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Stories of Apartheids

On Monday, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee launched a testimony campaign, similar to last year’s mock eviction notices, to kick off international Israeli Apartheid Week.

The notices, posted on Harvard undergraduate student dorm-room doors, ask the questions, “How have you experienced apartheid?” or “What does apartheid mean to you?”

A variety of Harvard community members, from graduate and undergraduate students to service workers, have answered these questions from their own experiences, positionalities/identities and claims on subjective apartheid.

Harvard community members who identify as Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, working class, gender minority, disabled, and Palestinian students have been asked to grapple with a problem that exists not only in the supposed Holy Land or southern Africa, but also right here at home.

Apartheids produce actual lived experiences. Yet, when intellectuals debate, academics analyze and critique, and governmental officials compartmentalize the term “apartheid,” it becomes an object to be studied, and not a force that lives, or rather, imposes itself on lives.

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We are interested in flipping the question, or rather, flipping the question inside out to hear how apartheid relates to the lived experiences of Harvard community members.

A simple Google search confirms that situations as diverse as the United States to Rhodesia, the north of Ireland to Brazil, and Latin America to Saudi Arabia all have the word apartheid attached to them in waysold and new.

It was called apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the United States, and has become hafrada in Israel, a Hebrew word defining the official Israeli state policy of “separateness” imposed on Palestinians.

From segregated roads, buses, and territories, to checkpoints, a massive separation barrier, and what Noam Chomsky has called "the largest open-air prison in the world in Gaza," it has become quite difficult not to declare Israel an apartheid state.

In following the example of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to hear the real lived stories of those who suffered under South African apartheid, PSC has compiled a list of testimonies to a blog where they can be accessed by all to bear witness, jointly heal, and take part in the process of standing against apartheids that perpetuate in our societies.

In light of Black History Month, Audre Lorde famously stated, “There is no thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.” The focus on building solidarity through recognizing our intersectionalities of experiences of apartheid is important.

As Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn ‘14 notes in her testimony, “I grew up hearing often about the horror that the Holocaust inflicted on people like me. Under the Third Reich, Jews were disenfranchised, subjected to discriminatory laws and ultimately forced to leave their homes, often for concentration camps…I hope never to forget the cruelty of state-sanctioned discrimination—and the stories of the brave and resilient people who organize against unjust systems of segregation and apartheid.”

For those who believe we make “complex” issues too “simple” through our campaign, they fail to realize that an injustice anywhere, is an injustice everywhere. The need to create parallels with humans who experience apartheid in various places across the globe is real.

Existence becomes resistance for black and brown bodies pipelined into the prison systems under American apartheid, just as it does when Palestinian prisoners, including children, are perpetually taken hostage, tortured, and imprisoned in apartheid Israel.

As humans dedicated to social justice, we believe these testimonies are crucial to the process of decolonzing our minds. Whether calling for divestment at campuses across the country or building new narratives to reshape the hearts and minds of marginalized communities, this campaign teaches us that activists and organizers can’t just treat Palestine or our allies like objects.

There is an inner-outer exchange to the processes we undertake, a liminal space where we encounter each other in oneness through joint struggle—which has important implications.

Harvard student Noemi Urquiza ‘17, a child of undocumented immigrants, notes, “All I ask is for a chance to live without the need to prove to people that they owe me my humanity.”We must be rigorous in building better relationships with our allies, each other and—equally important—with our own selves, for stories are the basis of our personal and collective journeys in the long-term struggle toward love, justice and peace.

As our stories connect the dots scattered by apartheids, like Palestinians within their lands, our active participation in joint struggle, working with, for, and in solidarity with our allies at Harvard, is a conscious decision to desegregate Harvard, and build community on more equal and just terms.

Alexander Abbasi, Harvard Divinity School ’15, is a Th.M. candidate in theology and a member of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee.

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