The Apartheid Question: within “Israel itself”

I’ve been charged with answering a question about Apartheid for a Students against Apartheid meeting. Goldstone’s “Israel and the Apartheid Slander” puts forth criticisms of the “apartheid analogy”. Usually the debate about Israeli apartheid focuses on Israeli politics in the occupied Palestinian territories, however Goldstone’s focuses on the situation “inside Israel”, probably because he thinks the case against Israel Apartheid is strongest there.

The first problem with basing an analysis of Israeli apartheid on the territory “within Israel” is, however, that “Israel” has no self-defined eastern border. This has real implications: Arabs in East Jerusalem, captured in the ’67 border but annexed by Israel and not included in the administrative area of the West Bank (although certainly part of the West Bank under international law), do not have citizenship because they refused to recognize the zionist entity in ’67. Instead, they have something called “permanent residency”, which is a misnomer because it is quite easy for them to lose this “permanent” residency, either because they are caught living on the other side of the security wall (much cheaper), or because Israel decides to do so. This happened to several activists and politicians in the lead up to the september statehood bid last year.

Arabs living in Israel without citizenship, but with so-called blue cards, certainly do not have equal rights. They do not have the right to vote in national elections, and although they have the right to vote in local elections, most if not all boycott local elections because it would be seen as recognition of the legitimacy of the Israeli annexation of their land.

Putting aside the question of the “permanent residents” of East Jerusalem, however, does not the political rights of Arab citizens of Israel mean they are spared the horrors of Apartheid? Goldstone makes much of the fact that Israel does accord citizenship to some Arabs, specifically those who remained in the area of Palestine captured by the state of Israel in 1948 (although, they did not actually acquire citizenship until 1966). The fact that some Arabs have rights of citizens within Israel does not mean, however, Israel does not practice apartheid. “Within Israel”, Israel strives to maintain its population to be majority Jewish, and by implication, minority Arab. It is common for Israeli legislators to to everything they can to maintain the “jewish majority”.  For instance, to ensure that Palestinians in East Jerusalem live precarious lives, cannot get building permits, do not receive proper city services. The goal is to encourage them to leave areas Israel wishes to Annex, and to maintain strategic Jewish Majority within areas Israel wishes to control.

To speak more specifically about apartheid, we need to look at the definition of the crime. The first relevant document is the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. This document defined as “”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.” The crime of apartheid was further defined by way of its inclusion in the Rome Statute of 1998. Basically the definition works as follows – the crime of apartheid is defined in general in the same way as in the 1973 document, and more specifically as the committing of any “crime against humanity” for the purpose of maintaining the institutionalized domination of one group by another. So, to determine whether apartheid exists in territory Israel wishes to control, we should simply ask what tactics are used against Palestinians in Israel and/or territory annexed by Israel to encourage them to leave, to ensure the maintenance of the Jewish Majority?

a. Murder – While targeted killings are restricted to the occupied territories, extremist Israelis such as settlers kill Palestinians in East Jerusalem without repercussion.

d. Deportation or forcible transfer of population – Israel regularly evicts Palestinians from their homes in territory annexed by Israel to hand them over to settlers. Perhaps the clearest example of this, however, is the way Israel deports Bedouin communities in an attempt to clear the Negev/Al-Naqab for Jewish settlement.

e. Imprisonment – Israel’s practices of imprisoning Palestinians are not in compliance with the Geneva convention. Israel regularly places Palestinians in security confinement, which is without trial.

h. Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender – There are many ways in which persecution of Arabs in Israel is institutionalized, but perhaps the most obvious way is that bus drivers have the right to prevent any arabs from taking an Egged bus, even if the Arabs are Israeli citizens. Another way is the manner in which their welfare state is tied to serving in the army – something most Arabs refuse to do. This is clearly apartheid because there is an exemption from military service if you attend a religious jewish school, but not if you attend a religious christian or muslim school.

f. Torture – torture is regularly used by Israel. In fact Israel was for a while the only country in the world where torture was legalized. Interrogation practices widely regarded as torture are regularly used against Palestinian prisoners.

All these tactics are employed in the context of Zionism – which is institutionalized racism, with the goal of the maintenance of the domination of the minority, Arab or otherwise, by the Jewish majority.

Goldstone also argues that Israel is not apartheid because the separation that exists between Arab and Jewish communities in Israel is not apartheid because, although it may result from discrimination, it is not the product of the conscious idea of separation:

…[T]here is more de facto separation between Jewish and Arab populations than Israelis should accept. Much of it is chosen by the communities themselves. Some results from discrimination. But it is not apartheid, which consciously enshrines separation as an ideal.

The crime of apartheid does not have anything to do with institution separateness, in the sense of forcing populations to live apart from each other. That is certainly what south african apartheid was about, but the law of apartheid is based around the institutionalization of oppression of one racial group over another, with the intention of maintaining that regime. Therefore the crime of apartheid is coherent with two racial groups living together, but with different rights and privileges.

That said, Zionism clearly articulates the notion of separation as an ideal – it is the political struggle for a Jewish state – a state where Jews should enjoy special privileges. Crucial Zionist figure Jabotinsky articulated in 1923 that the colonization of Palestine can “continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To format it in any other way would only be hypocricy.” While revisionist zionism was not central to the founding of Israel, it remained an powerful force in Israeli politics until today – the Likud party of which Netanyahu is a part is a revisionist zionist party. Moreover, even though the Revisionists did not control Israel, the fact that Arab citizens of Israel did not acquire citizenship until 1966, and the fact that Arab refugees of the 1948 war – even refugees who remained internally dislocated within the original “state of Israel” itself,  might be seen as evidence that Israel from the start was based on systemic forms of separation which assured that the Arab population, in part at least

There is a serious argument against some of the criticism of Israeli apartheid, but it should be characterized as a defence of Israel’s apartheid practices, not as a denial of their apartheid character. This argument would point to the armed insurrection against the Israeli state, including its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the current blockade of Gaza, and argue that because of Palestinian resistance to Israeli control, apartheid measures are justified to maintain the status quo. However, this argument could not be used to justify the apartheid practices that seek the colonization of Palestinian land acquired in 1967, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The idea that all Israeli oppression of Palestinians is simply a reasonable reaction Palestinian resistance can explain and for some even justify the apartheid situation in the West Bank, but it cannot be invoked to dismiss the systematic institution of a Jewish majority within “Israel itself”.


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