"Apartheid": Does the glove fit Israel?

Monday, March 2, 2009


Written by Greg Shupak

Israeli Apartheid Week involves seven days of events at the University of Guelph, and on campuses around the world, that are aimed at raising consciousness about the nature of Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people and at strengthening the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

You’ll forgive me for starting out by making the easiest point in favour of labeling Israeli’s system of governance “apartheid”: Nobel Peace Prize winners Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have made the comparison between Israel and South Africa, as have the United Nations and countless Israeli journalists and activists. To prove in a more substantive way that the term applies to Israeli rule over the Palestinians, one needn’t prove that conditions are identical to those in South Africa. Rather, what’s necessary is to establish that there are significant parallels between the two situations and that the definitions of apartheid set out in international law describe Israeli policy. In 1973, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA). The ICSPCA defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group [...] over another racial group [...] and systematically oppressing them.” According to the convention, apartheid is a crime against humanity. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court also classifies apartheid as a crime against humanity and defines such as a system as an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” If we examine Israeli social and political policy it will become quite clear that these policies constitute systematic “domination by one racial group [...] over another racial group.”

Certainly the most visible mark of separation between the Israeli’s and Palestinians is the wall that Israel built along the West Bank, which has been called an “apartheid wall” in the UK’s Independent. To build a wall around a group of people, confining them to a virtual prison, is inherently an act of “domination.” Moreover, all residents over age 16 must carry an Israeli Identification Card, which identifies people as Jewish or non-Jewish and determines one’s freedom of movement. Building walls and forcing people to carry documents that establish their ethnicity, this is precisely the sort of infrastructure that constitutes “systematic oppression” over a racial group. Moreover, as Bill Fletcher Jr—who was active in the movement against South African apartheid—writes in the San Jose Mercury News: “Palestinian land is confiscated to build Israeli-only settlements and roads. Palestinians wait hours in line at more than 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, while Jewish settlers speed by on modern, well-lit highways.” Meanwhile, Israel continues to build illegal settlements on the most fertile land in the territories and turns what little Palestinian land there is into a series of fractured parts rather than a coherent whole. Figures such as Colin Powell and Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, have likened this practice to Bantuism—Bantustans were the ten territories that South Africa’s apartheid regime established to divide the black population under the pretense of giving them “homelands.

And there is ample evidence of enormous discrepancies along cultural lines in socio-economic areas such as employment, food and water. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, provides an important example of these inequalities. The group notes that Jerusalem’s Jewish population, who account for 70% of the city's population, are served by 1,000 public parks, 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries. The estimated 260,000 Arabs living in the east of the city have 45 parks, no public swimming pools and two libraries. One of the group’s reports states: “since the annexation of Jerusalem, the municipality has built almost no new schools, public buildings or medical clinics for Palestinians. The lion's share of investment has been dedicated to the city's Jewish areas.” Here we see gross iniquities along racial lines, completely disproportionate to demographics, in Israeli spending policy.

Now, let’s look at some of the specific parallels between apartheid South Africa and the Israeli government’s policies. In racist South Africa, a large part of the black population was treated as foreigners in the very cities in which they were born. B’Tselem he Israeli has noted that “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants, who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.” Furthermore, John Dugard, the international law professor known as the father of human rights law in South Africa and formerly the UN’s chief human rights monitor in the occupied territories, notes that, “The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and black South Africans is very great in respect of their residency rights. We had the old Group Areas Act in South Africa. East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or [to the] hospital.” Moreover, as The Guardian has noted, only Israeli-registered cars are allowed within Jerusalem and Palestinians, including those who are born in East Jerusalem, must receive a pass from the Israeli military to enter the centre of the city.

Dugard’s reference to marriage is crucial. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized a 2003 piece of Israeli legislation called the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. This law prevents Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza from becoming Israeli citizens when they marry a citizen of Israel. Furthermore, when such couples have a child, the children is required to leave Israel at age twelve. One would be hard pressed to think of anything more inherently racist than laws that are designed to limit the number of bi-cultural marriages and to punish their offspring.

There are differences between Israeli apartheid and South African apartheid. While Palestinians who live in Israeli territory have some rights that the black population in South Africa did not have, I think I have shown that Palestinians living in the occupied territories are clearly subject to racist rule. For a system to be called apartheid, it doesn’t need to be identical to South Africa’s, it needs to match the definition set out in international law of “domination by one racial group [...] over another racial group [...] and systematically oppressing them.” Of course, none of this is to say that Israel’s brand of apartheid is somehow gentler. John Dungard, for instance, has noted that the situation in the West Bank is “an apartheid regime [...] worse than the one that existed in South Africa.” Ronald Kasrils, the Jewish South African and former member of Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, has made the same point. I think it’s best to let Dungard have the final word here. In 2007, Dungard pondered Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank: “Can it seriously be denied that the purpose [...] is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group [Israelis] over another racial group [Palestinians] and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report.”

For more info on Israel Apartheid Week click here

For Guelph Events click here

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  1. Posted by: Ben BSc04 on Mar 15, 2009 @ 11:28pm

    Can you elaborate on the freedom of movement issue? Is the ID card just for travel to/from the territories, or are there places within Israel itself that off-limits to Arab citizens?

  2. Posted by: Sam on Mar 19, 2009 @ 6:00pm

    It seems hard to believe that, as a group of people who have undergone so much over the course of history, the Jewish people of Israel would subject another race to this kind of treatment.

  3. Posted by: Lewis on Mar 23, 2009 @ 6:38pm

    I'm not sure anyone living in canada is actually fit to judge the israeli situation. This is a nation that has been at or near a state of war with essentially all the nations that surround it since its creation. It's very existance is not accepted by many of its neighbours and the only way it has survived this long is by being millitarily powerful and very well informed as to the actions of its neighbours. Frankly while the allegations here (if true, I'd love to see a source for some of this)suggest bad things about the state that Isreal is in I don't think we're in any position to judge their actions.

  4. Posted by: BeInformed on Mar 26, 2009 @ 8:23am

    All nations are accountable for their actions by the international community.

    By dismissing the fact that Israel should not be judged or be accountable is utterly ignorant. Ask yourself why Israel is at war with all these nations in the first place? Why is it forced to be so powerful military wise (lathered with Military support form the US and Britain) while it's neighbors do not stand a chance? You speak of being militarily prepared because of its neighbors, Israel has nukes for crying out loud!

    I don't know how people can even suggest the fact that Israel is under a threat of being destroyed. Why? Because the president of Iran said something along the lines? Why? Because its in Hamas's constitution? Please leave these petty "soft" power arguments out when you are discussing "hard" power such as having nukes at its disposal.

    We are in the right position not to judge Israel, but to bring it accountable to its actions. Murder of any kind is not justifiable, looting of land in any case is not justifiable, proposing the idea of building settlements on "occupied" land is not justifiable.

    But wait it is justifiable. That's what Israel is doing right now isn't it?

  5. Posted by: JD on Apr 1, 2009 @ 2:15am

    BeInformed: Israel neither confirms nor denies having nukes. They may have them, they may not. That is far from the point.

    You do, however, bring up a good point: why does Israel need to be so prepared, militarily speaking?

    Well, perhaps it is because that several of their neighbouring nations believe that they should not exist and, on several occasions, have tried to erase it from existence.

    I think it's hardly fair to be critical of Israel simply for winning a war to ensure their existence...but that is in the past.

    If you want to hold Israel accountable for its "crimes" then you must hold Palestine accountable for theirs. Because, lets not forget that OUR government formally sees Hamas as a TERRORIST organization...I hardly think that that makes them victims in all of this.

  6. Posted by: BeInformed on Apr 4, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    I'm sorry, having nukes at your disposal are not far from the point. When one claims a country is being threatened, and you turn around having nukes ready, it is hardly a point to be ignored.

    It is a well established fact that Israel is one of the carriers of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The only fact they decline is "introducing" them to the area, which under their definition doesn't include "possessing" nuclear weapons. A fool-hardy argument.

    You say its not fair to critisize Israel on winning a war in the past. How is it fair that they erase a nation, to establish their own? Your own Prime Minister of the past has said, "
    "Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves ... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country."
    -- David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky's Fateful Triangle, which appears in Simha Flapan's "Zionism and the Palestinians pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech."

    O but wait, this is just stuff of the past. The past has no place for present conflicts, right?

  7. Posted by: BeInformed on Apr 4, 2009 @ 12:42pm

    It is quite unfortunate that today's people justify their actions based on a group or government's vision of a certain group. I agree that what Hamas is doing is stupid and pointless, and dangerous. But I also dare you to corner a hungry dog, and see what the outcome is. This does not justify Hamas's actions, but it does give you perspective on the issue.

    Hamas, is unfortunately the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. This very notion is true to the nature of desperation of the Palestinian people.

    Palestine is the largest open prison in the world. The very strict diet that Israel has put it on is testament to this fact. The lack of supplies, medicine, and humanitarian aid to this nation - no prison - is utterly devastating.The State of Israel is criminal, and is being hated upon not because of it religion, but because of its despicable actions towards a people. This is why the nation of South Africa was shunned from the international community, not because of its culture, but because of actions towards a people.

  8. Posted by: BeInformed on Apr 4, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    This is outright wrong and unless someone wakes up, this is going to be the next Holocaust, unfortunately, and through misunderstanding, done in the name of the Jewish faith. The state of Israel is bringing upon hate towards their nation's faith through its political actions. This is truly disgusting Anti-Semitism, this is what is bringing hate towards our sisters and brothers of the Jewish faith.


  9. Posted by: WVL on May 12, 2009 @ 10:22am

    Amazing what face value CNN (media) can put on a subject. Palestinians want to recognize the state of Israel which in turn acknowledges them. However, those who support Hamas do not see eye to eye with the Israelis and therefore conflict. Those who take the side of Palestinians who support Hamas and followers should be labelled as supporters of terrorism. As for the issue of comparing it to South Africa, all those who write on this know nothing but what you get from the media. Little do you know that the western world supported the Apartheid in its fight against the Soviet Union and Terrorist camps (ANC). I stand by both Jew and fellow countrymen (South Africa) for what they did, are doing and shall do. to eye with the israelis and therefore conflict. Those who take the side of palestinians who support hamas should be labeled accomplises to terrorism

  10. Posted by: WVL on May 12, 2009 @ 10:24am

    please ignore the last sentence starting with "to eye with.." there was an error when i pasted it from word

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