Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish
Journalist and pro-Palestine activist Ben White spoke on the controversial topic of ‘Israeli Apartheid: From Gaza to the Galilee’ this month at SOAS. White, a prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, led an impassioned defence of the Palestinian right to self-defence. In particular, the writer directed his attention towards the “propaganda talking point[s]” of Israeli government representatives like Mark Regev, such as the warnings delivered before attacks on homes in Gaza this summer. Whilst the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) claimed these warnings were spurred by a humanitarian impulse, White coloured them as a “form of psychological torture”, explaining that the IDF military team reported after Operation Cast Lead (2008-9) that pre-emptive warnings made civilians bereft of their protected status, and thus legitimate targets for military strikes.
The ardent journalist’s talk could not have been timelier as attacks continued to shake the weak foundations of the ceasefire in Israel and the occupied territories. Following the attempted assassination of a prominent Third Temple activist, Yehuda Glick, attacks on the Jerusalem light-rail system by Palestinian citizens lent the continuing violence the name of the ‘vehicular intifada’. Third Temple activists are those who rally for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa complex, otherwise known as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and its replacement with the Third Temple of Judaic lore. Illegal settlers in the West Bank have also committed vehicular attack and since the 31st of October, Human Rights Watch has reported 361 attacks by settlers and 15 killings by the IDF. On the 18th of November, two Palestinian men killed five Israelis in a knife attack in a Jerusalem synagogue.
The past months have seen the re-uptake of Israel’s home demolition policy, as well as the introduction of legislation to revoke the citizenship of ‘terrorists’ and their families. There is also the controversial proposal of the ‘Jewish nation state’ bill which could see the delisting of Arabic as an official language and the stripping of rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The spectre of such proposals hung in the air as White discussed the “years of collective punishment” endured by Palestinians throughout West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. White expressed the current proposal for the ‘nation state’ bill, characterising the Israeli political spectrum as “the right, to the far-right” and criticising what he described as a continuing Nakba and “internal colonisation process” throughout historical Palestine.
On that account, White congratulated the newly formed BDS working group, which is a collaboration between the SOAS Students’ Union and SOAS Palestine Society. This group has brought attention to the proposed academic boycott of Israel. Furthermore, one student brought to light that SOAS cleaners are contracted through the company ISS, which also provides cleaning and catering services – and security services up until July this year – to West Bank settlements.