Beginner’s guide to Israel & Palestine

Students respond to debate on Ben White’s book ‘Israeli Apartheid’

More than 40 people attended Ben White’s talk on his new book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide last night.
More than 40 people attended Ben White’s talk on his new book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide last night.

On Wednesday night, more than 40 people attended a lecture by British author and journalist Ben White to hear his views on his new, controversially-titled book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.

White’s lecture in Dunning Hall was part of a nation-wide tour organized by the group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR).

Queen’s has an SPHR chapter.

The book’s title has elicited criticism from those who argue the comparison between the conflict in Israel and the former South African apartheid regime is unjustified.

White said he uses the term “apartheid” independently of its South African connotations, adding that he thinks there are both similarities and differences between what’s happening in Israel and what happened in South Africa.

“Apartheid is actually something that has a definition within various international treaties,” he said. “Myself and other people think you can actually take this definition that’s independent of the South African conflict, although obviously it owes something to it.”

The talks on his ten-stop tour have mostly been positive although he has met some opposition, he said.

“Generally speaking, the responses from people who don’t necessarily have a vested interest in what’s going on here is positive because they can see that the situation is a mess,” he said. “There’s a dynamic of structural imbalance and they recognize that and they want to do something to help change that.”

White said he first became involved in Palestinian human rights issues while he was a student at Cambridge University after he visited Palestine for the first time in 2003.

“I’ve been back once a year, more or less, for anywhere between a couple of weeks and three months each time,” he said. “I started to write about the stories, about the day-to-day reality of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and the idea for the book came at the beginning of last year.”

White said he hopes the book can act as a guide for those who are familiar with the conflict and also those who aren’t.

“The idea really was to do something to be an accessible guide to the public,” he said. “Really the idea is to provide a concise history of what Israel’s policies have meant for Palestinian people in the last 60 years.” Kamal Reilly, ArtSci ’10 and member of the Queen’s chapter of SPHR, said White is different than most of the speakers the group invites to campus because he’s able to engage students with no prior knowledge of the conflict.

“A lot of these speakers cater to audiences that are already interested in the conflict and you can do that and it’s very interesting and it’s good, but on an awareness-raising level, it doesn’t really expand your base too much,” he said.

Daniel Zimmerman, ArtSci ’11 and Israel On Campus president 2008-09 and 2009-10, attended White’s talk. He told the Journal via e-mail he finds the use of the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ to be both inaccurate and inflammatory.

“Using the term creates a toxic environment of fear and intolerance on campus,” he said. “It serves only to provoke, providing nothing to peaceful dialogue. It is inaccurate, and thus controversial, because Israel’s actions are based on the need for security and not on racial discrimination.”

Zimmerman said he thinks it’s important for students to be informed of both sides of the issue.

“Though some students may not care about the issue or may already have an opinion, we hope to at least inform people that there are two sides to this matter, and that it’s not as black-and-white as it can sometimes be portrayed.”

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