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May 21, 2013

Israel: Is it an Apartheid?

Reuel S. Amdur

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The Road to Apartheid is a film which looks at the ways in which Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is like how white South Africans treated the blacks, and how different. Is Israel's treatment of the Palestinians Apartheid?

Lia Tarachansky, who introduced the showing of the film at Ottawa’s First Unitarian Congregation, described the different reactions to that question that the film provoked in Israel and in Canada.  In Israel, the discussion was whether the Apartheid was justified or not.  In Canada, the reaction was, “How dare you ask that question?”  In the West Bank, reaction was somewhat ambiguous, because of Palestinian desire for real independence.

The film began with a look at the Boer, or Afrikaner, myth and ideology.  (The term myth is used here in the non-pejorative, anthropological sense.)  For them, the doctrine of separate development was never intended to mean equality.  Land was taken from the Africans, and efforts were made to insure white control and even possibly a white majority by driving them into Bantustans.  The Afrikaners looked back to a history of conquest, of being conqueror and then conquered.  They defeated the Africans but in turn were beaten by the British, who put many into concentration camps where huge numbers died of starvation and disease.  They saw themselves as a besieged people.

Parallels to Zionism need not be spelled out.  It is also a myth and ideology of victimhood and survival. 

Jeff Halper, head of the Committee Against House Demolitions, is shown in the film saying, “Apartheid is the only term that describes the separation of people, with one group always in control.”  Control is exercised over Palestinians in Israel, occupied West Bank, and occupied East Jerusalem.  Then, there are well over five million in exile, driven out in 1948 and 1967.

Let’s look at the occupied West Bank, with 500,000 settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians.  The Palestinians are hived off into dozens of run-down ghettos, while Jewish settlers live in US-style suburbs and comfortable urban developments, as large as 60,000. 

60% of the territory in the West Bank is given over to Jewish colonists and to military installations.  Settlers have six to seven times as much access to water, enjoying fountains and swimming pools that the Palestinians can only envy.  In Hebron, deep in the West Bank, thousands of soldiers are stationed to protect 600 rabid settlers, who have driven Palestinian merchants out of the now-deserted market area.  Many Palestinians have also been driven out because of the harassment. 

In South Africa, there were pass laws to control where and when Africans could go, where they could work, and where they could live.  The same pattern applies in Israel, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.  In the West Bank there are more than 600 roadblocks, manned by soldiers.  They are mainly between West Bank destinations.  Only 36 are between the West Bank and Israel. 

There are superhighways linking settlements to each other and to Israeli cities.  They are for Jews only.  Inferior roads serve the Palestinians.  When a Palestinian road reaches a Jewish road, it tunnels under, and there is a gate at that point which can be controlled by soldiers.  According to Eddie Makue, of the South African Council of Churches, “No roads in South Africa were ever for whites only.” 

The film argues that the Bantustans of South Africa had more authority than those of the West Bank, as Israel can exercise control over the West Bank ghettos through their power over the Palestinian Authority.  And, as Makue noted, the South African government never used bombs and attack helicopters against the blacks.

In Israel, legal entitlements vary depending on whether one is a Jew or not.  Welfare and other benefits are examples.  Land theft is a practice common to Israel and Apartheid South Africa. 

The theft beginning in 1948 and continuing to this day applies both within Israel and in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Israel has the quaint category of “present absentees” to describe one group of victims of this land grab. 

Destruction of houses is another commonality that Israel shares with Apartheid South Africa.  According to Halper, 100,000 houses are listed for demolition in Jerusalem, with another 40,000 elsewhere in Israel and still others in the West Bank.  Israel argues that these houses were built without permits, but the government conveniently refuses to issue permits to Palestinians. 

On a particularly sober note, Halper was told by a Gaza-based psychologist that 55% of the suicide bombers were, as children, living in houses which were bulldozed. 

Israel and Apartheid South Africa were close allies, sharing a common pariah-hood. Israel did a massive arms trade with South Africa in violation of the UN embargo, and South Africa sent military personnel to Israel for specialized training.

So how does Israel’s treatment of Palestinians stack up against South African Apartheid?  Is Israel an Apartheid state? 

Like the old South Africa, Israel limits where Palestinians can live and where and when those in the West Bank can travel.  Land theft and destruction of houses is another commonality.

The Israeli refusal to issue building permits is an ancillary practice.  The Jews-only roads in the West Bank are a discriminatory practice unique to Israel.  South Africa never had that.  Both the Boers and the Zionists have had an unhealthy preoccupation with the birth rate of the oppressed group.  The Boers saw themselves as backed into a corner and needing to act aggressively in order to maintain control, just like Zionist Israel today. 

True, Israel does not have petty Apartheid.  Palestinians can use buses and sit on park benches, but it exercises major policy Apartheid.  If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck. . . .  It is Apartheid.  The Road to Apartheid is a film worth seeing.

The showing in Ottawa was sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices, No War-Paix, and the First Unitarian Congregation Social Responsibility Committee.

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