Michael Jansen: Apartheid in Israel

By Michael Jansen 

The latest report published by the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories compares Israel’s policies there to those of South Africa during the apartheid era.

John Dugard, a South African law professor and former anti-apartheid campaigner, called upon the international community to give "serious consideration" to his recommendation that the International Court of Justice in The Hague issue an advisory opinion on Israel’s policies and actions.

In the 24-page document, posted on the council’s website, Dugard states: "The international community, speaking through the United Nations, has identified three regimes as inimical to human rights — colonialism, apartheid and foreign occupation" and accuses Israel of practising all three.

Of the three, Israel is most incensed by being accused of instituting apartheid in the occupied and colonised Palestinian territories.

Dugard says that Israel’s policies "certainly resemble aspects of apartheid". He points out that Israel is committing many violations of the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and cites Israel’s restriction of Palestinian movement, construction of walls and fences to separate Israelis and Palestinians, building of Israeli settler only cities, towns and roads, and demolition of Palestinian houses built without Israeli permits. He compares Israel’s lists of security risks — 180,000 names long — who may not pass through the hundreds of checkpoints to South Africa’s notorious "pass laws" which obstructed the free movement of black Africans.

Dugard challenges Israel’s contention that West Bank checkpoints, barriers and blockades are intended to protect Israelis from attacks by Palestinian fighters and suicide bombers. He states: "It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of [Israel’s 430,000] settlers" who live in the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Dugard singles out the example of the wall being constructed in East Jerusalem, characterising it as an "instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaisation of Jerusalem by reducing the number of Palestinians in the city". As proof, he states: "The wall is being built through Palestinian neighbourhoods, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, in a manner that cannot conceivably be justified on security grounds."

He asks: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group — Jews — over another racial group — Palestinians — and systematically oppress them?" He observes: "Such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

Israel and its apologists angrily reject the apartheid accusation, charge those who make it with being anti-Semites and call upon Israel’s friends to refute the charge. Amongst those whom Israel has tried to censure or smear are former US president Jimmy Carter and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other figures making the charge include Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi; Winnie Mandela, former wife of South African leader Nelson Mandela; Michael Ben Yair, who served as Israel’s attorney general from 1993-96; Ami Ayalon, a former admiral in Israel’s navy and head of Shin Bet, the country’s internal security agency; Tommy Lapid, head of Israel’s Shinui Party; and Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, warned that if a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was not found, the two communities would be forced to dwell separately, with one living comfortably and the other in poverty. Brzezinski’s prediction has come true.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, nearly half of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have no food security. In a report issued this week, these two agencies say that Israel’s closures and blockades and the Western financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority are depriving Palestinians of essential nutrition.

Forty-six per cent of Palestinians are food insecure or vulnerable, in comparison to 35 per cent in 2004, even though during 2006, the WFP increased food aid by 25 per cent, providing for 260,000 non-refugees in Gaza and 400,000 in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees expanded its rolls of refugees entitled to food aid to meet the needs of those who had been self-sufficient as far as food was concerned.

It is important for Israel to silence or smear anyone who compares Israel to apartheid South Africa. On the one hand, Israel argues that the Jewish state has a moral basis for existence: recompensing the Jews for centuries of Western persecution. While Israel’s founding fathers admitted that the creation of Israel involved the commission of injustices against the Palestinians, they argued that the Israeli option was the "line of least injustice", a contention which Palestinians could never accept. To maintain the notion that it is a moral entity, Israel must prevent the international community from accepting the contention that Israel, like South Africa, has adopted apartheid to deal with its native population.

On the other hand, Israel seeks to evade punishment through sanctions for practising racial discrimination to the same extent as the apartheid South African regime. Many critics of Israel’s policies call for sanctions to be imposed on Israel until it ends its occupation of the territories conquered in 1967, halts settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and reverses the apartheid measures it has adopted. Amongst the prime movers on the sanctions front have been mainstream Protestant churches in the US. They have called for divestment in US and other companies providing Israel with bulldozers to build settlements and destroy Palestinian houses and orchards.

Some have suggested divesting from US and other Western organisations — like local pension funds — which have links to Israeli public institutions.

These attempts to punish Israel have raised a storm of protest from Israel and its friends and forced the churches to reconsider their positions. If divestment becomes widespread, Israel will be under considerable public pressure to end the occupation and its colonisation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan, and renounce apartheid. Oddly, Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, which is far more damaging than separation to Palestinian interests and threatens to deprive Palestinians of self-determination, does not raise the sort of emotional objections apartheid does even though apartheid is, in this case, an ineluctable  consequence of occupation and colonisation.

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