Apartheid Israel?, Speaking Up, Out and About: A Call to Action for Black Folks?

This is a bit long so here are my early apologies…

June 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. May 15th, 2007 marks the 59th anniversary of the Nakba (“the catastrophe”) which saw the mass deportation of a million Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundred of Palestinian villages in order to create the exclusive Jewish state of Israel. While many Jewish Israelis (and Jews throughout the diaspora) celebrate the Nakba as their independence, Palestinians and concerned people throughout the world mark this date the as the beginning of a disastrous chain of events that have made Palestinians sojourners in their own land.

On 15 May 2007, 22 Black American professors, writers, religious figures, and other leaders issued a call to Black America to join in the June 10 March and rally, and break the silence on the injustices faced by the Palestinian people. With recent comparisons between the Israeli state as an Apartheid state in similar (but, not the same way) as Apartheid South Africa, the attempts to bridge solidarity between the Black (of Africa as well as the Diaspora) have been made. The call to Black America that calls for a special type of internationalism that requires understanding how the treatment of Palestinians is connected to the treatment of Blacks under Apartheid but people of color in general who are often caught in the matrices of socio-spatial control, mobility monitoring, death (physical & psychological), and often blatant sanctioning of said injustices. On June 4th, 2004, Bill Fletcher Jr. speaking at Edward Said’s memorial made some crucial points about theneed for an organized constituency in the USA that “embraces the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for national sovereignty and human rights: In this sense, the Palestinian struggle is an anti-racist struggle, but it is more than that. It must be seen as a struggle which represents the moral center of the movement for global justice.”

Johnathan Scott in a piece entitled the “Niggerization of Palestine” asks “how Americans might respond politically if they came to know that a significant portion of their tax dollars is funding the most brutal system of racial oppression the world has seen since American Jim Crow and apartheid in South Africa.” Currently, the occupation cost Israel $12 billion a year, a feat that would be nearly impossible without the $8 billion in unconditional U.S. aid that is readily given to Israel. Scott further writes that the American struggle against Israeli occupation has often avoided the racial character of Israeli imperialism especially considering the parallel “between the nature of Israel’s establishment in 1948 and the Anglo-American extermination of the indigenous population, the Native Americans, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is clear and many Palestinian scholars have always stressed it. In 1948 Israeli Zionists executed a genocidal war against the Palestinians, the style of which would have made Joseph Conrad nod in instant recognition.”

My desire to engage more intensely with the Palestinian-Israeli “conflict” (a very dangerous euphemism) was the Israeli-U.S. July 2006 invasion of Lebanon which created hundreds of thousands of internally displaced refugees in Lebanon, and left most of Southern Lebanon unhabitable because of unexploded cluster bombs. In the midst of this invasion, I was interning in Washington D.C. and posted a comment to the mailing list for the group of students I was interning with. I responded to a comment about Israel’s right to defend herself and was subsequently called an anti-semitic, terrorist sympathizer who in all respects had lost touch with reality. Beyond the fallacies and ad hominems lodged in such commentary, I was even amazed how my resistance to dominate narratives about the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli “conflict” could be so easily manipulated into the incoherent ramblings of a anti-semite. Furthermore, I was amazed by the number of people of this mailing list that did not respond, chose to opt for “neutrality” or otherwise sanctioned the atrocities committed by Israel by simply refusing to speak.
As Nobel prizewinner Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote,

“People are scared in the US, to say ‘wrong is wrong,’ because the pro-Israeli lobby is powerful–very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists.”

I would extend this fear of speaking beyond America.

On May 4th I participated in a debate as a member of the University of Witwatersrand Palestinian Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC) against the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS). This debate asked SAUJS and Wits PSC to engage with the question of “Is Israel an Apartheid State?” SAUJS commented that the labeling of Israel as an apartheid state amounted to “lazy sloganeering” that relied on inaccurate information and the victimization of Israel. SAUJS relied on a series of tautological statements, and pre-packaged rhetoric to exalt Israel to saint status and ultimately failed to answer the crucial question: “Is Israel an Apartheid State?” These types of diversion tactics are quite popular amongst Zionists and are an extension of the image-making politics of Israel. The ability of Israel (with the help of the United States who fully funds their activities) to commit atrocities against Arab people and still be considered the beacon of democracy in the Middle East illustrates a dangerous ability to conjure up certain images that deter criticism and demonize those who dare to utter oppositional voices. These oppositional voices are urgently needed, especially as we approach these important anniversaries of the Nakba and the occupation of Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

So is Israel an Apartheid State? When this question is asked apologists and Zionists immediately jump to the illogical conclusion that since Israel does not mimic Apartheid South Africa verbatim then it is impossible that Israel can ever be conceived as an Apartheid state. However, the question is not “Is Israel like Apartheid South Africa?,” Rather the question is: “does the political system of racism legislated in law through acts of parliament exist in Israel as it existed in South Africa?” The answer to this question is YES. Let’s count the ways:

1. Let’s make this clear from the get-go: You cannot create an exclusively Jewish state without enforcing some form of separation and expulsion. Political Zionism is a movement emerging at the end of the 19th century with the objective of returning the people of Israel to their historical homeland in the land of Israel and the creation of an exclusively Jewish state. Funny thing is that in this historical homeland, people were living, thriving, etc. So how exactly did the Zionist movement plan to create this exclusively Jewish state? For this to occur, people must be separated, people must be expelled and people must be otherwise “dealt with.” As Johnathan Scott writes Palestinian people are seen as a “demographic problem hindering the development of an exclusively Jewish nation. The land was not empty upon the arrival of Zionist “pioneers.” “Any “demographic problem” is completely racial: it presupposes the existence of two distinct types of human being, one deserving full civil rights and social privileges and the other an aggravating nuisance that must be got rid of…”


2. Law of Return (1950): Grants right of immigration to Jews born anywhere in the world. This means that if you are Jewish person from America, Poland, etc. you have the right to go to Israel and are granted automatic citizen which provides access to exclusively controlled land. However, non-Jewish native-born Palestinians – mainly and most importantly those who fled during the Zionist massacres in 1947 and 1948 – are in most prevented from returning to claim their land or their property. Non-Jews are barred from returning, while the gates remain open for Jews across the world.

3. Nationality (/Citizenship) Law (1952): Grants automatic citizenship upon all who immigrate under the Law of Return. Non-Jews – including native-born Palestinians – must prove residency and pass other tests; citizenship is granted at the discretion of the Minister of the Interior. However, under the new interim policy for “family unification” passed by the Israeli Cabinet in 2002, and integrated into the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law by the Knesset in 2003, a discriminatory system has been put in place preventing applications for residency or citizenship from Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens.

4. Population Registry Law (1965): Requires all residents of Israel to register their nationality – Jewish, Arab, Druze – with the Population Registry and to obtain an identity card carrying this information.

5. Identity Card (Possession and Presentation) Law (1982): Residents must carry identity cards at all times and present them to “senior police officers, to the heads of local authorities, or to police officers or soldiers on duty when requested to do so.”

6. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (2003): This law basically creates a system whereby Palestinians will be excluded from obtaining citizenship or residency. Anyone else who marries an Israeli will be entitled to Israeli citizenship; But Israeli Arabs who marry Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip will either have to move to the occupied territories, or live apart from their husband or wife. The children of these marriages at the age of 12 will be denied citizenship or residency and forced to leave Israel.

7. Absentee Property Law (1950): This law classifies the personal property of Palestinians who fled during the Zionist terror campaign of 1947/48 as “absentee property” and places it within the power of the Custodian of Absentee Property. Even the property of Palestinians who are present within the newly created state of Israel, but are not physically present on their property (“internal refugees”), becomes “absentee property.” This creates the category of “present absentees” making land and property inaccessible.

8. Land Acquisition (Validity of Acts and Compensation) Law (1953): This law ruthlessly confiscates the land of more than 400 Palestinian villages; “validates” retroactively their use for military purposes and for Jewish settlements.

9. Development Authority (Transfer of Property Law) (1950): This law transfers confiscated Palestinian villages and private property to the Development Authority. The Development Authority passes the confiscated land to the Jewish National Fund – a Zionist organization aimed at settling Jewish immigrants to Israel. The Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, organizations that act exclusively in the interest of Jews and their resettlement are granted a quasi-governmental role whereby the task of land confiscation and discriminatory land practices are “outsourced” to a third party–the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency.

10. World Zionist Organization Jewish Agency (Status) Law (1952): This law establishes the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency as organizations with governmental status in fulfilling Zionist objectives – the immigration and settlement of Jews in Palestine.

11. National Planning and Building Law (1965): This clever law creates a system of discriminatory zoning that stifles the growth of existing Arab villages while providing for the expansion of Jewish settlements. The law also re-classifies a large number of Arab villages as “non-residential” creating the “unrecognized villages.” As unrecognized villages, they do not receive basic municipal services such as water and electricity and most if not all buildings are threatened with demolition orders.

12. Land Acquisition in the Negev (Peace Treaty with Egypt) Law (1980): This law like many of the previous laws, seizes thousands of dunums of land from Bedouins for the purpose of expanding Jewish settlements.

13. Section 7A(1) of the Basic Law: The Knesset (1958), passed in 1985: This law bars a list of candidates from participation in elections to the Knesset “if its aims or actions, expressly or by implication” deny “the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”

14. The Law of Political Parties (1992): Bars the Registrar of Political Parties from registering a political party if it denies “the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.”

In 2002 both Section 7A(1) of the Basic Law: the Knesset and the Law of Political Parties were amended further to bar those whose goals or actions, directly or indirectly, “support armed struggle of an enemy state or of a terror organization, against the State of Israel.” These amendments were added expressly to curtail the political participation of Palestinian Arabs within Israel – such as Azmi Bishara – who have expressed solidarity with Palestinians resisting military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

This laws are important because they completely stifle any form of “legal” resistance to Israeli occupation and abuses because in order to register as a party, you can in no way advocate for change because a call for change would violate the clause that mandates political parties not deny that Israel is a state for Jewish people and subsequently the conferring of special rights.


As the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott writes in a May 30th, 2007 press release: “During the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, Israel’s policies have included house demolitions; Jews-only colonies and roads; uprooting hundreds of thousands of trees; indiscriminate killings of Palestinian civilians, particularly children; relentless theft of land and water resources; and denying millions of their freedom of movement by slicing up the occupied Palestinian territory into Bantustans — some entirely caged by walls, fences and hundreds of roadblocks.” Recently, South African government minister Ronnie Kasrilis commented that:

“This is much worse than apartheid. The Israeli measures, the brutality, make apartheid look like a picnic. We never had jets attacking our townships. We never had sieges that lasted month after month. We never had tanks destroying houses. We had armoured vehicles and police using small arms to shoot people but not on this scale.”

While illustrating the nuances differences between the Israel and South Africa contexts are important, do such declarations as “worst than South African Apartheid” create a hierarchy of oppression that devalues the experiences of Black South Africans? However, if Apartheid South Africa can ever be made to look like a benevolent system, then should such brutal abuses of Arab Palestinian people not only encourage our sympathy, but should command our resistance?

Even if you are not convinced that Israel is an Apartheid state, should you still be moved to action? How much does labeling the situation in Israel matter as far as international organizing and struggle strategy? Is the battle over labeling a silly rhetorical game or do certain labels encourage specific acts? Surely, labeling the situation in Darfur a genocide laces the situation with much more urgency than a “simple” civil war. Does Apartheid command similar urgency? Is Apartheid “uniquely” South African? Do certain nations and people own specific oppressive regimes and forms of bodily subjugation?

While we all can’t fight every battle, what does it mean when Black people of America and the Diaspora turn a blind eye to the struggles of Palestinians? What does it mean when people who recently struggled an lived through Apartheid condone or otherwise ignore the Palestinian struggle? What does it mean that human beings who are so spot-on in their analysis and action in other world events can be so myopic, silent and complacent when it comes to the struggles of Palestinian people?

How to get involved:
End the Occupation Campaign: www.endtheoccupation.org/
Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign: http://www.bigcampaign.org.uk/
Electronic Intifada: http://electronicintifada.net
If Americans Knew: http://www.ifamericansknew.com
Stop the Wall: http://www.stopthewall.org
**Spend the next week leading up to and following the June 10th action blogging for the Palestinian struggle.**

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Published on June 4, 2007 at 6:23 pm. 20 Comments.
Filed under collective action,diaspora,history,inter-minority relations,news/politics,racism,radical politics.