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Interview with Omar Shaban: Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights

Shaban speaks on BDS, apartheid and attacks on Palestinian solidarity movements

by vmc

BDS on June 5
BDS on June 5
Omar Shaban
Omar Shaban

Also posted by isaac:

A whole week of flotilla and Palestinian solidarity protests led to a massive Saturday rally in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, ending in a hundreds-strong march through the Vancouver downtown core.

Omar Shaban, one of the organizers of the June 5 Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) protest and a member of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), talked to VMC ahead of the protest.

VMC: How did SPHR start out?

Omar Shaban: It started at UBC (University of British Columbia), and was set up by a number of people. It then went out of service for a year, until some people including Fatima Meghji came together to set it up again. I've been president only since September 2009. One of their main events was having Jon Elmer come out to speak, which was before I joined as president. The event had a huge attendance, and that's how SPHR took off.

We have a large membership and a sizable 12-person executive committee. We've had many events, most important of which was a talk by Norman Finklestein. We also had Anarchists Against the Wall; we've hosted many speakers. We've also set up awareness events like the UBC checkpoint, and even set up an actual wall – 8 foot high and 24 feet wide to mimic the real apartheid wall. We also work with the UBC administration, who are actually very friendly. We have dialogue with them on-campus to explain to them that the work we do is straightforward in that it is a human rights cause. They are very understanding and have backed our proposals. They're cooperative and have never tried to ban us.

VMC: What was your motivation for being part of SPHR?

OS: I was born here but grew up in Lebanon. I was raised in the northern Lebanon refugee camps, so I am familiar with the situation in refugee camps. I am also familiar with the Palestinian suffering in the Occupied Territories, as well as that in Israel.

For me, the situation was different because I could always come back to Canada, but for people who can not it is a different story. There are about 70 professions in Lebanon in which Palestinians cannot work, and so many issues with being a refugee. SPHR next year will be focusing specifically on Palestinian refugee issues. There are also unregistered refugees who don't even have access to medicine and food – the unknown refugees. That's what motivates me – being a Palestinian and one that cares about Palestinian human rights. And also being a student of international human rights.

VMC: What is today's event specifically about?

OS: The event today was called by the Boycott Divest Sanctions committee. They wanted a global day of action, which includes protests around the world – these took place today from Australia to Austria to Brazil. Today's protest is also about the Freedom Flotilla on which activists were killed by Israeli commandos.

VMC: Boycott and sanctions helped break down the Apartheid regime in South Africa. How close is the situation in Palestine to that in South Africa?

OS: As SPHR, when we do the comparison, we don't do so simply for the sake of saying that Israel is exactly like South Africa in the Apartheid days. There was Apartheid in South Africa, against which Nelson Mandela fought. He called for a BDS campaign against the government at that time. This is exactly what is going on against Palestine too, but when we call the Israeli regime an Apartheid regime we don't do it because it looks like the old South African regime. They have some similarities, and also have some differences. There is an Apartheid convention and it is defined very specifically. BDS works because it is a grassroots effort. It is not something that we as internationals began but something that Palestinians in the Occupied Territories called for to put pressure on the Israeli government.

VMC: Has there been resistance from any organizations towards the work that SPHR does?

OS: Always. When SPHR had our first event with John Elmer, the Israeli Awareness Club president, treasurer and other members came into our event drunk and disrupted it. We complained and they were told to apologize.

They also tried to get the administration to ban our group via the student body (Alma Mater Society). AMS talked to me and I explained to them what we do, so the complaint was dismissed. They even tried to get some of our events like the checkpoint banned, but AMS rejected the ban without even needing to talk to SPHR. We've constantly asked these groups to bring opposing speakers to debate the ones we invite, but they never do. I think this is because they know they are wrong and that what we are doing for the human rights cause in Palestine is right.

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