I have been chastised many times, on this blog and by people around me who are disgusted that I should refer to their beloved Israel in the same way as the world referred to the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Also, seeing that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has released his new book on the subject ("Palestine Peace Not Apartheid") I feel now is the time for a direct explanation of this idea. Let me be clear I do not believe in the two state solution as does the former President and as such do not fully endorse his idea of peace in Palestine. I believe the only solution is a FREE and United Palestine. Now to the subject at hand.
First of all what exactly IS apartheid? “Apartheid” (literally means "apartness" in Afrikaans and Dutch) and it refers to the official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites and, more broadly to any social system that separates and discriminates against people based on race or ethnicity, especially when that system is institutionalized by laws or decrees.
The big question with regards to this post is why do many people consider Israel to practice "apartheid"? Admittedly, Israel and South Africa are different in many ways (which will be discussed in Part 2 of this post). However, there is ample evidence that Israeli policies meet the broader definition of apartheid by separating and discriminating against Palestinian Arabs, through systems that are institutionalized by laws and decrees. Some of these policies bear resemblance to South Africa during its apartheid era.
Since its inception 58 years ago, Israel has striven to establish and maintain a strong Jewish majority within the state, treating the ratio of Jews to non-Jews as a national security issue. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Threats, Avigdor Lieberman, considers the Palestinian citizens of Israel to be a great “demographic threat” facing Israel.
Over the years, Lieberman has advocated ridding Israel of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. He said in a November 5th 2006 interview with the Sunday Telegraph that Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise roughly 20 percent of Israel’s population, were a "problem" that requires "separation" from the state. He added, "We established Israel as a Jewish country. I want to provide an Israel that is a Jewish, Zionist country. It's about what kind of country we want to see in the future. Either it will be an [ethnically mixed] country like any other, or it will continue as a Jewish country."
Many Israeli policies -- from the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims in Israel’s founding years and the denial of their internationally-recognized rights to return to their homes, to the route of Israel’s current “security barrier” -- are designed to preserve Jewish demographic predominance.
This has led to discriminatory policies against all major categories of Palestinians either living under or affected by Israeli rule, including Palestinian refugees in exile such as myself.
Yes, as a Palestinian living in exile this Apartheid system also discriminates against me!
It's true that “apartheid” typically involves considerations of how states govern and treat residents of territories under their control. Israel, however, has exercised discriminatory policies in determining who may live within the country and who may not. Thus, Palestinians who had lived continuously on their land for generations were forcibly expelled or fled in fear from their homes in areas that fell under Israeli control and have never been allowed to return. Their continued exclusion has helped Israel remain a predominantly Jewish state. Meanwhile, Israel’s Law of Return grants rights of automatic citizenship to Jews all over the world – a measure used to stimulate Jewish immigration and thereby bolster Jewish demographic predominance.
To clarify, at this point in time Israel today rules over:
- 4.6 million Jewish citizens
- 1.3 million Palestinian Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel (sometimes referred to as Israeli Arabs)
- 0.5 million citizens who are neither Jewish nor Arab
- 3.8 million Palestinians in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
Jewish Israelis have greater rights and freedoms than Palestinian citizens of Israel. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote and run for office, they face de jure and de facto discrimination in many areas of life.
More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. These include:
- The Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while denying that same right to Palestinians
- The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty which defines Israel as a “Jewish” state rather than a state for all its citizens.
According to the U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report:
“[There is] institutionalized legal and societal discrimination against Israel's Christian, Muslim and Druze citizens. The government does not provide Israeli Arabs with the same quality of education, housing, employment and social services as Jews."For example:
* Ninety-three per cent of the land in Israel is owned either by the state or by quasi-governmental agencies (such as the Jewish National Fund) that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel face significant legal obstacles in gaining access to this land for agriculture, residence, or commercial development.
* Most non-Jewish children attend schools that are “separate and unequal” in comparison to those attended by Jewish Israeli children. Government budgets allocate far more money for the Jewish schools.
* Many towns in Israel with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns. In fact, more than seventy Palestinian villages and communities in Israel, some of which pre-date the establishment of Israel, are unrecognized by the government receive no services, and are not even listed on official maps.
* The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law prevents Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from gaining residency or citizenship status. The law forces thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to either leave Israel or live apart from their families. Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the law when petitioned by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and other groups.
* Many Jewish Israelis express racist attitudes toward Palestinians and other Arabs:
- A recent poll revealed that two-thirds of Israelis favor segregated housing, nearly half would not allow an Arab into their home, and 40% support government policies to encourage emigration by Palestinian citizens of Israel.
- Israeli public school textbooks depict Palestinians and other Arabs in a derogatory fashion.
- Israeli political figures openly denigrate Palestinians:
+ Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of Shas, the third largest party in Israel’s Knesset, said that "most people know the Arabs are snakes...and snakes should be dealt with like snakes." (Maariv, 7/12/2001).
+ Knesset member and former Minister Efraim Eitam called the Palestinian citizens of Israel “a ticking time bomb” and said that they “resemble a cancerous growth…We shall have to consider the ability of the Israeli democracy to continue the Arabs' participation.” (Haaretz, 3/22/2002)
I will continue with part 2 of this post with the key DIFFERENCES between South African Apartheid and Israel’s policies toward its Palestinian citizens...