One of the facts about Israel that is often disputed is its status as an apartheid state. There are, obviously, some differences between the Israeli regime occupying Palestine and the former white supremacist regime in South Africa. On that basis, apologists for Israel reject the “label” of apartheid. Worse still, Israel’s propagandists around the world even sometimes claim cynically that it is “anti-Semitic” to apply the term.
There are differences and there are similarities between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa. The white supremacist regime that once ruled South Africa, for example, did not tend to bomb into submission with fighter jets and attack helicopters the puppet Bantustan “homeland” enclaves that it controlled.
Israel, however, regularly bombs the civilian population in the Gaza ghetto, using the pretext of “self-defence” against “terrorist” groups. It’s for this reason, and others, that some South African anti-apartheid struggle veterans have said that the Israeli regime is actually a worse form of apartheid than the late, unlamented regime in South Africa. The main point to remember, though, is that this entire debate is a red herring.
According to international law, Israel can unequivocally be defined as an apartheid state. A 1976 United Nations document, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, defines the term unambiguously, and Israel’s occupation regime in Palestine very much falls into the A-word category.
The UN document points out that, although the word apartheid is of Afrikaans origin, the wider practice is a more general one of systemic racism which applies to regimes beyond South Africa. For a start, other white supremacist regimes in Africa had extremely similar practices, such as Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was once called.
The definition of apartheid under the convention makes it clear that Israel’s occupation regime in the West Bank is an apartheid model. One example of the definition that fits the Israeli occupation is the “arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group.” Israel’s military “justice” system in the West Bank has a conviction rate of 99.7 per cent, and is targeted at Palestinian Arabs only. The Jewish settlers illegally colonising the same territory have recourse to Israel’s civilian courts system, from which Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem are barred.
While it has become more accepted in recent years, at least among many on the left, that Israel’s is an apartheid occupation regime, some still reject the term. They point to the supposedly “democratic” nature of Israel within its “pre-1967 borders”, an inaccurate term, since “Israel” has never once defined its own borders and the so-called “Green Line” of 1949 is more accurately described as the Armistice Line, not a border.
The recent news from an Israeli town in the Galilee region is a very good illustration that the whole of Israel is in fact an apartheid regime designed deliberately to discriminate racially against Palestinian Arabs, who are both historically and (once again) presently the majority population between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Last month, the Israeli authorities in Kfar Vradim — which was founded in 1984 on land annexed from the nearby Palestinian village of Tarshiha — halted the sale of building plots in the town after they learned that half of the buyers were Arabs. These are the Palestinian citizens of Israel who supposedly have “equal rights” under Israeli law; one-fifth of all Israelis are Palestinian Arabs.
The leader of the local council, Sivan Yehiel, explained to Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that because he is entrusted to preserve what he called the “Zionist-Jewish-secular character” of the town, he decided to cancel the sales to Arabs in order to “create solutions that will enable the preservation of demographic balances.” The term “demographic balances” is a racist euphemism. Clearly, what Yehiel meant was that the sales would mean too many Palestinian babies being born in the town that is supposed to be a part of the self-declared “Jewish state”.
“Demographic balances” (or “demographic threats” as Israeli officials often put it) is a euphemism very much akin to apartheid, a word which means “separateness” in Afrikaans. The idea behind South Africa’s apartheid government propaganda was that the Black population would benefit from “separate development”. This, of course, was a lie, and the Black population was exploited and repressed most brutally.
While the UN convention makes it clear that the decision of the Israeli council leader in Kfar Vradim falls very obviously under the crime of apartheid, Yehiel’s action was anything but unique. Israel’s Palestinian citizens face discrimination on many levels simply because they are not Jews.
The convention states that the term “the crime of apartheid” applies to acts including measures “calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country… including… [by violating] the right to freedom of movement and residence.”
It’s time for people in the West to wake up to these facts and admit that Israel is, root and branch, an apartheid state.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.