APARTHEID? YES OR NO?

 

SHOULD THE TERM “APARTHEID” BE APPLIED TO ISRAEL?

Two Op-Eds argue the case in the Los Angles Times

 Op-Ed Israel isn’t, and will never be, an apartheid state

MICHAEL OREN . Los Angles Times. Saturday, May 17, 2014

Israel is not an apartheid state and will not become one

Israel’s enemies wield the word ‘apartheid’ to delegitimize the Jewish state #Israel

Palestinian leaders aspire to create a state from which all Jews have been expelled. That is truly apartheid

The war against Israel has passed through three phases.

The first was the attempt to annihilate Israel by conventional means. It began with Israel’s birth in 1948, when Arab armies nearly captured Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and ended in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israeli forces came within artillery range of Cairo and Damascus.

The next stage, starting in the early 1970s, sought to cripple Israel through terror. Suicide bombers nearly paralyzed the country, but by 2005 they too were defeated.

However unwittingly, those who associate apartheid with Israel are aiding the third and perhaps ultimate stage in the effort to destroy the nation.

– That is when Israel’s enemies launched the third, and potentially most devastating, campaign: to isolate, delegitimize and sanction Israel into extinction. And a key weapon in this stage is the hugely destructive word “apartheid.”

Translated from Afrikaans, apartheid means “apart-hood.” It stemmed from the deeply held racist beliefs of South African whites who, in the half-century after World War II, imposed strict legal barriers between themselves and all black people. The segregation was total: separate restaurants, separate toilets and drinking fountains, separate houses, hospitals and schools. Blacks were denied the right to vote. The system resembled the American South under Jim Crow and outlived it by several decades. Thereafter, “apartheid” remained synonymous with undiluted racism, second only in hatefulness to Nazism.

Today, the word “apartheid” is wielded by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state. Adversaries point to the separation between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank, separate Israeli and Palestinian roads, and separate schools, hospitals and legal systems. Although Israelis can elect their leaders, opponents of Israel say, Palestinians cannot. They claim that Israel has erected an “apartheid wall” between Jewish and Arab areas.

The latest stage in the war against Israel involves the hugely destructive word ‘apartheid.’

– Yet none of this even remotely resembles apartheid. The vast majority of settlers and Palestinians choose to live apart because of cultural and historical differences, not segregation, though thousands of them do work side by side. The separate roads were created in response to terrorist attacks — not to segregate Palestinians but to save Jewish lives. And Israeli roads are used by Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. The separation of schools is, again, a cultural choice similar to that made by secular and Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Many Palestinians, however, study in Israeli institutions such as Ariel University, located in a settlement. Thousands of Palestinians, many of them from Hamas-controlled Gaza, are treated at Israeli hospitals.

Israelis can indeed vote for their leaders, and so too can the Palestinians, but the Palestinian Authority has refused to hold elections for years. Palestinians are indeed tried under Israeli (originally British) military codes for security infractions, but other cases are referred to Palestinian courts. And even on security-related issues, Palestinians can appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

Israel has erected a security barrier — only a small section is actually walled — between it and most of the West Bank. But the barrier, a vital counter-terrorism tool, is not permanent and has been moved several times to accommodate Palestinian interests. It is no more an apartheid wall than the fence between the United States and Mexico.

The West Bank represents a complex historical, humanitarian and security situation that six Israeli prime ministers from both the left and right have tried to resolve. Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders turned down Israeli offers of statehood in 2000 and 2008, and have now abandoned peace talks in favor of reunification with Hamas. They aspire to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza from which all Jews have been expelled. That is truly apartheid.

Outside of the West Bank, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, Jews and Arabs mix freely and increasingly live in the same neighborhoods. Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament, in its army and on its Supreme Court. And though discrimination in Israel , as in America, remains a scourge, there is no imposed segregation. Go to any Israeli mall, any restaurant or hospital, and you will see Arabs and Jews interacting.

This reality has not prevented Israel’s enemies from branding it with the apartheid label. They do so not to achieve a better peace arrangement with Israel but to isolate it internationally and to eliminate it through sanctions. We Jews remember how each attempt to obliterate us, whether in the Inquisition or during the Holocaust, was preceded by a campaign to delegitimize us. People who practice apartheid are easily considered illegitimate.

Israel is not an apartheid state and will not become one, even if the Palestinians continue to reject peace. However unwittingly, those who associate apartheid with Israel are aiding the third and perhaps ultimate stage in the effort to destroy the nation. They are also committing a grave injustice to the millions of American and South African blacks who were the victims of true apartheid.

 Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013, is a senior fellow in international diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and a fellow at the Atlantic Council.

 Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed Does the term ‘apartheid’ fit Israel? Of course it does.

SAREE MAKDISI . Los angles Times. Saturday, May 17, 2014

The question is not whether the term ‘apartheid’ applies to Israel; it does

‘Apartheid’ isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning

The storm of controversy after Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s warning that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state” reminded us once again that facts, data and the apparently tedious details of international law often seem to have little bearing on conversations about Israel conducted at the highest levels of this country. As was the case when other major figures brandished the “A-word” in connection with Israel (Jimmy Carter comes to mind), the political reaction to Kerry’s warning was instantaneous and emotional. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer. That’s that, then, eh?

Not quite. Flat and ungrounded assertions may satisfy politicians, but anyone who wants to push the envelope of curiosity even a little bit further might want to spend a few minutes actually thinking over the term and its applicability to Israel.

“Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).

According to Article II of that convention, the term applies to 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.” Denying those others the right to life and liberty, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, expropriating their property, depriving them of the right to leave and return to their country or the right to freedom of movement and of residence, creating separate reserves and ghettos for the members of different racial groups, preventing mixed marriages — these are all examples of the crime of apartheid specifically mentioned in the convention.

Seeing the reference to racial groups here, some people might think of race in a putatively biological sense or as a matter of skin color. That is a rather simplistic (and dated) way of thinking about racial identity. More to the point, however, the operative definition of “racial identity” is provided in the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (to which Israel is a signatory), on which the apartheid convention explicitly draws.

And so it goes in all domains of life, from birth to death: a systematic, vigilantly policed separation of the two populations.

– There, the term “racial discrimination” is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

A few basic facts are now in order.

The Jewish state (for so it identifies itself, after all) maintains a system of formal and informal housing segregation both in Israel and in the occupied territories. It’s obvious, of course, that Jewish settlements in the West Bank aren’t exactly bursting with Palestinians. In Israel itself, however, hundreds of communities have been established for Jewish residents on land expropriated from Palestinians, in which segregation is maintained, for example, by admissions committees empowered to use ethnic criteria long since banned in the United States, or by the inability of Palestinian citizens to access land held exclusively for the Jewish people by the state-sanctioned Jewish National Fund.

Jewish residents of the occupied territories enjoy various rights and privileges denied to their Palestinian neighbors. While the former enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law, the latter are subject to the harsh provisions of military law. So, while their Jewish neighbors come and go freely, West Bank Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, and to the denial of freedom of movement; they are frequently barred from access to educational or healthcare facilities, Christian and Muslim sites for religious worship, and so on.

Meanwhile, Palestinian citizens of Israel must contend with about 50 state laws and bills that, according to the Palestinian-Israeli human rights organization Adalah, either privilege Jews or directly discriminate against the Palestinian minority. One of the key components of Israel’s nationality law, the Law of Return, for example, applies to Jews only, and excludes Palestinians, including Palestinians born in what is now the state of Israel. While Jewish citizens can move back and forth without interdiction, Israeli law expressly bars Palestinian citizens from bringing spouses from the occupied territories to live with them in Israel.

The educational systems for the two populations in Israel (not to mention the occupied territories) are kept largely separate and unequal. While overcrowded Palestinian schools in Israel crumble, Jewish students are given access to more resources and curricular options.

It is not legally possible in Israel for a Jewish citizen to marry a non-Jewish citizen. And a web of laws, regulations and military orders governing what kind of people can live in which particular spaces makes mixed marriages within the occupied territories, or across the pre-1967 border between Israel and the occupied territories, all but impossible.

And so it goes in all domains of life, from birth to death: a systematic, vigilantly policed separation of the two populations and utter contempt for the principle of equality. One group — stripped of property and rights, expelled, humiliated, punished, demolished, imprisoned and at times driven to the edge of starvation (down to the meticulously calculated last calorie) — has withered. The other group — its freedom of movement and of development not merely unrestricted but actively encouraged — has flourished, and its religious and cultural symbols adorn the regalia of the state and are emblazoned on the state flag.

The question is not whether the term “apartheid” applies here. It is why it should cause such an outcry when it is used.

Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, is the author of “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”

 Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

 


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