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June 9, 2010

Israel Apartheid

Scott Stockdale

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University of Athabasca History professor Joe Kelly said apartheid is an accurate description of the Israeli government policy.

“There's no doubt in my mind the term apartheid fits Israel today. There are differences between Israel and South Africa 1948-1984, but more similarities.”

Speaking at the Marxism 2010 conference at Ryerson University in Toronto, Professor Kelly, a native of South Africa, said that while whites-only toilets and beaches were stark aspects of apartheid in South Africa, the key component was state control of the majority of black people to provide cheap labor for agriculture and industry.

“The state set up these (black) homelands as state systems. They had legislatures, but they were puppets, with no real power. Apartheid was racially exclusive: White suburbs had a large concentration of trees and clean water, while the black townships were dry and barren. People still struggle today for basic services such as tap water.”

He added that the emergence of a militarized state to control the black population, which was deemed a dangerous group of outsiders, was a key component of apartheid.

“It was a police state with emergency measures to ban organizations, kill political leaders, and conduct mass attacks against the community. Police would disrupt organizations trying to seek justice for the community.”

Although many in the west assume apartheid ended peacefully, Prof. Kelly said some of the worst violence against blacks occurred during this time, including paid assassinations and massacres against black communities; and he said the Truth Commission covered it up.

An international boycott and divestment campaign eventually broke the back of the apartheid state in South Africa, according to Prof. Kelly.

“In the 1980's and early 90's the South African economy suffered. Blacks were in favor of it (boycott and divestment campaign) even though it put many of them out of work. The regime realized that what was happening was worldwide. Worldwide, people were outraged. We realized that we couldn't continue this way. That was the effect of the boycott.”

Fast forward to present day Israel and the South African experience may begin to sound familiar.

Clare O'Connor, a member of Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) see similarities between the current BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign and the boycott against South Africa.

The BDS campaign demands an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for 750,000 refugees from the 1948 war.

Like South Africa, Ms. O'Connor said Palestinians in the occupied territories have been put into enclaves and separated by a Wall, checkpoints, curfews and subjected to restrictions on their movements.

“There are similarities in both cases involving a process of forced displacement of indigenous people to gain control of the population. They become colonized communities with different groups having different rights. And these systems have full impunity because they get full U.S. and European support.”

Ms. O'Connor said this has led to deplorable conditions in Gaza, one of the most heavily populated regions of the world; and a place where children are dying of malnutrition. They can't rebuild the infrastructure after the Israeli assault of 2008-2009 because Israel won't allow building materials in.  Meanwhile, 2/3 of the people of Gaza are unemployed.

“In the West Bank Jews-only roads and the Wall cut off Palestinians from their land, families and livelihood. Palestinian police, raid refugee camps arresting activists, and putting them into what they call administrative detention. There are 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners now.”

She added that U.S. and Canadian military officers are currently training these Palestinian Authority police officers.

Professor Kelly's description of the South African situation has similarities.

“The government created 10 Homelands, each with its own flag, government, and police force and told them to suppress resistance to the white regime.”

Ms. O'Conner said these policies are part of a larger objective.

“Their stated intention is to gain control of all of this land. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, is calling for the expulsion of all Palestinians as well as denying the right of return.”

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