After three days of calm campaigning on both sides SAUJS and PSC clashed at the Chamber of Mines building.
The 15th annual IAW continues largely unscathed by direct conflict as different student organisations campaign on campus.
Tensions flared as the PSC and SAUJS shared the piazza outside the Great Hall during the Israel Apartheid Week.
The EFF showed its solidarity with Palestine in a gathering on the Wits University campus earlier today.
Origami paper doves under the so-called ‘Peace Tent’ were the only birds to be seen on the university lawns yesterday as rain dampened the start of Israeli Apartheid Week activities (IAW).
Despite the gloomy weather, Witsies came out in significant numbers to support the ‘Peace Tent’, erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) as part of their Give Peace Wings project.
For the Purpose of Peace
“We [the SAUJS] decided to set up the Peace Tent [because] the truth is we are never going to get anywhere unless people sit down, discuss, and have rational debate,” said David Isakow, 3rd year Media and Psychology. “We … want to raise awareness about people coming together and making dialogue.”
The initiative encourages any student, irrespective of religion, culture, or political affiliation, to come into the tent and actively participate in dialogue surrounding a number of African and Middle Eastern issues. The idea of the tent is to encourage people to talk.
Visitors were also encouraged to fold an origami dove. “By making a [paper] dove, you are making a [contribution] towards peace”, Isakow said.
Africans for Israel
On Tuesday, Serge Tshibangu, PhD (CompSci) candidate, spoke in the tent about his experience as an African visiting Israel two years ago. Born in the DRC, Tshibangu now lives in South Africa. “Israel is a country that needs African support,” he said. Issues could always be solved “by talking to each other,” Tshibangu added.
Two Israeli students, Kokit Hylo and Eyal Cohen, told Wits Vuvuzela they had volunteered to come to South Africa to “promote education about Israel across the world because of a lot of misinformation [about the conflict in Israel]”. Cohen, who is also part of an Israel awareness project called Stand with Us, felt it was important to “share his personal experience of Israel” with South African students.
Wits students who visited the tent were generally positive about the intiative. Safiyya Paruk, 1st year MBBCh, believes the Peace Tent is a “good thing to have [as] it brings things into perspective”.
- Wits Vuvuzela. Peace event gets hammered, March 11, 2014
- Wits Vuvuzela. The big divide, physical and otherwise, March 11, 2014
The annual, and usually controversial, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) kicked off at Wits University this Monday. The event was unusually subdued but certainly more colourful than those in recent years.
Walking on the library lawns today Witsies were met by two separate installations across from one another symbolic of each side of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the eastern most side of the lawns stood spray-painted signs heralding the start of “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2014”. On the western most side stood a big beige “peace tent” erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS).
The peace tent remained deserted during lunch, as the persistent rain kept students from walking across the water-logged lawns to the tent and its contents. Inside they would have found notice boards with information on how to fold peace doves and “images that show the positive and peaceful side of life in Israel,” said SAUJS chair, Ariela Carno.
Right across from the tent, the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) hosted the first of many film screenings planned for IAW on campus.
The documentary Occupation 101: The Voices of the Silenced Majority, screened at lunch drew a decent crowd of students who were there to watch in support and in an effort to learn more about IAW.
Mpho Sibiya, 2nd year BA said: “I actually just came to find out more about the whole Israel/Palestine thing. I don’t know if I can say I support the cause or not.”
PSC president Tasneem Essop and deputy chair Alex Freeman addressed the students before the screening.
Essop explained that IAW is an effort to highlight apartheid in Israel and with the help of a global boycott movement to drive the boycotted state into negotiations, as was done in South Africa not so long ago.
In response to the lack of an official stance by Wits University, Essop said: “The university should have a stance,” and this is why the PSC will be having a debate with vice chancellor, Adam Habib this coming Friday to try and challenge the “free space for all” view they currently hold.
In response to a question about the peace tent, Freeman said: “They (SAUJS) don’t really want peace”. He added that at present SAUJS has a Zionist stance and this is the reason he will never join them, even though he is Jewish.
Once the 2006 documentary directed Abdallah Omeish and Sufyan Omeish got started the information given by Essop and Freeman came to life onscreen through the lived experiences of people in Israel.
The documentary was originally made with the express purpose of debunking misrepresentations of Palestinians to the American public, said Essop.
Sibiya said she had been moved by what she had seen, “I didn’t understand the extent of the problem.”
A heated argument over loud hammering broke out between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups on campus Monday, setting the stage for an acrimonious Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).
A pro-Israel, “Give Peace Wings”, event was being held inside Umthombo 2 (U2) lecture hall when hammering sounds were heard outside the venue.
Uyanda Mabece, an executive member of the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), and Ntshembo Vuma, chair of the Young Communist League, were nailing wooden frames in preparation for a pro-Palestinian event.
David Isakow, a member of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), was sitting in the Give Peace Wings event and went outside to investigate the noise.
“I went outside to see what was going on. I saw Uyanda from the PSC hammering nails into a wooden frame and also intentionally missing the nails to make noise,” said Isakow.
Isakow said he repeatedly asked Mabece and Vuma to stop making noise or move away from their talk.
“[Mabece] refused to move even after I offered to help him. I said I’d take it further as it’s disturbing our events and they weren’t willing to be helpful,” he continued.[pullquote align=”right”]Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.[/pullquote]
An Israeli professor of oncology, Prof Yehuda Skornick, was due to deliver a speech on medical science at the Give Peace Wings event. Skornick also went outside to confront Mabece and Vuma.
The fight continued to escalate with Isakow taking out his cellphone to record his argument with Mabece. Campus control were called in to break up the fracas.
Mabece defended the hammering to Wits Vuvuzela and said lunch hour, when the fight took place, was the only time noise was allowed on campus.
“[Isakow] was very impolite when he spoke to me. We’ve been working and using that space outside Umthombo since yesterday and now that they’re having an event there we must stop what we’re doing?” he said.
According to Mabece, preparations for the first day of IAW began at 6am on Monday morning and were paused during lecture hours with the intention of continuing during lunch.
“This was not a strategic move, it just happened that it was a coincidence,” said Mabece. Prof Skornick was able to deliver his lecture in the same venue after the incident.
In previous years, IAW at Wits has been the scene of bitter arguments, confrontations and protests between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups. Just days ago before this year’s IAW began, vice chancellor Adam Habib issued a statement asking for peaceful co-existence between student groups.
Wits Vuvuzela journalists intimidated
In a related incident, this journalist and a colleague were stopped by the campus control officers from photographing the incident. Look out for the full story in this week’s print edition of the Wits Vuvuzela.
The words “Propaganda” and “Brain Washing” were spray-painted across the wall in large, black letters. The phrase “Realise, Real Eyes, Real Lies” was also written into a corner of the wall.
The wall is used by different student groups to announce events and messages. Vandalism against the wall when its subject is the Israel-Palestine conflict is a regular occurrence.
Last week, the same wall, this time painted by the SA Union of Jewish Students, was also vandalised. A depiction of Israel on a map of the Middle East was blackened out and part of a written message was also blackened out.
On Tuesday, students sympathetic to Palestine protested against a performance by Israel-born pianist Yossi Reshef in the SW Engineering block.
Members of the Student Representative Council (SRC), Muslim Students Association (MSA), Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) gathered outside the Atrium ready to bring the concert to a stop.
SRC secretary Tasneem Essop said: “We heard of plans to host an Israeli pianist brought to South Africa by the Israeli embassy. We then immediately wrote to the relevant university staff calling for them to cancel the event as it is a direct violation of the cultural boycott of Israel as adopted by the SRC last year.”
“Protest was our last resort.”
Israel Apartheid Week is hosted annually across the world by pro-Palestinian activists. As part of their involvement, Wits PSC hosted a series of events throughout the week, which were open to students on campus such as an exhibition at the library lawns.
“We have some photos up as well as a mock prison which represents Palestinians who have been detained illegally,” Essop said.
There was also a discussion on Tuesday evening and a film screening on Wednesday.
A balloon release, silent protest and panel discussion were planned for Thursday. An open mic session is planned for Friday.
Essop said that they had faced some challenges with regards to planning their events. They wanted to have a photo exhibition and film screening in a residence but university officials said no political events were allowed in there.
Essop said usually society events were organised through the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo and Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) however this year they were requested to submit their information and list of events they planned to both Coopoo and university Registrar Kirti Menon.
Coopoo denied that Israel Apartheid Week had been treated unfairly as this was not the first time that a club or society event was reviewed by the vice chancellor’s office.
“Events hosted by SAUJS and Wits PSC have to be approved by my office. This has been the practice for the past eight years. Tasneem and Tokelo Nhlapo objected to this six weeks ago in a discussion with me. I explained that all policies and practices are subject to evaluation and review,” said Coopoo.
She suggested they submit a proposal to review the policies but they had not taken this up.
Coopoo said that when she had doubts about an event she seeks advice of other members of management.
Latest Print Edition (September 14)
The SRC’s decision to boycott Israel, academically and culturally, has made international news as the official voice of Wits students – even though the outgoing SRC was elected by less than 20% of the student body.
In response, Wits released a statement signalling concern that the SRC did not represent all students or the views of the University.
“The views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council and other student groups do not represent the official views of the University, nor are they an accurate reflection of the views of the majority of students, staff and alumni.”
The SRC’s stance was reported locally and internationally by papers like the Washington Post, with some online news agencies falsely reporting that the entire university had joined in the boycott.
The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) has a strong presence at the university with almost 1000 Jewish students.
There are no SAUJS members in the SRC currently, although Wits Chairman Harry Hoshovsky said that the 20% voter turnout is a “clear sign of student apathy”.
“It is somewhat pretentious for the SRC to claim that it represents all Wits students, as barely one out of five actually voted in the elections and thus the SRC cannot be said to officially represent more than that number.”
SAUJS claims that the SRC is in contravention of its own Constitution, specifically section 8(1)(r). This section states that the SRC is duty bound to “initiate, undertake or stimulate discussion or debate or action, or to make its views known on matters of general concern that are likely to be of interest to or to affect students.”
The SRC made the decision to boycott after it was proposed by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). Fatima Mukaddam, SRC Fundraising and Entreprenuership officer, said the boycott action is in line with Wits’ ethics.
“Israel is a violator of human rights, and the occupation of the West bank is illegal under international law. If Wits and the SRC hold the values of respecting human rights then it is completely under the mandate of the SRC of boycott Israel.”
Just over 20% of the student body voted in the 2012 SRC elections. The IEC requires 25% of students to vote for a legitimate SRC, but when this quota is not met, the votes are then taken to the Vice Chancellor who then declares the elections valid.
Jabu Mashinini, the member of staff elected by the IEC to oversee the elections, said these percentages are acceptable given that “11,028 of the voters are post graduate students who are off campus most of the time”.
Tatenda Dune, a 1st year BA student said, “I think it’s unethical and incorrect for the SRC to represent us on such big issues, considering only 20% of the students voted. Ultimately they are representing a very small part of Wits.”
Graffiti artists painting the tunnel between east and west campus were interrupted by an off-duty campus security guard earlier this week.
The Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) had organised the artists, known as Phloyd and Clark, to paint the tunnel for Israeli Apartheid Week. The security guard, Tatishe Moeng, demanded the PSC members who were present accompany him to Senate House as they did not have written permission.
PSC member Aslam Bulbulia said they did not think they needed permission.
Ziyaad Khan, a student development practitioner at the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU), said students from clubs and societies do require permission to make use of the wall. Khan said the PSC should have followed the correct procedure.
While the PSC members chased paperwork with the Property and Infrastructure Management Division (PIMD), the graffiti artists continued to paint the wall undisturbed by security and without permission. By the afternoon, the “Boycott Apartheid Israel” artwork was up on the tunnel wall.
In case security came back Bulbulia carried an A4 piece of paper stating the PSC could paint in the tunnel issued by PIMD.
Students walked past and admired the mural. The artwork lasted less than 24 hours before it was vandalised. The vandals had blackened out the words “Free Palestine” and “Israel”.
Israeli Apartheid Week runs from Monday March 5 until March 9.
This year’s eighth international Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is set to face some opposition in the face of an Israeli envoy.
Israel’s Public Diplomacy Ministry is set to send an envoy of Israelis to represent the state against the apartheid label said an article published in the Jerusalem Post, on February 19.
But Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa condemned it in a press release, saying it was an attempt to undermine the upcoming IAW running from March 5 until March 9.
Rebecca Luton, Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee’s (PSC) chairperson, says, “It’s a reflection that Israel is taking the charge of being an apartheid regime seriously. Unfortunately it’s responding by dispatching envoys to justify that classification rather than try to end apartheid in Israel.”
The ministry is planning to send 100 trained Israelis from different sectors in society to different college campuses around the world where IAW will take place. The mission, titled “Faces of Israel” will be split into 20 groups that will participate in conferences and panels, and speak directly to college students, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and other cities.
Boaz Valkin from the South African Union of Jewish Students says he has limited knowledge of the delegation.
“They should be given the opportunity to be heard as dialogue, engagement and open honest discussion is the only way to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Despite this, Luton says 2012’s IAW is said to be the biggest it has ever been with a “nationwide buzz two weeks before it is even meant to start.”
“We not only expect a bigger turnout for events and activities but also a far more active involvement by ordinary students.
This is partly because of the great IAW line-up but also because students are far more conscientised around the issue with more and more organizations adopting BDS of Israel resolutions,” says Luton.
Witsies can expect two cultural activities and a movie screening during the week as well as an interactive art installation on the library lawns.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, a Wits PhD student and chairperson of Wits’ Post Graduate Association, has begun a speaking tour to Europe as part of IAW and will be uploading daily reports on Facebook.
Last year’s IAW saw 90 cities worldwide and nine universities in South Africa participating. This year, Luton says, over 25 different civil societies, political and student groups such as the South African Students Congress, Kaleidoscope, South African Council of Churches, to name a few, are getting involved.