About 60 attendees were present at last week’s speaker event “The Soldier and the Refusenik”—hosted by the Association of Palestinian Students and open to U of T students and the Mississauga and GTA community—discussing displacement in Palestine and North America and militarized policing.
The event was held as part of Israel Apartheid Week, which is intended to raise awareness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Dina Hammoud, an executive member of APS who manages internal communications, elaborated on this by saying that the aim of the week was “to spread awareness of the ongoing occupation over Palestinian citizens and their deprived rights, […] to highlight the struggle of Palestinians for justice and equality”, and “to promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement”.
According to Hala Ayyad, VP of APS, to kick off UTM’s Apartheid Week with a talk by Israeli activists was important because “not all Israelis are Zionists, and that is an important distinction people need to make”. She continued to speak about how, through talking to various people, she learned that not many have had the chance to hear what Israeli activists have to say.
The talk featured activists Eran Efrati and Maya Wind, who were invited through a collective effort between APS at UTM, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Western University, and SPHR at McMaster.
As the executive director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, Efrati has participated in both independent and UN investigations into Israeli military operations.
Wind is a doctoral student in Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU and has cofounded a Shministim group of Israeli conscientious objectors. She is now actively working with several civil society organizations such as New Profile: The Feminist Movement to Demilitarize Israeli Society and ICAHD-USA.
Both speakers called for a one-state solution to the conflict where Israelis and Palestinians live with equal rights, side by side.
Wind refused to serve in the army and was sentenced to imprisonment in the Israeli military prison. Among other topics, Wind spoke about racial discrimination within the prison system in Israel and in Israeli society.
In order to reach peace in the future, Wind says that the Israeli society must be demilitarized and the current regime must fall because the West Bank occupation sustains the Israeli economy.
Efrati talked about his personal experience as a formal Israeli IDF soldier, sharing his story of enforcing a curfew.
“Our rules [were] basically, if we see someone breaking curfew, to shoot him. But I never did it. I don’t know anyone from my unit at that time who did it,” he said, before going on to discuss how one night his friend from the army woke him from his sleep and he realized the reality of what he was doing.
“[My friend] looked shocked, not saying a word. He was supposed to be outside till seven in the morning. ‘Why are you here?’ I asked him, and my friend is just mumbling something to me. And I understood something is happening but I don’t know what,” Efrati said. “I shook my friend [and asked him], ‘Man, what is going on?’ And he’s looking at me and saying, ‘I think we just killed a little boy.’
“I was trained at that time to fight in the army, but I didn’t know what to say to a guy who just killed a little boy. I was not trained for that,” he said.
Reflecting on the talk, APS president Tamam Khalaf said, “It is important that two people who were raised Zionists, for them to say it, that we were forced to do this, and that. And that they see the issue in it now.
“It’s extremely important because it shows Palestinians are not being anti-Semitic. It’s about Palestine itself, and wanting it back,” she said.
When asked whether APS considered the event a success, Hammoud said, “We were really happy with the Israeli activists coming in and shining a new light on the reality of the situation, since they came from within the system and grew to resist and oppose the system.”
APS will hold one more event this Wednesday, a mock checkpoint near the Student Centre, in an attempt to convey what life is like for Palestinians who have to enter the Israeli state from the Palestinian territories to carry out their daily tasks.