FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Jimmy Carter and the "A" Word

President Jimmy Carter’s latest book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (Simon and Schuster 2006), released yesterday, has been primed for controversy. Weeks before it hit the bookshelves, election-hungry Democrats were disavowing it because it used the word “apartheid” to describe the discrimination against Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. House Representative and soon-to-be Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote: “It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.” But does the President’s book really warrant the swift condemnation leveled against it by his own party?

To put the name “apartheid” to Israeli policies is nothing new. Hendrik Verwoerd, South African Prime Minister and architect of apartheid did so in 1961. Israeli academic Uri Davis made the claim in 1987, as did Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu in 1989 and again in 2002. What makes Jimmy Carter unique is that he is the first U.S. President to make that comparison. Unlike the others, Carter’s description is carefully qualified. He writes: “The driving purpose of the separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa ­ not racism but the acquisition of land” (189-190). What’s more, Carter’s assessment of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians contradicts the observations he catalogues in his own text. He writes that “There has been a determined and remarkably effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever coming in contact with any facet of Arab life” (190).

In his failed effort not to offend, Carter overlooks several critical aspects of Israeli policy. Since its inception, Israel has striven to establish a strong Jewish majority within the state, treating the ratio of Jews to non-Jews as a national security issue. Numerous Israeli policies ­ from the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians in Israel’s founding years to the route of Israel’s current “security barrier” ­ are designed to preserve Jewish demographic predominance. Palestinians citizens of the state of Israel face a catalogue of over 20 discriminatory laws, based solely on their identity as non-Jewish citizens, including the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, but denies that same right to native Palestinians.

Carter’s book eloquently describes the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it is here that Israel exhibits its strongest parallels to apartheid. He writes about the extensive road system that crisscrosses the West Bank but which Palestinians are forbidden to use. Palestinians in the West Bank often require permission simply to travel from one village to the next, and pass through numerous Israeli military checkpoints, reminiscent of South Africa’s infamous “pass system” which controlled the movement of blacks. Carter also levels a strong criticism against “the wall,” which secures Israel’s control of confiscated Palestinian lands and separates Palestinian communities from each other. He quotes Father Claudio Ghiraldi, the priest of the Santa Marta Monastery in Bethany: “Countering Israeli arguments that the wall is to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from Israel, Father Claudio adds…’The Wall is not separating Palestinians from Jews; rather Palestinians from Palestinians'” (194).

Faced with such overwhelming evidence, it is difficult to imagine how the label of apartheid has not been used more frequently to describe Israeli policies, and without any qualifications. But Jimmy Carter, though he remains the elder statesman of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, writes within the narrow confines of the American policy tradition in the region, a tradition that has, for decades, favored virtually unconditional financial, military, diplomatic and emotional support for Israel.

Carter falls short of a full critique of Israel’s treatment of non-Jews under its rule, but his book challenges Americans to see the conflict with eyes wide open. He places the blame on “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land” as “the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land” and he places equal blame on the United States for “the condoning of illegal Israeli actions from a submissive White House and U.S. Congress in recent years.”

Americans can only hope that the newly elected Congress, led by Ms. Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, will read beyond that title page and that one day, they too, will see the writing on the wall.

LENA KHALAF TUFFAHA wrote this commentary for the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

 

 

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
Jonathan Cook
Forget Trump’s Deal of the Century: Israel Was Always on Course to Annexation
Andrew Levine
The Biden Question
Stanley L. Cohen
From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Collapses 70 Years Early
Kenn Orphan
Normalizing Atrocity
Ajamu Baraka
No Dare Call It Austerity
Ron Jacobs
The Redemptive Essence of History
David Rosen
Is Socialism Possible in America?
Dave Lindorff
The US as Rogue Nation Number 1
Joseph Natoli
The Mad King in His Time
David Thorstad
Why I’m Skipping Stonewall 50
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail