by Lawrence Davidson | N/A | May 2004
I) What is Apartheid?
Apartheid is originally an Afrikaans word and this denotes the origin of the concept in the political system created by white (mainly Dutch and later English) South Africans. The word literally means “aparthood.” In the West it has come to denote a “legally sanctioned system of racial segregation.” However, because legal systems can be manipulated or ignored, we should look beyond the legal aspect of any apartheid system. It is the effect, or the real life consequences, of this sort of system that alerts us to its presence. As the International Criminal Court phrases it, apartheid is “the systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Whether the nation enacting it bothers to create formal laws for its enforcement, or leaves that to culture, tradition, or shall we say, “unwritten law,” is secondary.
What are the signs of an Apartheid system?
These have been spelled out clearly in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which was approved by the UN General Assembly in 1973 and came into force in 1976. By the way, UN approval of this Convention paved the way for member states to apply sanctions against South Africa. This creates a credible precedent for the application of sanctions against other states which subsequently take up variants on this discriminatory system. Here are the identifying characteristics of apartheid as listed in Article II of the Convention:
(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person
(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;
(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;
(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
(d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
(e) Exploitation of the labor of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labor;
(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.
II. The Israeli Variant on Apartheid
How does Israeli policies and behavior, on both sides of the Green Line, appear when judged by the above criteria? First of all, the Israel legally defines itself as a state that exists for the benefit, not of all its citizens, but for one specifically religiously defined group. Those who are not members of that group are at best temporarily tolerated and seen, in the long run, as impediments. The consequences of this nationally held, and ideologically reenforced, perception has been documented by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and on occasion even the US State Department. The result of this documentation is proof of a systematic treatment the Palestinians in ways that fit each of the above categories.
1. Denial of life and liberty of the person:
Israeli policies of collective punishment as documented by B’Tselem and Amnesty International qualify as the imposition of this apartheid policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For instance, the 2002 Amnesty International report on Israel and the Occupied Territories describes a policy of systemic detention and humiliation without charge or access to lawyers or courts. This is part of a widespread “Administrative Detention” policy which allows Israel to target members of the Palestinian population without recourse to legal norms or procedures for indefinite periods. Likewise B’Tselem, Israel’s own human rights organization, confirms this apartheid treatment of the Palestinians. See Civilians Under Siege: Restrictions on Freedom of Movement as Collective Punishment (2001).
2. Murder of members of the racial group:
Israel’s policy of “targeted assassinations” against Palestinians, with no apparent regard for Palestinian civilians, is a prima facie act of apartheid as defined by this category. As the
The World Organization Against Torture has noted in its September 5, 2003 report such attacks “characterized by the systematic and indiscriminate use of force, have resulted in several dozens of civilian bystanders, including a number of children, being injured or killed.” This policy of assassination has gained legal status through the Israeli Supreme Court’s refusal to halt the practice. Again, B’Tselem has corroborated this information in its position paper of January 2001 entitled, Israel's Assassination Policy: Extra-judicial Executions.
3. Infliction of serious bodily and mental harm, infringement of freedom and dignity, use of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment and punishment.
Israeli Apartheid in this category can be seen through its systematic practice of torture and other “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” specifically leveled against its Palestinian population. According to the data collected by The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel most Palestinian detainees suffer some form of torture including long periods of solitary confinement, being tied up in painful positions for long periods, beatings, violent shaking, confinement in tiny cubicles, sleep deprivation, exposure to cold or heat, various forms of verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse, threats against the individual or their family, etc. Despite a cosmetic and partial ban on the use of torture, the practice continues in Israel as unofficial policy.
4. Deliberate Denigration of Living Conditions
Israeli policies, particularly as practiced within the Occupied Territories, have created an artificially induced economic depression. Using World Bank estimates, UN studies, and World Health Organization information publically accessible on the Web it is factually demonstrable that under Israeli control the Palestinian population has suffered falling levels of GNI (gross national income), GDP (gross domestic product), private and public consumption, total fixed investment, total individual wages and family income. In comparison the same population is experiencing rising levels of unemployment, poverty, infant and adult mortality, and curable diseases. This phenomenon is specific to one targeted group within Israeli controlled territory, and thus must be interpreted as a conscious application of an apartheid policy.
5. Officially Enforced Segregation
In Israel the semi-official Jewish National Fund effectively restricts the long term use of 93% of the land to Jews. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics the vast majority of the nearly two million non-Jewish Arab citizens who make up some 20% of country’s population (and 40% of Israel’s population growth rate) occupy about 3% of the remaining land. They are restricted to overcrowded towns and villages, beyond which they are prevented from expanding, by a combination of legal and informal practice. Zoning ordinances, land use practices (sometimes referred to as “blue lining”), and informally enforced nationwide discrimination separates out Jews from non-Jews thus leaving Israeli Palestinians in segregated “zones of residence.” Israeli national identification cards divide the population into Jews and non-Jews. Most non-Jews are de facto barred from military service which, in turn, makes them ineligible for most social service benefits. Resource distribution by the state is biased toward Jews and discriminates specifically against Arabs. Job opportunities are more restricted for non-Jews than Jews. Mixed couples cannot be legally married in Israel. And on it goes. Even the mildest (and almost always unenforced) moves on the part of Israel’s Supreme Court to question unofficial discrimination results in discriminatory laws proposed by the Knesset and supported by the government. Referring to the situation inside of Israel’s 1948 borders, Shulamit Aloni, a former cabinet minister and member of the Meretz party recently remarked, “If we are not already an apartheid state, we are getting much, much closer to it.” In the Occupied Territories things are much worse. Here the process of “bantustaning” goes on apace as is testified to by every human rights organization that pays any attention to the situation. Aloni continues, “Perhaps we should turn every Israeli Arab village into a detention camp, like we do in the occupied territories....by the right of our might, we are acting like a racist nation.”
III) There is an old saying, “if it walks like a duck, it is a duck.”
There are, of course, many different variations on a duck’s walk. Zionists and their supporters sometimes insist that technical differences in the modus operandi of Israel today and South Africa a few decades ago means the two are of different species. But that is just obfuscation. Israel’s deeply ingrained, officially sanctioned, and ideologically sustained system of discrimination, segregation, and oppression is a documented variation on apartheid. It is Israeli apartheid.