It's not South African – it's Israel's own version of apartheid

November 3, 2011
Sarah Benton

Israel and the Apartheid Slander

By Richard J. Goldstone, NY Times Op-ed

The Palestinian Authority’s request for full United Nations membership has put hope for any two-state solution under increasing pressure. The need for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians has never been greater. So it is important to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it.

One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.

While “apartheid” can have broader meaning, its use is meant to evoke the situation in pre-1994 South Africa. It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.

I know all too well the cruelty of South Africa’s abhorrent apartheid system, under which human beings characterized as black had no rights to vote, hold political office, use “white” toilets or beaches, marry whites, live in whites-only areas or even be there without a “pass.” Blacks critically injured in car accidents were left to bleed to death if there was no “black” ambulance to rush them to a “black” hospital. “White” hospitals were prohibited from saving their lives.

In assessing the accusation that Israel pursues apartheid policies, which are by definition primarily about race or ethnicity, it is important first to distinguish between the situations in Israel, where Arabs are citizens, and in West Bank areas that remain under Israeli control in the absence of a peace agreement.

In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

To be sure, there is more de facto separation between Jewish and Arab populations than Israelis should accept. Much of it is chosen by the communities themselves. Some results from discrimination. But it is not apartheid, which consciously enshrines separation as an ideal. In Israel, equal rights are the law, the aspiration and the ideal; inequities are often successfully challenged in court.

The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.

But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.

Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.

Of course, the Palestinian people have national aspirations and human rights that all must respect. But those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace.

Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides. Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence. Even some Israeli Arabs, because they are citizens of Israel, have at times come under suspicion from other Arabs as a result of that longstanding enmity.

The mutual recognition and protection of the human dignity of all people is indispensable to bringing an end to hatred and anger. The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.

Richard J. Goldstone, a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court, led the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-9.

Judge Goldstone presides: Apartheid vs. State of Israel
Racked by guilt for having exposed a modicum of the truth regarding Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, Judge Richard Goldstone does an about-face and becomes a spokesperson for the Israeli right wing. Is Goldstone the new Benny Morris?
By Omar Rahman and Abir Kopty, +972mag

Richard Goldstone could give those guys at AIPAC a run for their money. So misleading was his recent whitewash in the New York Times on the apparent slander “Israeli Apartheid,” that hasbara peddlers everywhere were taking his picture off their dartboards and putting them on their mantles.

It was incredibly telling that the words settlement and settler did not appear once in the entire article, as if they are not worth mentioning in a discussion about apartheid. On the contrary, settlers are one of the two main protagonists in the story of apartheid in the occupied territories, where they are given privilege over Palestinians in every facet of life—but Goldstone apparently felt they were not worth his attention.

Instead Mr. Goldstone thought it best to highlight how equal Palestinian citizens of Israel are with their Israeli compatriots. What he once again failed to mention was the 63-year process of dispossession those Palestinians have endured by the hand of their state, which has stripped them of 90 percent of their land and allocated it for Jewish use only. Nor does he reference the vast disparities in public funding and resources between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian communities or the discriminatory legislation like the Law of Return, the Population Registry Law, or the myriad land laws that prevent Palestinian leasing and ownership. For Goldstone, it is much more important to let the world know that Palestinians are not prohibited from using the same toilets as Jewish-Israelis.

Neither does Goldstone actually dispute that the instruments of apartheid exist in the occupied territories, but rather, he excuses this because Israel does not really “intend” to enforce racial segregation for the benefit of one people over another. Yet, the mere fact that Israel continues to settle its population in the occupied territories, and has been for 44 years, demonstrates explicit intent. A short visit to the West Bank will reveal the permanent structures on the ground: huge city-settlements, cement barriers, and permanent checkpoint “terminals.”

Jewish settlers have access to separate roads, infrastructure, neighborhoods and services, and enjoy a freedom of movement denied to Palestinians. They are allowed arms and protection from the military. The allocation of fresh-water resources has repeatedly been documented to be excessively disproportionate between Jews and Arabs. Yet, more than anything else, it is the separate legal systems for both peoples living on the same piece of land that underscores their different treatment. Jewish settlers are under the extra-judicial jurisdiction of the state of Israel and its civilian courts, while a Palestinian that may live next door to an Israeli settler is subject to the military court system. Every Palestinian living under the military authority has been subject to hundreds of military orders that arbitrarily govern their lives.

Simply because Israeli apartheid is not a mirror image of its South African counterpart does not preclude it from the term. If we take Goldstone’s advice and look separately at Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens and those it occupies, it is easy to lose sight of what has been happening over the last 63 years. Israel has been operating an apartheid regime by controlling the lives of all Palestinians—although in different ways—living on the entirety of the land where it exercises its sovereignty. Although Palestinian governance has changed over the last 20 years with the creation of the relatively autonomous Palestinian Authority, ultimate control has remained with Israel, which it has used to keep power in the hands of its Jewish citizens. As long as there is no permanent agreement, the conflict and solution is an open question and Israel remains responsible for the government it administers and the crime of apartheid.

It is the false notion that Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip is temporary, which Goldstone echoes, that serves the purpose of treating Israel’s regime in the occupied territories as somehow immune to the crime of apartheid. A perpetually looming peace agreement has been Israel’s best defense against a whole scale reevaluation of the conflict.

Goldstone’s central conclusion is that attempts to place the apartheid mantle on Israel will ‘retard’ rather than forward the peace process. This argument, which has been a common anthem for those intent on keeping the Palestinians shackled to a peace process that has failed to deliver them their freedom, runs counter to empirical evidence. Only through increased pressure and isolation was apartheid South Africa motivated to relinquish its racist system. In Israel’s case, dismantling the colonial architecture in the occupied territories will be no small task. It is a naive and imprudent expectation to believe that Israel will come to an agreement absent any real pressure that will force them to reconsider the cost/benefit value of the occupation and the settlement enterprise.

We all remember when George Bush Sr. wielded the money card to Israel over its settlements and how this caused Israel’s prime minister to put a halt on settlement construction. Compare that to President Obama’s sharp words over settlements coupled with an increase in financial support and diplomatic cover for Israel at the UN. The countless condemnations fell on deaf ears and Israel’s government repudiated its American counterpart numerous times in public, including the announcement of 1,100 settlement units during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the country. Even after Israel signed the Oslo Accords it continued to expand settlements and multiply their population in the occupied territories.

The term apartheid being popularly applied to Israel is no accident, or malicious attack as Goldstone insists. The rise in its use has paralleled the loss of faith in the implementation of the two-state solution, which strips the veil and allows all observers of this conflict to look at the situation on the ground and recognize that Israel has been in the process of instituting an apartheid regime for decades.

Abir Kopty is a blogger, media analyst and consultant. She is a former city council member for Nazareth. Omar Rahman is a journalist based in Palestine covering the socio-political issues of the Middle East.

Goldstone’s ‘apartheid’ denial sparks strife

The author of the Gaza War report erroneously argues that Israel does not practice apartheid.
Ben White, Al Jazeera

After his famous article earlier this year on Gaza, Judge Richard Goldstone has written a new op-ed, this time seeking to defend Israel against charges of apartheid.

There are numerous problems with Goldstone’s piece, but I want to highlight two important errors. First, Goldstone – like others who attack the applicability of the term “apartheid” – wants to focus on differences between the old regime in South Africa and what is happening in Israel/Palestine. Note that he does this even while observing that apartheid “can have broader meaning”, and acknowledging its inclusion in the 1998 Rome Statute.

As South African legal scholar John Dugard wrote in his foreword to my book Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, no one is saying the two situations “are exactly the same”. Rather, there are “certain similarities” as well as “differences”: “It is Israel’s own version of a system that has been universally condemned”.

Goldstone would appear not to have read studies by the likes of South Africa’s Council and others, who conclude that Israel is practicing a form of apartheid. The term has been used by the likes of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

Goldstone’s second major error is to omit core Israeli policies, particularly relating to the mass expulsions of 1948 and the subsequent land regime built on expropriation and ethno-religious discrimination. By law, Palestinian refugees are forbidden from returning, their property confiscated – the act of dispossession that enabled a Jewish majority to be created in the first place.

As an advisor on Arab affairs to PM Menachem Begin put it: “If we needed this land, we confiscated it from the Arabs. We had to create a Jewish state in this country, and we did”. Within the “Green Line”, the average Arab community had lost between 65 and 75 per cent of its land by the mid-1970s. Across Israel, hundreds of Jewish communities permit or deny entry according to “social suitability”. Goldstone’s claim that there is merely “de facto separation” rings hollow.

Successive Israeli governments have pursued policies of “Judaisation” in areas of the country where it is deemed there are “too many” non-Jews, i.e. Palestinian citizens. The current Housing Minister has called it a “national duty” to “prevent the spread” of Palestinians. In the Negev, there is a plan to forcibly relocate some 30,000 Bedouin citizens, a population group President Shimon Peres described as a “demographic threat”. A racialised discourse about birth rates is commonplace: In 1998, the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, told reporters that “it’s a matter of concern when the non-Jewish population rises a lot faster than the Jewish population”.

The other side of the story
Startlingly, Goldstone does not mention even once Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, a network of colonies at the heart of apartheid policies vis-à-vis land usage, freedom of movement, transport links, military courts, water usage, and the Wall (not an exhaustive list). This military occupation has been going on for 44 years, 70 per cent of Israel’s total history.

A reality routinely condemned by the UN and major human rights organisations as against international law and discriminatory by design is, for Goldstone, all about “self-defence”. Human Rights Watch has described Israel’s “two-tier system” where Palestinians face “systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity and national origin” – discrimination that Amnesty International says “is the dominant feature of Israel’s settlement policy”.

As Israeli professor Oren Yiftachel has put it, “a credible analysis of the Israeli regime … cannot conclude that Israel is a democracy”. Goldstone’s op-ed was not about “credible analysis”, but hackneyed hasbara talking points.

Instructively, Goldstone began his piece by expressing his concern that “hope for any two-state solution [is] under increasing pressure”. Indeed, a one-state solution is increasingly discussed – and this worries the defenders of Jewish privilege in Palestine/Israel, for whom the implementation of international norms and human rights constitutes a “threat”.

Coincidentally, the idea that “equality means national suicide” has an historical echo: Those were the words of South Africa’s prime minister in 1953, speaking some 40 years before internal and external resistance silenced the apologists for apartheid. This same process of struggle and hope is the best chance for “peace and harmony” in Palestine/Israel, not denial and delusion.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specialising in Palestine and Israel. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, was published by Pluto Press in 2009

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