Call it 'occupation' – it annihilates more than apartheid did

May 8, 2014
Sarah Benton

In this posting 1) Ran Greenstein and 2) Thomas Mitchell, separated by a Vizualizing Palestine Infographic about the law on the wall, disagree over the term ‘apartheid’. 3) Zvi Bar’el thinks apartheid is a euphemism for the sort of rule which crushes and negates Palestinian political existence.  Notes and links on some of the previous postings debating the right term for Israeli rule at the end.
beit jala settlement
Outside the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, a playground and garden were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in 2010 to clear land to create a Jews-only ‘envelope’ to be protected by the erection of the separation wall. See  photo above Zvi Bar’el’s article (3rd) for the new overpass to the ‘envelope’.

On the Israel-apartheid analogy, yet again

The apartheid debate is no longer restricted to referencing specific South African practices. Instead, international law is increasingly becoming the guiding framework.

By Ran Greenstein, +972
May 08, 2014

Thomas Mitchell raises an important methodological point in his article “Call it colonialism, call it occupation – just don’t call it ‘apartheid,’” [below]  which I address here. Unfortunately, in making this point he takes us through a confusing journey that obscures the issues at stake instead of clarifying them.

Take for example his notion that Fascism was a term used to refer to a specific regime in Italy from 1922 to 1945, and similar European regimes in the same period, but then it became a general term of abuse with no specific meaning. Is this really the case? No. Fascism is indeed used by the Left, not as a general term of abuse, but to refer specifically to regimes that suppress the labour movement, restrict democratic freedoms, apply authoritarian methods of political control, advocate virulent nationalism, and elevate the notion of ‘state security’ to an article of faith. We could use greater specificity here, perhaps, but this definition is far from being mere general abuse.

Or, take his notion that the Israel-South Africa alliance from the 1970s onwards was merely a “counter-alliance,” a response to being attacked by Arab and African states, part of the Non-Aligned Movement. What Mitchell neglects to tell the readers is that the multi-billion-dollar web of relations – covering everything from diamonds and riot-control equipment to nuclear weapons, making military industries and their ‘securocrats’ in both countries very rich – was a ‘response’ to a few declarations of solidarity in conferences, perhaps a dozen altogether in as many years.

But let us get back to the substance of the article. Mitchell says: “Greenstein quotes the official UN definition of apartheid: ‘any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.’ Does he really believe that there were no instances of such in black Africa or in the Middle East, two regions infamous for ethnic power in multi-ethnic states?” The answer is simple. He is quoting the UN definition of racial discrimination, taken from the 1966 UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, rather than the definition of “the crime of Apartheid” in the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, on which I relied in my article. Many states indeed have committed general acts of racial discrimination, but very few have committed the specific acts associated with the crime of apartheid, which is the focus of our concern. How do we define that specific notion?

The Rome Statute refers to acts such as “deportation or forcible transfer of population,” and “imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law,” and “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious … or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law.” These acts constitute crimes in general, but become associated with the specific crime of apartheid when they are 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” (emphasis added).

What this means is that we do not look here at all cases of abuse and discrimination (which deserve condemnation indeed), but only at those that are committed in the context of a specific regime. The regime must be ‘institutionalized,’ that is organized as a network of inter-related laws, structures and practices; its domination must be ‘systematic,’ that is not random acts here and there, but acts carried out over a long duration with an overall goal.

Israeli Border police officers corral Palestinians as they wait to cross from Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem, July 26, 2013. (Photo: Yotam Ronen/
Israeli Border police officers corral Palestinians as they wait to cross from Qalandiya checkpoint outside Ramallah, West Bank, into Jerusalem, July 26, 2013. (Photo: Yotam Ronen/
This definition, on all its components, applies clearly to the 1967 occupied territories, whose residents are subject to systematic oppression and domination on a daily basis, to the Palestinian refugees (subject to “deportation or forcible transfer of population”), and also – to a lesser extent – to Palestinian citizens of Israel (at least the 25 percent of them defined as ‘present absentees,’ forcibly deported from their homes but not their homeland, while the rest of them are subjected to minor forms of oppression).

Why use ‘apartheid’ rather than ‘settler-colonialism’ or ‘occupation?’ These terms are neither specific enough nor accurate enough. Colonialism on all its permutations is a generic term of domination from overseas, and it does not capture well a situation where two populations that regard themselves as indigenous live intermeshed within the same territory. Occupation is no longer an appropriate term. It refers to temporary military control, but Israeli rule is not temporary and not only of military nature: for all practical purposes Palestinian residents are subject to the control exercised by Israeli civil authorities which confiscate land, fund and build settlements, arm Jewish residents, protect and promote them legally, and construct infrastructure there. It is estimated that over $100 billion have been invest by the authorities on what is meant to have a permanent existence. In addition, the term ‘occupation’ refers to the 1967 territories but does not cover other aspects of the regime, which forms an integrated whole.

The one point Mitchell raises that is worthy of serious concern, is the problem of elevating terms that emerged in specific historical contexts and locations (Fascism, apartheid) into general theoretical concepts. This gives rise to methodological difficulties indeed, but these can be addressed by qualifying the argument in an appropriate manner. The more we move away from historical South African apartheid, which ended in 1994, the easier it would be to relate to it as a legal concept rather than a specific historical case.

Of course, there is a political issue to consider here: apartheid is defined as a crime, and the international community is under an obligation to fight it. This is not just a matter for academic debate – which is important in its own right. It is a matter with implications for political struggles, campaigning and mobilization. Activists have latched on to the concept because of its utility, and that is perfectly legitimate.

Finally, let us give thanks to Secretary Kerry, who facilitated – unwittingly – a new round of discussion of the issue. The current round has not repeated the cyclical arguments of the past. We are no longer restricted to debating the matter with reference to specific South African practices. Instead, international law is increasingly becoming the guiding framework. This also means undermining the authority of the usual apologists, South African liberal Jews who use their self-styled ‘expert’ position to exonerate Israel (Benjamin Pogrund, Hirsh Goodman, Richard Goldstone). And, we are beginning to overcome the barrier of the occupation and examine the Israeli regime as a whole, as an integrated but internally differentiated machinery of domination. We are making progress!

Vizualising Palestine’s infographic on Where Law Stand on the Wall.

Call it colonialism, call it occupation – just don’t call it ‘apartheid’

‘Apartheid’ is rapidly becoming the new political term of condemnation and delegitimization in international politics. But is it truly the best description of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians?

By Thomas Mitchell, +972
May 05, 2014

Is apartheid an appropriate term to describe Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? In an article published on +972 late last year, Ran Greenstein argued that it is, relying on international law rather than historical grounds admitting that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is different—but not better—than South Africa between 1948 and 1994. “Apartheid” is rapidly becoming the new political term of condemnation and delegitimization in international politics. It is rapidly replacing fascism as that term. India used to refer to the nuclear non-proliferation regime as “nuclear apartheid.” But the process is instructive.

Fascism is the term used to describe the ideology and rule of the Fascist Party in Italy between 1922 and 1945 and more broadly to describe the ideology of similar parties in Europe in that period. But since the 1930s it has become a general term of abuse that is so overused that the only thing that one can meaningfully discern from its use is that the person wielding the term does not approve of its object. How did this come about?

In the 1930s the International Communist Movement, which was an ideological and political enemy of Italian fascism and German National Socialism, came up with an official definition of fascism tying it to capitalism. It then became a general term of abuse to use against any group that disagreed with the political line of the Soviet Union at the time. Social democrats in France were labeled “social fascists” when the French Socialist Party condemned the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact in August 1939. After this it was used by fellow travelers and Communists to describe anyone who was an opponent of the Soviet Union. Because of the alliance between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany the term was soon applied to Nazi Germany and eventually to all the Axis allies during World War II. Because the two countries were allies and their ideologies were very similar there was justification in using the term for Nazi Germany. [photos of apartheid  South Africa can be seen in the original by clicking headlie above]

The ‘iron-clad violence’ of the notorious Qalandiya military checkpoint [see Derek Gregory, Another brick in the wall.] This is how a ruler treats a sub-human enemy alien.

But after World War II the terms fascist and Nazi became general terms of abuse, especially by those on the Left mirroring the similar use of the term Communist by those on the Right.

During the period of decolonization in Africa in the late 1960s and early 1970s the core of sub-Saharan Africa—the independent African countries—and the core of the Middle East—the Sunni Arab regimes—formed a political alliance in international forums. The Africans would support the Arabs against Israel in exchange for the Arabs supporting the black states against white minority regimes and Portuguese colonialism. This became part of the non-aligned movement—that at one point was headed by the very aligned Cuba. The result was a counter-alliance between Jerusalem and Pretoria formed in the mid-1970s by the Labor Party and intensified under the Likud after it came to power in 1977.

Greenstein quotes the official UN definition of apartheid: “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.” Does he really believe that there were no instances of such in black Africa or in the Middle East, two regions infamous for ethnic power in multi-ethnic states? Why was the term apartheid not applied to the Hutu genocidal regime in Rwanda in 1993-94? Because applying the term apartheid to one black regime in Africa would make many others subject to its use. Why has the term not been applied to discrimination by the Ba’athist regimes in Iraq and Syria against the Kurds? Because the Kurds are part of the periphery in the Middle East and the Arabs are part of the core.

Greenstein ends his article by asking the question: if apartheid is not the right term, what is a better term? Here are two: “settler colonialism” and a “pro-settler military occupation.” Both are as applicable to Algeria as they are to South Africa. By bringing up Algeria this may have the fringe benefit of focusing attention on the negative effect of Israel’s party system, which is very similar to that of the French Fourth Republic.

Historians would have problems with applying the term apartheid to the Portuguese colonial regimes in Angola and Mozambique, which clearly fit the legal definition that Greenstein supplies. But they would not fit a historical definition because the Algerian settler regimes were not examples of herrenvolk democracy—master race democracy where the vote is reserved for whites. The Portuguese regimes were not democracies of any type and theoretically blacks could become full citizens, although only about one percent of blacks met the qualifications. Even the Rhodesian Front regime in Rhodesia between 1965 and 1979, which modeled itself on South African apartheid, gave the vote to some Africans. Outside of South Africa, South African-occupied Namibia, and Rhodesia the use of the term apartheid sheds little light on a situation but is simply the latest politically-correct word of abuse.

Thomas Mitchell has written three books comparing Israel with South Africa and Northern Ireland, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on internal settlements in Namibia, Rhodesia, and South Africa.

jewish-road over beit jala
Even if Palestinians could drive over this specially-built road for Jews to drive safely over Beit Jala into Jerusalem, would that change the nature of Israel’s rule?

Crying ‘apartheid’ is sign of a desperate left

The word ‘apartheid’ is readily used, but hides the darker aspects of the occupation.

By Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz
May 07, 2014

“When I can’t travel on the roads the settlers travel, what is this if not apartheid?” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat half-asked, half-asserted in an interview with television’s Channel 10. Those separate roads may be one of the most tangible symbols of the regime of separation between settlers and Palestinians, along with the warped legal system Israel uses to run the territories, which has one law for settlers and another for Palestinians, and the verdicts that encourage this separation whenever they ratify land thefts by either settlers or the state.

Indeed, “apartheid” has become an easy-to-absorb, symbolic linguistic coinage that ostensibly encapsulates all the evil and brutality of the occupation. But for all the harsh associations the term evokes, apartheid is merely a whitewashed term that seeks to hide an even harsher reality – the occupation. For according to those who cling to the term “apartheid” to describe the situation in the territories, if Israel had only given the Palestinians equal rights and let them travel on the wide roads it paved for the settlers, and if the occupation’s subjects could only have come and gone as they pleased, as if they were settlers, the situation would have been terrific. The occupation would have disappeared, and the Palestinians’ national aspirations would have had no justification.

Occupation by its nature creates deep discrimination and enormous disparities between the rights of the occupier and the occupied. These don’t relate only to the way the occupation shapes daily life, or to the restrictions it places on freedom of movement, freedom of expression and the legal remedies to which the occupied are entitled. Occupation thwarts or delays the realization of national aspirations for independence and sovereignty, but it doesn’t conceal them. Apartheid, in contrast, destroys the basis of equality between citizens of the same state.

The British occupations of Egypt and India, the French occupation of Algeria and the American occupation of Iraq could have been considered apartheid because of the differences in rights accorded to the occupier and the occupied. Yet nobody ever defined these regimes as apartheid. The reason for this was the understanding that occupation is not a natural or perpetual situation, even if it lasts for decades. Therefore, it must comply with the conditions set down in the international conventions that regulate situations of occupation.

continued below

Nothing prepares you for the enormity of the occupation, its monstrous violence and everyday humiliations, and the sight of the wall snaking across the landscape – what Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir call ‘the Monster’s Tail’ – remains one of the most appalling impositions I have ever seen.  Neither was I ready for the iron-clad violence of the Qalandiya checkpoint, whose enclosures, grills and bars that would not have been out of place in an abbatoir could barely contain the brooding militarised violence of those who constructed it: but of course they weren’t supposed to. By Derek Gregory, author of The Colonial Present

continued from above photo.
At the heart of this understanding lies recognition of the fact that the occupied population isn’t an integral part of the occupying country. They have their own national identity and existence, and they have no intention of dissolving it into the identity and existence of the occupying state. All this differs from apartheid in South Africa, where the state’s white citizens imposed a formal, multilayered regime of separation on the black citizens who constituted the majority.

And this is why the left is mistaken – or more accurately, confused – when it adopts apartheid as a greater danger than the occupation itself. It’s as if it were saying, “Give us an enlightened occupation, and we could live with it just fine.” This trend also includes another interesting development, which holds that if we can’t end the occupation, we’ll create a binational state in which the government will be forced to grant the Palestinians equal political and civil rights. This is paternalism. Did anyone ask the Palestinians if they want a binational state? Have they already given up their aspirations to become a free people in their own land?

The left’s use of the term “apartheid” is nothing more than a cry of despair and frustration over its inability to change the government’s policy – a kind of cry for help to the world to save us from ourselves, so we won’t become like South Africa. For if the world helped destroy one apartheid regime, maybe it would be possible to recruit it for the same mission once again, this time for us, the bold liberals, who for years now haven’t even gone out to demonstrate against the occupation.

Anyone who nevertheless wants to find apartheid can find it in the Jewish Israeli attitude toward the state’s Arab citizens – but not in the territories. In the territories, there’s an occupation. And no more attention-getting label, like apartheid, can conceal its ugliness.

There are many uses of the terms colonialism, occupation, hafrada and apartheid on this website. Put any one of them into the search button on the top right of the page and you will get them. Here, we have selected a few which debate which is the best term to use to identify Israel’s peculiar form of rule over Palestinians.

Falk’s final report, not so much a debate but an expatiation on the terms ‘hafrada’/apartheid, January 2014
Israel, boycott, apartheid – the argument, Haaretz debate, November 2013
Enforcing Jewish separateness Eva Illouz on how it’s done, November 2013
How to combat apartheid Israeli-style, Ran Greenstein on the apartheid analogy, October 2013
How will Israel govern its majority of non-Jews in Israel and oPt?, Jewish Forward on the numbers, September 2013
‘We have created this monster, a dual legal system’, interview with lawyer Michael Sfard
Apartheid through the minds and bodies of children, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, June 2013
Thanks be to Superland for showing us what we are, Gideon Levy, June 2013
Annexation or Apartheid: (some) Israelis search for a word for their reality, Oren Yiftachel, February 2013
Defiance of law, case for one state, proof of apartheid: responses to Levy, July 2012, 9 items
We say apartheid, you say hafrada, November 2011
Degrees of separation: judging apartheid, Lev Luis Grinberg deplores Richard Goldstone’s attack pn the ‘apartheid slander’, November 2011

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