Israelis Fighting Israeli Apartheid

I’ve never imagined a simple equation between the non-racial democracy for which we fought (and which we won) in South Africa and achieving a unitary state democratic solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, I’ll admit to being anything but dogmatic on just how that conflict is to be solved. While in principle, I’d certainly prefer a unitary democratic state with full democratic equality for all its citizens, I can see the considerable differences between our situation and the one in Israel/Palestine that render a single state solution exceedingly difficult. At the same time, I can also see that Israel’s systematic territorial expansion may already have rendered a Palestinian state unviable. (For more on this issue, listen to Ali Abunimah and Akiva Eldar debate the unitary vs. two-state solution on Canadian radio.)

But what’s clear enough is that for the past 40 years, there has been only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and that state has been Israel. And Israel has been an apartheid state: Like South Africa, it’s a democracy ruled by law for one group of people, and a military-colonial regime for another. Those who complain about it the use of “apartheid” to describe Israeli policies are either in deep denial, or else argue, as many liberals do, that the term is not helpful because it is provocative or “demonizes” the Israelis. This, too, though, is an evasion: The purpose of using the term is precisely to draw attention to the fact that Israel is routinely engaged in practices long deemed abhorrent by the international community, but because of Israel’s claim to represent the Jewish people and because of our history of suffering, this reality is simply overlooked, excused, or ignored. So, yes, using the word “apartheid” to describe what Israel is doing in the West Bank is meant to make people feel uncomfortable over what Israel is doing, and to recognize that condoning it is the moral equivalent of condoning apartheid. Clearly, that’s why Israeli human rights advocates routinely use the term.

Israeli apartheid is eloquently explained in today’s Haaretz by Amira Hass, the exceptionally courageous moral beacon of Israeli journalism, as a daughter of Holocaust survivors living in Ramallah. In a blistering moral challenge to her fellow Israelis, she writes:

Those who say they support a two-state solution are ignoring the other facet of the democracy-for-Jews – the military regime that it imposes on the Palestinians. This regime creates faits accomplis all the time, foiling the last chance for a solution (i.e. full withdrawal with slight changes to the June 4, 1967 lines and establishing a Palestinian state).

The Jewish citizens who enjoy their democracy are not personally harmed by its other facet. On the contrary, they gain from it – cheap land and quality housing, additional water sources, a cadre of security professionals in demand worldwide, and thriving defense industries. This is the “calm” that even self-defined peace supporters refrain from disrupting.

In the Soviet empire and racist South Africa – like in today’s Burma (Myanmar) – objecting to oppression involved a high personal price. Therefore, one could understand the objectors who chose not to act. In Israel, because it is a democracy for Jews, all those who sit idle, ignoring what is being done in their name, bear a heavy responsibility.

Chiefs of staff, prime ministers, ministers and generals are not the only ones responsible. Anyone who theoretically objects to oppression, discrimination and expulsion, but does not actively take part in the struggle and in creating a constant popular resistance to topple the apartheid regime we have created here, is responsible.

Amira Hass is hardly alone among Israelis in answering the moral challenge she outlines. There are dozens of Israelis, week in and week out, working to challenge the occupation, in pretty much the same way that we, a handful of whiteys, were doing alongside our black comrades in South Africa in the 80s.

Elsewhere, Hass has written of the efforts of these groups, and how they remind Palestinians of the existence of “other” Israelis, and knit together the sort of humane, decent civil society that transcends the boundaries between the two peoples:

Since the 1990s, Israel has endeavored to separate the two peoples. It has restricted opportunities to meet and get to know one another outside the master-serf framework, VIP meetings or luxurious overseas peace showcases from which the term “occupation” is completely absent.

Because of this separation, the Palestinians know only settlers and soldiers – in other words, only those whose conduct and roles in the system justify the Palestinians’ conclusion that it is impossible to reach a just agreement and peace with Israel. This separation also reinforces Israelis’ racist – or at best, patronizing – attitudes toward the Palestinians.

The anarchists, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Physicians for Human Rights and other activist groups – few as their members may be – disrupt the separation policy and its ills. They remind the Palestinians that there are other Israelis, so perhaps there is still hope. And in their immediate environment, they expose Israelis to facts and experiences that make it difficult for them to keep wallowing in their voluntary ignorance and disregarding the dangers that our oppressive regime poses over the Palestinians.

Those in America upset by the use of the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel might find it illuminating to encounter some of those Israelis who, like the white activists of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during the 80s, regularly cross “the line” to stand where the metal of the occupation meets the flesh of its victims, to bear witness and also to remind Israelis and Palestinians that a different future is possible based on recognition of a common humanity.

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40 Responses to Israelis Fighting Israeli Apartheid

  1. Fred says:

    but because of Israel’s claim to represent the Jewish people and because of our history of suffering, this reality is simply overlooked, excused, or ignored

    This is simply false, and does not make a contribution, it is a long-standing attempt to goad and to insult. Rather than to make peace.

    The differences between the Israeli situation and the South African situation are quite fundamental:

    The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the result of an unwanted war. The Israelis are not motivated by racial theories. Skin color is not emotional issue here. The Palestinians make quite clear that ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will not bring peace. Read the Hamas covenant if you don’t believe me.

    The occupation is the result of war, it is simply false to imply that the violence is the result of the occupation.

    If a Palestinian State is formed, they will be taken over by Hamas or dominated by Syria. The closer Abbas comes to a peace treaty the less popular he becomes. The Arab masses will not tolerate peaceful recognition of Israel. This is the problem, not some nutty theory of racial differences.

    Amira Hass is a professional gadfly who needs attention, so she says the most outrageous thing she can. This is not a truthful or honest approach.

    The ongoing war between the Arabs and the Jews is rooted in religious and cultural differences, not racial theories. War is terrible, and people die in war, but that doesn’t make it racism.

  2. Alexandria says:

    Ohhh . . . I’m waiting for Tony’s response to Fred’s screed. Especially to these lines: “The Israelis are not motivated by racial theories. Skin color is not emotional issue here,”or this “The occupation is the result of war, it is simply false to imply that the violence is the result of the occupation.” Perhaps Fred Hasbara doesn’t know that Tony is a South African Jew, well-versed in the politics and reality of apartheid which he worked to eliminate, and that he lived on a kibbutz before coming to the US.

    In the meantime, here is a March 1, 2000 Jane’s Intelligence Review article about the secret military relationship between Myanmar/Burma and Israel:

  3. Tony says:

    Sorry, Fred Hasbara, but don’t have time to allow you to distract us once again — I’ve dealt with the apartheid analogy at length over here —

    and elsewhere.

    It’s got nothing to do with racial theories, it’s about a people being governed by a regime in which they have no democratic rights of citizenship. Spare me the shtuyot about the occupation being about a war. No war demanded settlements or the occupation of East Jerusalem. Israel has found excuse after excuse for staying there. The latest is Hamas. Yes, you will have to make peace with Hamas, or you won’t have peace. The PLO charter once also called for the destruction of Israel. It’s just an excuse, the latest in a long line.

    There is no conflict between Arabs and Jews rooted in religious and cultural differences. That just displays your ignorance. There’s a political conflict that pretty much began in the 20th century, over the control of land in Palestine.

    Frankly, I have a lot more respect for those like Amira Hass who stand up and confront the ugly reality than apologists like yourself. But then you know that, because you’ve periodically come and done your duty by trying to muddy whatever issues we’re talking about. Hence Hasbara Fred. Hasbara, for those of you who don’t know, is Hebrew for “information,” but it’s the term the Israeli government uses for its propaganda efforts…

  4. Donald says:

    Well, I should probably wait for Tony, but I’ll toss in my own response to Fred–

    Israel has the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the result of war, but they then put settlements in place and yet didn’t give the Palestinians living there equal rights (including the right to live inside the 67 borders of Israel). That’s apartheid. The fact that Palestinians were deliberately driven out in 1948 makes that “ethnic cleansing”. And yes, the Arab forces would have done the same thing if they’d won.

    Suppose it’s true that Hamas would never accept a compromise–that’s still no reason to have built a single settlement on the West Bank. If the Israelis really do have an interest in peace and no interest whatsoever in stealing Arab land or exploiting Arabs, maybe they would still have problems making peace with the more fanatical Palestinians. Is that supposed to justify unjust Israeli policies? And when you say “it is false to imply that violence is the result of occupation”, it’s clear you’re not even thinking of Israeli violence. Only Palestinian violence seems to matter. You’re not the only one. A lot of people seem to think there’s an Israeli “occupation”, which is apparently violence-free, and Palestinian “terror”, which somehow sounds worse. Funny that the majority of the civilian dead, including children, have been killed by the IDF. But returning to the subset of the violence that matters to you, your idea that it isn’t at least in part caused by the occupation is obviously false.

    And this denial that there’s any racial component is irrelevant. South Africa’s policies would have been every bit as repugnant if they had been based on religious or cultural differences rather than racial ones. That said, I sorta suspect there’s a racial component anyway. I’m cynical that way.

  5. ej says:

    If Israel is at war in the occupied territories, then Palestinian military resistance is entirely appropriate. But then the Pals are accused of terrorism for resisting their own demise. The Pals can’t win; on the ground the IDF and the maddog settlers; on the air waves condemned by a web of Talmudic linguistic contorionism.
    Replying to the Freds of this world is a complete waste of time.
    Zionism is a pathology, and you don’t argue with pathologues – it only incites them further.
    You can’t argue with pathologues because the evidence and the logic is other-worldly.
    Fred is recently at Mondoweiss calling its author Phil Weiss “… a filthy piece of shit and an idiot. go jerk off into the sink… ”
    There is much sexual scatology in Zionist abuse. Criticise Israel and it is because you must have been rejected by a Jewish girl in a previous life.
    The fundamental issue is how the Freds of this world have been produced and socialised into this pathological state.
    There is a hard core of pathologues on Haaretz comments, hurling scatological abuse at columnists like Hass.
    A strong parallel with a previous Afrikaan hysteria.
    Of course if one wants edification in sober plodding terms on the apartheid character of Israel there is always Uri Davis.

  6. Wendell says:

    (from a half-Jew Anerican):
    Well, that’s an eye-opener. FWIW, this piece also more succinctly and clearly explains the reasons for the use of the term–and the correctness of its application in this context–than a certain former President ever managed to do (and I heard him trying to do it several times). I didn’t get it then; I do now. Guess I will hereafter be an anti-Semite in AIPAC’s estimation.

  7. Bernard Chazelle says:

    I remember Robert Fisk talking about the indelible impression Amira Hass’s mother made on her when talking about her own cattle train journey to the concentration camp under the impassive gaze of ordinary German women, looking at the dying and the soon-to-be-dead and displaying not a trace of emotion.

    That fear of guilt, that fear of being the bystander looking on, like a Martian visiting, permeates her writings.

    Lucky Haaretz for having her, and kudos to them for realizing how lucky they are.

    I wonder what she thinks of our society: we may be losing the war in Iraq, but we’ve won the war on guilt. Nothing we do can ever be wrong. We err but we always mean well.

    Ah, the noxious, pig-headed conviction of those who sincerely believe they always mean well.

  8. Fred => FredJ says:

    Fred is recently at Mondoweiss calling its author Phil Weiss “… a filthy piece of shit and an idiot. go jerk off into the sink… ”

    Never heard of Mondoweiss, must be a different Fred. I meant to switch my handle to FredJ, remind me if I forget.

    Racism and racial beliefs were at the core of South African Apartheid. Racism is not even close to the core of either side in the Arab-Israeli dispute. That’s why calling the situation Apartheid is a provocation rather than an analysis.

    Reciting a list of evil deeds done by the Israeli government is irrelevant as to whether the Israelis are construction Apartheid. To be cynical, not all evils are the same and they aren’t all Apartheid. Lots of governments (and Palestinians) have done lots of evil things over the past 70 years,

    Overall the occupation and control of the West Bank and Gaza is an expense for Israel and its government. It isn’t a profit center. Government policy is pushed by military requirements, not a desire for more land to develop. Those who ignore the security requirements of Israel and blow up the hype of Apartheid delay peace by ignoring one of the fundamental issues.

    The only reasonable compromise involves partition of the land; But Arab rejectionists refute even that. And the rejectionists are ever more popular and powerful in the Palestinian camp.

  9. FredJ says:

    Israel has the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the result of war, but they then put settlements in place and yet didn’t give the Palestinians living there equal rights (including the right to live inside the 67 borders of Israel). That’s apartheid.

    Everything in this quote from Donald is true except for the last two words.

    After 1967 there were 2 consistent choices Israel could have made; either evict the Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza and annex the land, or withdraw completely.

    Eviction seemed harsh. But withdrawal seemed dangerous, the land could be used to negotiate a “Land for Peace” deal with the Arabs. Giving back the land undercuts the negotiations. So Israel muddled. Besides, virtually nobody ever gave back conquered land without something in return.

    Never ascribe to evil that which can be explained by incompetence. I think that applies here.

  10. Matthew says:

    My two cents: The most useless line of argument is claiming that what people argued for in the past is eternal and must be constantly applied to the present. Think Manifest Destiny and Justifications for Slavery in the American context.

    Fred: Ben Gurion wanted the northern border of Isarel to the be Litani river. May I assume that every Israeli man, woman, ad child wakes up every morning utterly committed to obtaining the Litani? Of course not.

    Only people who don’t want peace refer to 60 year old statements as proof of current motivation. Applying your logic, I could quote Hitler’s speeches to “reveal” current Geman motivations.

  11. Donald says:

    Fred, they could have held onto the land until a final peace agreement and not instituted a settlement policy. I understand that Israel has legitimate security needs, but unfortunately those needs are constantly being used as an excuse for bad Israeli actions.

    The apartheid policy comes in when they choose to hold onto the land and set up two standards of treatment–one for Israelis who can live in a West Bank settlement if they want, and another for West Bank Palestinians, who can’t move inside the Green Line if they want.

    I also agree that many other groups (including Palestinians) do bad things, but within the US the difficulty is getting the mainstream press and politicians to admit the seriousness of the crimes committed by the Israelis. No doubt in many parts of the world one might need to focus on explaining that the Arabs have numerous crimes to their “credit”, but that’s not the problem in the US.

  12. ej says:

    If not scatology then more sophistry from Fredj.
    The occupied territories are not needed for ‘security’. Occupation has enhanced the insecurity of the Israeli population. The Occupation is driven by lebensraum.
    There is nothing to negotiate; what do the Palestinians have to give away except more of their land and the remnants of their humanity.
    Israel is a criminal regime, end of story.

  13. chycho says:

    According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Apartheid is “racial segregation”, and in Israel, one only has to look at the education system to convince themselves that an Apartheid regime governs Israel.

    Human Rights Watch reports that “nearly one in four of Israel’s 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in a public school system wholly separate from the majority. The children in this parallel school system are Israeli citizens of Palestinian Arab origin. Their schools are a world apart in quality from the public schools serving Israel’s majority Jewish population. Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educational opportunities than are offered other Israeli children…

    Education Ministry authorities have acknowledged that the ministry spends less per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish school system. The majority’s schools also receive additional state and state-sponsored private funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies. The gap is enormous–on every criterion measured by Israeli authorities.”

    Based solely on this report, Tony Karon is justified in stating that: “those in America upset by the use of the term ‘apartheid’ in reference to Israel might find it illuminating to encounter some of those Israelis who, like the white activists of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during the 80s, regularly cross ‘the line’ to stand where the metal of the occupation meets the flesh of its victims, to bear witness and also to remind Israelis and Palestinians that a different future is possible based on recognition of a common humanity.”

  14. Tony says:

    Chycho, apartheid was a lot more than segregation, Merriam-Webster has an over simplistic definition. Essentially it was a colonial situation in which Africans living in South Africa were governed by a state in which they were not citizens, because the regime defined them as essentially foreign. The Bantustan policy was supposed to create separate “countries” for these people to be citizens of, but these were a farce. I was focusing my apartheid analogy specifically on the occupation, which has created the same reality — most Palestinians living West of the Jordan River are governed by the Israeli state, but it treats them not as citizens, but as subjects of a colonial military-administrative system. Apologists for Israel like to say that this is a temporary situation forced on Israel by war, but the reality is that Israel has occupied those territories for two thirds of 61 year history, and continually invents excuses for not ending the occupation, which it cemented by illegally settling close to half a million of its own people in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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  17. Shlomo says:

    Personally, I’m agnostic as to whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. I don’t think it matters. All I need to know is that there is widespread and systematic discrimination, and that in Palestinian Territories the occupying regime is increasingly apartheidal.

    EJ, Israel has certainly committed its fair share of war crimes, but at how many war crimes (and of what severity) are necessary to make a regime “criminal”? Also, I could not disagree more that calling Israel a criminal regime is “end of story”. In fact, I would argue that it is useless. All the matters is how Israel can be induced to stop its criminal acts.

    Chyco, Whites and Blacks in America also have an education gap, but this does not make America an apartheid state. That being said, the situation is still very grave in the Palestinian Territories.

  18. chycho says:

    Tony – I understand what you were trying to say, and I agree. I was just showing that even based on the most simplistic definitions, Israel is an Apartheid state.

    Most would even argue that it is worst than South African Apartheid. After all they did not use gun ships and so-called “smart bomb” shot from the most sophisticated fighters in the world to oppress.

  19. Matthew says:

    Chycho: And the United States didn’t spend its time at the UN defending every South African atrocity either….

    In that sense, Israel really is worse. It requires its friends to become accomplices in its violence. South Africa bore the responsibility for its crimes primarily on its own…..except for help from one small country in the Levant….

  20. Jeff says:

    ever ask what was before Israeli occupation? Simple other occupation, by Jordan and Egypt. Israel is the only country to give so called “Palestinians” any land of their own.

    The land that was given to them was then used to murder innocent civillians. Remember Israel was invaded and only in a counter attack did they capture the land. It would be suicide for Israel to give land to those fanatics who constantly state their sole purpose is to destroy Israel.
    Since Oslo over 95% of “Palestinians” are under arab control. Unfortunately the y keep trying to blow themselves up so Israel is forced to limit their mobility. One day I hope, arabs will learn the value of life and try to live in peace. Until then Israel cannot afford to move an inch for its current position.

  21. delia ruhe says:

    “…I can also see that Israel’s systematic territorial expansion may already have rendered a Palestinian state unviable.”

    I agree. Israel has shot itself in the foot with these settlements. There is such a thing as too many “facts on the ground.” (Besides, too many people have become downright cynical about the term “peace process.” “Stall process” is more like it.)

    But what’s done is done. No use crying about it.

    I agree with Tony Judt’s postcolonial reasoning, and I think that Joel Kovel picked the right time to publish his book on *Overcoming Zionism*.

    But I think it’s gonna be damn difficult working out the terms of a bicultural/multicultural state. It may require the dying-off of an older generation and a coming-to-maturity of a younger generation before there can even be a civilized discussion about it.

    Thanks for this column, Tony. It’s the very best thing I’ve read on the issue for a very long time.

  22. Yehudit says:

    I have a pretty good idea as to how we became an “accidental empire”. Gershom Gorenberg convinced me that any shifting of the blame for the 1967 war from Arabs to Israelis is a malicious misinterpretation of history.

    However, I’m concerned with the following questions:

    Does the Israeli civilian settlement of the West Bank contributes to Israel’s security? Or are Judea and Samaria our birthright, and we will be willing to shed our blood for eternity in defense of the “Land of Israel”? Is it true that “ if we give up Shilo today, and we’ll give up Tel-Aviv tomorrow”?

    I would really appreciate a sober assessment of the Israeli civilian settlement policy from the point of view of Israeli security.

  23. feroze says:

    put amira in charge peace in 5 minutes

  24. Tony Wicher says:

    It’s wonderful to find this web site. I agree with every word Tony says and I have been saying the same things as an American citizen.

    Here is my position put simply. The Zionist project of a Jewish state in the Holy Land means creating a Jewish supermajority there. There is no way to do that without getting rid of the Arabs. Therefore, Zionism means ethnic cleansing. The current Israeli government is faithfully carrying out the Zionist project, by relentlessly persecuting the Arabs until they give up and go to Jordan or wherever. Either you honestly say that this is your objective or you give up on the Zionist project, that is, on the idea of a Jewish state. Instead, you will change your objective to that of transforming Israel into a true multiethnic democracy in which all residents of the land are full equal citizens.

    I believe that if the Israeli people adopt this objective, they will find an answer among the Palestinian people, and that they will have the support of the United States, the United Nations, Arab countries and the whole world in making this transformation.

    Tony Wicher
    Ontario, California
    Member, Tikkun Community
    Network of Spiritual Progressives

  25. Yehudit says:

    To Tony Wicher:

    One bi-national democratic state on the territory between Jordan River and the sea appears to be the most rational solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But once you study the situation in depth, it becomes apparent that the human beings aren’t rational animals, and do not live up to utopian ideas. (As a former dissident and survivor of one wonderful idea gone mad, I can personally attest to the human irrationality.)

    If you are interested in investigating the idea of bi-national state, I think you would find Uri Avnery’s 5/08/07 essay “One State: Solution or Utopia” very informative.

    If you belong to Tikkun, you probably already know Avnery’s credentials, including decades of work for the Israeli “Gush Shalom”. In this article he provides comprehensive argumentation against one bi-national state solution.

    I believe that anybody who is talking about “one bi-national state” solution, should get ready to evacuate the entire Jewish population of Israel/Palestine from the Middle East. The questions are: where will we go? who needs us?

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  31. Goy says:

    I hope Obama makes AIPAC register as an agent of a foreign government. I hate that the Jews get away with all this crap but we are racist if we talk about AIPAC or Israel!

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