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SUMUD vs. Apartheid


This is, as they say, the crunch. This is the political moment all Israeli governments–all of them, Labour, Likud and ‘National Unity’–have been working towards the past four decades of Occupation: the final push for an expanded Israel, the permanent foreclosure of any viable Palestinian state and a unilateral declaration that the conflict with the Palestinians is over. Indeed, it is the final taking of the entire Land of Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River that Zionism has dreamed of for the past century.

On the surface, Israel’s election was humdrum, with none of the 31 parties running raising issues that grabbed the public. No party emerged ‘victorious’ or in a position of domination. The largest party in the Parliament, Kadima, Sharon’s party now run by Olmert, received only 29 seats out of 120. Overall, the election saw the strengthening of the Right, even the extreme right (I don’t accept the notion that Kadima of Sharon and Olmert is a ‘Center’ party; it’s extreme right-wing, only slicker) i.e. those parties that refuse to even consider the notion of a viable Palestinian state, won 73 seats. The number of left/liberal seats stands only at 30.

Humdrum sums up how the Israeli public viewed the election. The only substantial issue raised was that of the plight of poor and working class Israelis, and that issue failed to ignite any popular enthusiasm. Yet it is precisely this ‘hum-drum-ness’ that is the big news. Ehud Olmert put his intentions right in the public’s face: the most immediate and pressing task of his new government will be to determine the permanent borders of Israel, meaning that the massive settlement blocs, the ‘greater’ Jerusalem area and the Jordan Valley will be annexed to Israel, confining the Palestinians to some five isolated, impoverished and non-viable cantons (Sharon’s term) that they will be expected to accept as their ‘state’.

Of course, Olmert’s plan was presented with a positive spin characterized by terminology to do Orwell proud. Hitkansut or ‘withdrawing into oneself’ in Hebrew is the operational phase of ‘separation’ from the Palestinians, and seems exactly what the public wanted (a full 85% of Israeli Jews support the construction of the Wall, or ‘Separation Barrier’). Perhaps that is the reason it generated no public discussion, no dissent and ended up a non-issue. It does not mean, however, withdrawal of Israel back to its pre-1967 territory, but rather a ‘convergence’ of Israeli settlers scattered throughout the West Bank into Israel’s major settlement blocs. Though the idea of leaving territories densely populated by Palestinians sounds good to Israeli Jews, it really means apartheid. And it will be imposed unilaterally because Israel has nothing to offer the Palestinians. True, they get 70-85% of the Occupied Territories, but only in truncated enclaves. Israel retains control of all the borders, Palestinian movement among the cantons, all the water and the richest agricultural land, the large settlement blocs including “greater” Jerusalem (which accounts for 40% of the Palestinian economy), the Palestinians’ airspace and even their communications. Indeed, Israel retains all the developmental potential of the country, leaving the Palestinians with only barren and disconnected enclaves. Israel expands onto 85% of the entire country, leaving the Palestinians–the majority population or soon to be–with only about 15%, and that truncated, non-viable and only semi-sovereign. A Bantustan a la apartheid South Africa.

What the outside world considers important–the conflict with Palestinians, Occupation, the Wall, settlements, possibilities for peace–are non-issues in Israel. Most Israeli Jews agree that (1) the Palestinians don’t want peace, (2) therefore there is no political solution to the conflict, (3) separation is the best course and thus (4) Israel must keep all of Jerusalem and its major settlements. There is simply nothing to discuss. The entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been reduced, for Israeli Jews, to one technical issue: how do we manage terrorism and secure our personal security.

So where does that leave the Palestinians after their election of a Hamas government? Nowhere, as far as Israel is concerned. The election of Hamas legitimized in the eyes of Israeli Jews and the international community Israel’s intention of proceeding unilaterally, thus facilitating the move towards an apartheid regime. Left with no ability to pursue an agenda of its own, even that of a two-state solution as embodied in the Road Map, the Palestinians have fallen back on the most powerful tactic of the powerless: non-cooperation. Their vote proclaimed in a loud voice ‘The hell with all of you’–the US and Europe that do nothing to end the Occupation; Israel who has closed off the possibility of a viable Palestinian state by expanding into Palestinian areas, and then blames the Palestinians for preventing peace; Fatah, that, in addition to enabling corruption, failed to effectively pursue the Palestinians’ national agenda of self-determination.

Knowing that the conflict is too destabilizing for the global system to let fester, the Palestinians are saying: We will remain sumud, steadfast. Impose on us an apartheid system, blame us for the violence while ignoring Israeli State Terror, pursue your programs of American Empire or your self-righteous notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’–we Palestinians will not submit. We will not cooperate. We will not play your rigged game. And in the end your power will be for naught. So costly will we make this conflict to Israel, the US and the international community that you will come to us to sue for peace. We will be ready for a just peace that respects the rights of all the peoples of the region, including the Israelis. But you will not beat us.

The two elections pit apartheid against sumud. If injustice is ultimately unsustainable, I bet on the latter.

JEFF HALPER is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a candidate, with the Palestinian peace activist Ghassan Andoni, for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He can be reached at

This essay originally appeared in The New Internationalist.



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