate 200 who saw the premiere of “Roadmap to Apartheid”. I have been excited about this film since I saw the trailer on kickstarter. And then I was even more excited when I saw the extended trailer, which is just the first ten minutes of the film.
Why was I so excited? Two reasons. First reason: Alice Walker. Alice Walker is the most famous Black American writer on the topic of slavery – her book The Colour Purple is about as famous as American literature gets, the film was directed by Spielburg, loved by Oprah – Alice Walker has about as much moral authority as anyone in the United States. So the fact that she endorses the apartheid analysis and respects the BDS call, which she does by actions like refusing to have her book published in Israel, really can’t be overstated in its importance.
The second reason is the way the film clearly makes connections between Israeli apartheid and South African apartheid. We get so defensive in the Israeli Apartheid movement that we stop using the analogy, we only talk about international law, we say “yes there are many differences but here are the essential similarities”. Well, the film makes use of similarities which are more and less essential, and also more or less brutal. The side by side images of brutal violence repressing non-violent protests is viscerally shocking, not only because it’s wrong, but because it emphasizes the endurance of wrong across history - things are bad, and they are still happening.
The reason, perhaps, why the Apartheid Analogy is so feared by the zionists has to do with the relationship of the redemption of history to the repetition of injustice. It’s fine to talk about Apartheid South Africa now, because it’s over. It’s fine tot alk about injustice and resistance now, because it’s in the past – we can oppose injustice in the past without threatening any power centres. But when we connect injustice in the past to injustice in the present – that is dangerous. And that is what the law of Apartheid is about – it wasn’t just South African apartheid which is wrong, but anywhere a minority systematically oppresses to maintain its power over a majority which is defined as different by race or religion – it’s wrong. Israelis have to react aggressively to the apartheid analogy because it puts their whole zionist ideology into question – and perhaps most radically, it does so in a way that gives them an alternative.
So far I’ve only talked about why I was excited to see this film. Now that I’ve seen it, I realize it has a whole other dimension that makes it more important than I even imagined to Palestinian Solidarity organizing. The way it connects Zionist ideology to Afrikaner nationalism, not only in its repressive dimensions but also in the way it sees itself as the national self determination of an essentially oppressed people. I actually don’t know that much about South Africa, and learning even a little about Afrikaner nationalism helps me understand why whites in S.A. would have practiced apartheid and thought it was a good thing. But it also lets me see quite plainly why the end of Apartheid was, to quote one S.A. anti-apartheid activist, not only the liberation of the blacks but also the liberation of the whites. The end of Apartheid liberated whites because they were no longer burdened with the illusion that they were better than blacks, and also the illusion that if they gave the blacks political rights, they would be all massacred or done away with.
The end of apartheid in Palestine doesn’t only mean the liberation of Palestinians and the return to their homeland – it also means the liberation of Israelis from the zionist ideology that turns them into right wing fanatics, and also forces them all to serve in an army constantly on the brink of war with its neighbors. While it is certainly an easier life to be Israeli than a Palestinian today, it isn’t a good life to be an Israeli – you are burdened by the psychology of the conflict, and you may die in a war, or you may be killed by the resistance. These same things were true of whites in south africa – some of them were killed by the ANC, and many of them had to serve in the horrible South African defence forces that brutally repressed black civilian uprisings.
This brings me to two thoughts about the current BDS struggle. The first is that for the BDS struggle to be successful, it would be very helpful for the Palestinian leadership to support it and for there to be consistent demands between all Palestinian political organizations, the resistance, the people, and the international solidarity movement. This is obvious – the ANC supported the international BDS campaign against South African apartheid, and they were able to take over the leadership of South Africa when the combination of international and internal resistance made Apartheid impossible to sustain. The Palestinian leadership is today in the position of the stooge bantustan leaderships that South Africa created to try to solve their demographic problem. I hope that they follow their own program. Many people do not know that in the 2009 Fatah conference a program was adopted that included this resolution:
To boycott the Israeli products inside the territories and abroad through popular moves, in particular commodities that have a local alternative and exercise new forms of civil disobedience against the occupation and work to escalate an international campaign towards boycotting Israel and its products and its institutions through making use of the experience of South Africa.
To pose and discuss Palestinian strategic alternatives if it is not possible to achieve progress through the current negotiations, including poising the idea of the unified democratic state that rejects racism, hegemony and occupation, and to develop struggle against Israeli Apartheid and Racism…
Returning to the demand for a single democratic state is probably difficult for the PA because it would be materially bad for many Palestinian officials who benefit from administering the palestinian cantons in the Israeli Apartheid state. But it is discussed all the time in vague ways – talk about cancelling the Oslo accords would open up the PLO’s strategic situation to include this as a possibility, for instance. This should be done, but it is not on it’s own enough.
The other thing which to me today seems essential, is the need to talk about what will the place of Israelis be in post-zionist Palestine. Because if the Israelis continue to live inside of their Masada-consciousness of shooting from behind the circle of caravans with enemies at all sides, there will probably be no victory for the Palestinian revolution. And to overcome this, probably the Fatah position coming out of the research centre in Beirut in the early 70s is still correct – that Israelis can continue to have full rights, but not rights at the expense of Palestinian basic rights. And the PLO was right in the 70s to recognize that the place which was called Israel would remain a Hebrew speaking area of the Arab world. Because it was colonization, the indigenous must have the right to their land. But because it was ideological colonization, the Jews who migrated there must be allowed to stay so long as they agree to stop stealing land and taking rights from others.
In conclusion, I am very happy that this movie was made, and I think it will change the geography of anti-apartheid organizing and Palestinian solidarity activism. The next thing that needs to happen is for someone to steal a screener and put it on the internet. This film is too politically important for it not to be on youtube.