Nada Elia spoke at Scripps College this past Wednesday, Oct. 21, in a talk entitled “Within Our Reach: BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and Justice in Palestine.” Dr. Elia, a diaspora Palestinian, was born in Baghdad, Iraq before moving to Beirut, Lebanon. She worked as a journalist in Lebanon during the civil war until she came to the United States for her Ph.D. Currently, she teaches Global and Gender Studies at Antioch University Seattle.
Elia began the talk in good humor, joking about dancing onstage while the technical difficulties of her slideshow were resolved. The serious passion and intensity that she demonstrated soon after was not yet visible. Once things settled down, however, she slipped easily into the persona of a revolutionary.
She defended BDS from the beginning, characterizing it first and foremost as an anti-racist movement.
“BDS calls for justice,” she said. “And if it threatens a country, then that country is unjust.”
She said that Zionism is a form of colonialism, using the definition of colonialism as settling a country against the wishes of its native population. Therefore, she added, the Zionists who originally decided to settle Israel on Palestinian land did recognize that there were people belonging to that land, but simply did not care.
Elia substantiated her ideas with poignantly-placed quotes, such as one by Vladimir Jobotinsky, an early Zionist thinker: “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.”
Elia emphasized the acknowledgement by the early Zionists of the fact that there was indeed a native population on the lands they were seeking to settle.
Additionally, she displayed a 1936 poster by Franz Kraus that proclaimed “Visit Palestine” to demonstrate that Palestine was indeed a place that existed before Israel. Following that, she shared a quote from Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel: “There were no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
However, the nation-state is a modern European concept, Elia explained. She said that at some point, there was a shift in Zionist thought from viewing themselves as colonists who forced themselves upon an indigenous people to denying the existence of those people.
Then, Elia moved into her next point, arguing that Israel is indeed an apartheid country. She said Israel privileges one racial group over another, noting that a citizen of Israel can have one of two monikers, 'national' or 'citizen.' In the US and many other countries, these terms are interchangeable; however, it is not so in Israel.
Only the Jewish can be referred to as nationals, while all other racial groups fall under the term 'citizen.' Elia then followed this with a comparison to apartheid South Africa, where 86 percent of land was for use by “whites only,” while in Israel 93 percent of land is for Jewish use only. Elia then contrasted these numbers with a picture of segregation in the U.S. South: a photograph of two drinking fountains, one labeled “white” and the other “colored.” She then argued that this picture could be misleading: There was a colored water fountain, whereas in many cases during segregation there were no colored facilities at all.
To the Zionists who claim that Israel is not an apartheid because of the differences from South Africa, Elia responded that repression can manifest itself in different ways. Then she included a call to action for BDS: boycotting Israeli products, divesting and finally working up to government sanctions.
For those who support causes such as BDS, it is easy to feel as though individual actions are useless. However, Noah Melrod PO ’19 took away a more encouraging message.
“BDS is a pretty direct ways individuals can do something,” he said. “You can choose not to buy products from companies that support an apartheid state … the whole idea is going from a smaller scale of boycotting to a larger scale of government sanctions.”
Near the end of the talk, Elia posed a powerful question. “No state has a right to exist,” she said. “Do you believe the Palestinians have a right to resist?”