How is Israel an Apartheid State?
“The South African apartheid regime never engaged in the sort of repression Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians. For all the evils and atrocities of apartheid, the government never sent tanks into black towns. It never used gunships, bombers, or missiles against the black towns or Bantustans. The apartheid regime used to impose sieges on black towns, but these sieges were lifted within days”
-Interview with Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa’s minister of water affairs, in Al Ahram Weekly
Israel is an Apartheid state that closely resembles South African Apartheid. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish State”. Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied equal access to land, jobs and resources of the state because they are Palestinian. Anyone of Jewish descent, from anywhere in the world, can automatically become a citizen of Israel. Yet Palestinians who were expelled in 1947-48 are unable to return to their homes and lands. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians are living under a brutal military occupation. They are forced to carry special coloured ID cards and are prevented from moving freely from towns and villages. Furthermore there is a system of Jewish-only bypass roads that Palestinians are prohibited from using. The region is studded with Jewish-only settlements and schools. In addition, there are over 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners being held by Israel.
The conditions of human rights abuses and outright denial of political liberties enforced by the Israeli government has led most Palestinians to recognize their situation as Apartheid. However, many scholars and human rights advocates also draw comparisons to the South African Apartheid example and their outcry echoes the opposition against South Africa's former apartheid policies such that the two are now often regarded as being parallel. For instance, in an article in the Guardian entitled “Apartheid in the Holy Land,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote:
"I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. […] Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon?"
However, many Jewish people have not forgotten. Inside Israel, there are certain Jewish politicians and journalists who have attempted to highlight the concept of Apartheid and have made clear analogies between Israel and South Africa. Roman Bronfman, Chair of the Democratic Choice faction in the Yahad party, criticized what he termed “an apartheid regime in the occupied territories,” adding, “The policy of apartheid has also infiltrated sovereign Israel, and discriminates daily against Israeli Arabs and other minorities. The struggle against such a fascist viewpoint is the job of every humanist.”
Furthermore, some Jewish South African leaders have also made their voices heard against Israeli apartheid when they issued the famous Not in Our Names Declaration of Conscience flatly condemning Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights as the root cause of the conflict. The Declaration authored by government minister Ronnie Kasrils and legislator Max Ozinsky and signed by hundreds of other leading Jewish South Africans, states:
It becomes difficult, particularly from a South African perspective, not to draw parallels with the oppression experienced by Palestinians under the hand of Israel and the oppression experienced in South Africa under apartheid rule.
In South Africa Apartheid was also known as a “policy of good neighborliness” under which black South Africans were forced to live under oppressive policies that ensured white control over their lands and daily existence. Today, Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is based on Ehud Barak’s call for “Peace through Separation: we are here and they are there”. The “separation discourse” frequently adopts various terms, such as current talk of “disengagement” or the Zionist racist notion of the Palestinian “demographic threat”. Within the Palestinian lands occupied since 1948, the Palestinian minority and the Jewish majority generally live in separate areas. This geographical apartheid is most obvious in some cities where Palestinian neighbourhoods are separated by a wall.