"Apartheid": Does the glove fit Israel?
Monday, March 2, 200910 Comments
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.”
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