I’ve already written about how Palestinians of all ages and genders in Gaza are nuts about Bollywood movies — and hence Indians — thanks to the “Zee Aflam” channel which streams Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Sharukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor & Co. 24-7.
But on Thursday I was shocked when Mohamed, a young Palestinian lecturer at Al Aqsa University in Gaza City, asked me if I had been to Sri Lanka and then proceeded to tell me about his deep concern for the human rights abuses of Tamils there. “You really must go there and see for yourself,” he said. He had visited the island nation after attending a conference in New Delhi a few years ago.
Earlier Mohamed had asked me if I spoke Hindi, and I said no, that my family was from south India. “Ah, are you Tamil?” Even though I’m only half, I answered in the affirmative, surprised that he was familiar with Indian geography. Most Americans and Europeans I’ve met have never even heard the word, much less know where on the map Tamils hail from.
This conversation was all the more surprising because it took place in the besieged, blockaded Gaza Strip, land of the 37.4% unemployment rate, where 77% of households live below the poverty line and two-thirds of the population are refugees. Another professor had just finished explaining how during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/2009, Israel not only killed the living, but disturbed the dead — shelling the cemetery where his mother was buried.
We had also discussed the similarities and differences between Israeli apartheid and South African apartheid. In South Africa, blacks were allowed to travel on the same roads as whites, not so in the West Bank, where Israel prevents Palestinians from traveling on the same roads as Jewish settlers –which now being challenged by the Palestinian “Freedom Riders.” Similar to the South African apartheid regime, Israel has corralled Palestinians into bantustans, however apartheid South Africa, unlike Israel, never bombed said bantustans or fired white phosphorous at civilians, burning them to death at temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Out small group concluded the conversation by agreeing that the growing movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel is more critical now than ever. Today India announced a donation of $1 million dollars to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides basic food and other basic services to 5 million Palestinian refugees. While this money will no doubt be appreciated — especially in the wake of the U.S. cuts to UNESCO funding after Palestine gained a seat — people here in Gaza have repeatedly told me that they don’t want charity, they want solidarity, they don’t want aid, they want equality.
Just as India and Pakistan were the first countries to officially impose a trade embargo on South Africa in the 1950s, it is time for the developing world to yet again step up and act against apartheid — Israeli apartheid — when the west will not.