When former Israel Defence Forces General Amiram Levin said, “I am not pitying the Palestinians, I am pitying us,” he provided some context to his statement about “absolute apartheid” in Israel. Of course, apartheid does not reflect well on the perpetrator, but the perpetrator in this case has chosen the system to consolidate its oppression against the Palestinians, so Levin’s pity is very much misplaced.
Palestinians have spoken out against Israeli apartheid practices for decades, but no one has ever listened. After Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem introduced their designation of Israel as an apartheid state in 2021, others followed suit. The latest denunciation by Levin, however, is more in defence of Israeli colonialism than a critique of its apartheid. Israel, Levin declared, is killing itself from within as a result of the far-right influence in the current Israeli government and its links to the so-called Hilltop Youth settlers.
Yet the current manifestation is simply the latest episode of Israeli colonial violence which has been ongoing for decades, and while Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for example, has been lauding the settler-terror attacks and inciting further violence against Palestinians, it must be noted that Israel itself always extended the parameters of what constitutes “acceptable” violence.
For 57 years, Levin argues, there has been no democracy. Levin is making it clear that the Israeli narrative is what compelled him to make the statement about apartheid, yet like many other critiques of Israel from within, the settler-colonial context is completely eliminated. In 2017, also eliminating the settler-colonial context, Levin declared that, “The Palestinians deserved the occupation, they don’t deserve anything because they didn’t accept the boundaries of division.” The focus on Israel’s military occupation of Palestine obliterates settler-colonialism. If Levin’s argument about apartheid harming Israeli interests is to be taken seriously, then what would Levin’s acceptable parameters be? Eliminating apartheid but ensuring that the brutal military occupation continues? And what about Israel’s identity as a settler-colonial enterprise that is dependent on violence to sustain itself?
An argument against apartheid only from Israel’s perspective is flawed, especially when the settler-colonial state’s existence prevents Palestinians from exercising their legitimate political rights. For Israel to be damaged by its apartheid system, the international community needs to act, which would necessitate it recognising and reversing Israel’s colonial existence. Unfortunately, the mainstream narrative of Israel’s democracy provides impunity for all forms of colonial violence, including Israel’s own brand of apartheid which cannot be separated from colonialism.
Choosing between different forms of colonial violence does not make Israel more democratic, because no matter the exercises in oblivion, there is no denying that Israel is a colonial entity. However, the trend of fragmenting violence has served Israel and its critics well, since the focus on one form, in this case apartheid, absolves the settler-colonial entity of its other atrocities and abuses of Palestinians rights. Even though Levin may be called a detractor by some Israelis, his argument does not call for decolonisation; rather it draws attention to apartheid in a way that still allows Israel to retain its violent character. After all, Levin asserted absolute disregard for the Palestinian victims of Israeli apartheid in 2017, so what parameters are now being advocated?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.