Remarkably, there are still those on the planet, many of them members of the United States Congress, who believe that Israel is not an apartheid state. Why they can believe such a fantasy is a mystery, unless one considers that they are somehow befuddled by the amount of money pro-Israeli lobbies contribute to their election campaigns. But let us take a few minutes to see what apartheid actually means, and if it is, indeed, fair to apply that ugly label to Israel.
We will accept the definition of apartheid as stated by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. While the definition is detailed and lengthy, we will look only at a few of the key provisions.
Basically, apartheid consists of “… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” We really need to no farther; based solely on this one phrase, Israel is an apartheid regime.
But the Convention goes into specifics, and so shall we. The following are just some of the things that typify an apartheid regime.
- “Murder of members of a racial group or groups”. Israeli soldiers and settlers kill Palestinian men, women and children indiscriminately, and with nearly complete impunity. Since 2000, nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. In that same time, about 1,200 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. These numbers include about 120 Israeli children, but at least 2,200 Palestinian children. For example, in July of 2015, settlers living illegally in the West Bank firebombed a Palestinian home, killing three people. An 18-month old toddler was burned alive; his brother spent nearly a year in the hospital. The perpetrator received a 10-month sentence.
- “Arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups.” Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to home raids at any time of the day or night. Israeli soldiers break in, ransack the house, steal belongings and arrest any males over the age of twelve. Often there are no charges issued, and those arrested can be detained for years without charge.
- “Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.” The Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, which is gaining traction worldwide, has come to the attention of the Israeli government. Those who support it are forbidden from entering Israel, and churches, businesses and labor unions around the world who withdraw from doing business with Israel because of its apartheid practices are condemned by Israeli government officials.
All this is certainly bad enough, but Israel’s leaders were not content to just wear the ugly badge of apartheid; they wanted to make it official. On July 19, the government passed a law declaring that Israel is ‘the nation state of the Jewish people’. It makes Hebrew the only official language, downgrading Arabic to the position of ‘having a special status’ in Israel.
With Israel now officially the nation-state of the Jewish people, what happens to the Arabs and people of African descent who reside there? Many of the Arabs, or their families, it must be remembered, have been there since before Israel ever existed, and they now find themselves in foreign and hostile territory.
What might this mean in practical application? The Israeli Minister for Social Equality said that the law could assist Israel’s efforts to deport asylum seekers from Africa. Such efforts have been struck down by the Supreme Court, but the new law carries roughly the same weight that an amendment to the U.S. constitution has, so future efforts may be seen as legal.
For Palestinians, representing about 20% of Israel’s population, who demand equal rights, the new law simply tells them ‘no’. They are not Jewish, and have no business living in the Jewish nation-state. Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, said that Israel “… has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us (Arabs) that we will always be second-class citizens.”
Even Benny Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, criticized the bill before abstaining from voting. “This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership,” he said, referring to the party that his father founded.
In the United States, which is slowly evolving to see Israel as the perpetrator and Palestine as the victim, Jewish groups expressed disapproval. The American Jewish Committee said that the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic.”
Jeremy Ben Ami, president of J Street, another U.S., pro-Israel group, said that the bill sends “… a message to the Arab community, the LGBT community and other minorities in Israel, that they are not and never will be equal citizens.”
We will return now to our original question: how is it possible that anyone can believe that Israel isn’t an apartheid state? Not convinced? Let’s look at a few more facts on the ground.
- Israel builds roads in the West Bank that only Israelis can drive on. If a new Israeli road crosses an existing road that Palestinians use, Palestinian are not able to cross the new road.
- Palestinians are subject to different laws than Israelis.
- If a Palestinian is accused of a crime, his home, and the homes of his relatives, will be bulldozed. This never happens to Israelis accused of crimes.
All of this describes a brutal, cruel, rogue, apartheid regime, and it all describes Israel. U.S. money and support can’t hide the facts any more, despite their past success in doing so.
What is to be done? Why isn’t apartheid in Israel criticized, sanctioned and shunned as it was a generation ago in South Africa? The only difference is the power of pro-Israel lobbies, which cause U.S. politicians to overlook human rights, international law and basic common decency. This power is reflected in the corporate-owned news media, which seldom reports any crimes against the Palestinians committed by Israel, and ignores the dismal, horrific conditions in which Israel forces Palestinians to live.
Social media has gone a long way toward changing this, by enabling people to see what’s happening without depending on the evening news. Efforts by Facebook and Twitter to censor news of Palestine must be opposed, and new channels of information must be built.
Apartheid was defeated in South Africa; it must be defeated in Israel, too. The lives of millions of Palestinians depend on it.
Originally published in RPFront.