The Question Of Apartheid
It was perhaps 6 or 7 years ago. I was part of a panel, debating on Israel and the Palestinians, that took place at a local (West Chester, Pa) Quaker Friends school. The school had such debates regularly until the administration caved-in to pressure from the Zionist parents of a number of Jewish students. One of these parents debated for the Israeli side.
This particular event came to mind upon my seeing the latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report conclusively laying out the apartheid nature of Israel. Here is the connection: just before the debate was to begin the participating Zionist parent tried to make a command decision. No one was to use the term apartheid in reference to Israel. This was because the assertion was, according to him, obviously nonsense.
I remember at the time thinking, who gave him the right to define the terms of the debate? As it turned out, and this is quite often the case, those supporting the Palestinians knew twice as much history as did the Zionists and could call upon twice as many facts and examples. Apartheid Israel was shown to be a matter of fact rather than nonsense. I am convinced that Zionist pressure on the school to end future debates was motivated by the additional fact that those supporting the Palestinians so readily won.
I have run into many other cases like this. The Zionists would debate for a while, but upon realizing that they could not prevail, they opted for enforced silence—that is, attempting to deny their opposition a stage and eventually labelling them anti-Semites. I often wonder if that Zionist parent who did the one-time debate at the Friends school, ever did face the fact that he was wrong about Israel and apartheid. Not because we said he was wrong. He would never have taken our word for it despite the evidence we had at hand. Rather, because an ever-greater number of humanitarian organizations, of which HRW is one, journalists and research institutions have thoroughly and repeatedly laid out the facts that make it so. To this one may now add the charge of “medical apartheid.” And none of us could forget the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing if most of us were actually informed of the process.
Amidst the predictable resumption of mass resistive from Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, The Human Rights Watch report confirming Israeli Apartheid presents the seminal context for what we now witness.
Human Rights Watch’s 2021 Report
Here is part of the opening pages of the HRW report:
—“About 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live today between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Throughout most of this area, Israel is the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule.”
—“Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
—“The prohibition of institutionalized discrimination, especially on grounds of race or ethnicity, constitutes one of the fundamental elements of international law … [over which] the International Criminal Court has the power to prosecute …when national authorities are unable or unwilling to pursue them.”
The report goes on to definitively prove its allegations in 213 pages of depressing detail—all laid out like a damning legal writ. Nor, as suggested above, is this the first time the apartheid nature of Israel been demonstrated. The HRW document was preceded by 16 March 2017 report submittedby UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia demonstrating Israel’s apartheid nature. Though the report was accurate, the UN Secretary General disavowed it under pressure from the United States and Israel. In May of 2018 a
thorough examination appeared entitled Apartheid Israel, by the journalist Jonathan Cook. This was published by Americans for Middle East Understanding in their journal, The Link (April/May 2018). More recently, a 21 January 2021 report by B’Tselem, Israel’s own premier human rights organization, entitled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid,” proved particularly revealing. One should also look at the Israeli Apartheid Factsheet, published 12 January 2021 online, by War On Want.
The Israeli government dismisses all of these fact-based reports as propaganda. This sets up a question of what is real—one that can be readily resolved, one way or another, through objective outside observers. Unfortunately, Israeli behavior over the past decades has shown that, unless you agree with the Zionist interpretation of events, Israel does not consider you objective. Thus, the HRW representative, and many others as well, have been banned from entering the country. This sort of reaction is not just an Israeli tactic. It is typical of countries in the process of undermining the rule of law and destroying human rights. In a very real way, the charge of “it is all, in this case, anti-Semitic propaganda” is itself a form of propaganda design to shut done critics.
The Zionist Rationale
The Zionists consistently say that Israel exists to save world Jewry from persecution—from the constant threat of anti-Semitism and another Holocaust. Many still believe this is true and some of a liberal orientation now resort to this rationale to undermine the HRW report. They charge that it will cause the current wave of anti-Semitism to gain greater traction. Such greater traction always leads to a greater fear of another Holocaust. And this fear will only make the Zionists and Israelis dig in their heels. And indeed, the cries of anti-Semitism and Holocaust has always created a smokescreen behind which can be hidden all Israeli sins. Has anyone ever considered that Israel’s abominable behavior, always committed in the name of the community of worldwide Jewry, is itself a major cause of growing anti-Semitism?
While Zionism might have started out as a strategy to save the Jews, Israel and the Zionists are no longer in the saving business. In point of fact, various Israeli authorities are constantly bickering about who is or isn’t Jewish. What they are now about is the business of national glorification and expansion—carried on in the old 19th century style of racist imperialism. In this effort the Palestinians are the major victims, but all Jews are, if you will, collateral damage. They become denigrated by the behavior of a brutalizing racist regime that simply declares itself acting in their name.
In the process another truth is also brought low—the fact that means ultimately shape ends. And here is the irony of it all: the outcome of apartheid that is now playing itself out in “greater Israel” was all but predetermined by the nature and behavior of Zionism itself.
The Predetermined Nature Of Israeli Apartheid
Here are some of the steps and decisions that made today’s apartheid Israel inevitable:
—The aim of the Zionist movement was to establish an exclusively Jewish state. Most of the early Zionists were European Jews searching for a way to escape centuries of anti-Semitism. Living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their reference point was the ethnically homogeneous nation state. Soon they convinced themselves that Jews could only escape anti-Semitic persecution if they had their own nation state.
—By the beginning of the 20th century the Zionists had focused on Palestine as their future political, religious, and cultural nation state. This was due to the land’s biblical associations—and even though many Zionists were of a secular rather than religious orientation. In 1917, they made an alliance with the British government to rally Jewish support for the British war effort in World War I (WWI) in exchange for British support of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. This alliance was spelled out in the Balfour Declaration.
—Soon thereafter, the British took Palestine from the Ottoman Turks (the Turks were allies of the Germans in WWI). They then allowed Zionist organized immigration to commence. The British told the Palestinian Arabs that Zionist investment would raise the living standards of the land’s non-Jewish residents. In the meantime, the Zionists discouraged any cooperative interaction with the Palestinian Arabs. This was particularly true when it came to use of Arab labor. Jews who had Arab employees were forcefully pressured to replace them with Jewish immigrants.
—Between 1914 and 1947 both the Arab and Jewish population of Palestine grew. However, Jewish numbers, even though consistently bolstered by Zionist inspired immigration, were never more than 32% of the total population.
—Given Zionist ambitions and the demographics, the question can be asked, just how they could create a state for one group alone in a land where that favored group was a distinct minority? There were only three direct ways: (1) devising a method to get the Arab majority to move out of the country. (2) creating an unequal political and economic system that marginalized the majority, rendering them politically and economically irrelevant. (3) Committing genocide.
—Both methods 1 and 2 were employed. The first led to the Nakba, the catastrophic removal of some 700,000 Palestinians, during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel. Some of these people fled the fighting, but many were forced out at gunpoint by Israeli forces. In truth, the Nakba never completely came to an end as the ongoing home demolitions and evictions show. The second method followed in two stages for those Palestinians who would still find themselves under direct Israeli rule: (A) the so-called Palestinian Israelis, today numbering close to 2 million people or roughly 21% of the population of pre-1967 Israel. These Arabs have been given Israeli citizenship—actually second-class citizenship. They are segregated from Jewish Israelis by a host of discriminatory practices, among which are inferior housing, schools, and job opportunities. (B) The Palestinians who fell under Israeli control in 1967 and remain so today. These are the residents of the West Bank, Golan Heights and also the Gaza Strip, numbering roughly 5 million people. Most of these Palestinians have been denied Israeli citizenship. They are under the rule of Israeli military authorities or an allied Palestinian authority under Israeli supervision. Internal travel is made difficult for them, their ability to improve or expand their infrastructure is restricted. They are encroached upon by illegal Israeli settlements and harassed by Israeli settlers. Attempts at self-defense or counterattack are seen by the Israelis as terrorist acts.
—Means shape ends. (1) The nature of Zionist goals: the transformation of Palestine into a nation state for Jews alone, (2) undertaken with a group mentality shaped by a memory of European anti-Semitism, the outlook of racist European imperialism, and finally the trauma of the Holocaust, (3) strongly inclined the Zionists toward tactics that precluded compromise and equity with the indigenous Palestinians. (4) When the Palestinians inevitably resisted the Zionists, they were cast as Arab Nazis, an image which justified the brutal tactics (suppression and expulsion) already in use. Finally, having conquered Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and shying away from a second mass expulsion as long as the world was watching, the Israelis inevitably fell into apartheid to neutralize the 7 million Arabs under their rule.
Once you have segregated away those you oppress, the average member of the dominant group can proceed with his or her life in comfortable blindness—literarily not seeing their victims and remaining purposefully ignorant of the deformed situation that sustains their status, security, and wealth. As time goes on all aspects of society (education, employment, media, social norms) come to reinforce this condition. This is the situation in today’s Israel.
The blindspots can extend to Israel’s Zionist supporters in the diaspora, even if they are otherwise progressive liberals. Take the case of the American Jewish progressive Peter Osnos, who fears the definitive nature of the HRW report. Why so? Because, he believes, “this report—in detail, length and tone—could be the basis for sanctions against Israel.” As the old Jewish idiom goes, “from his mouth to God’s ears.” However, that is an unlikely prospect. Western governments are so committed to Israel—and steeped in the hypocrisy this requires—that they will simply ignore the HRW revelations, as they did the earlier reports.
Nonetheless, when you strip away all the ideologically bred magical thinking, rationalizations, and blindspots, what you are left with is the blatant truth: you cannot impose a foreign group of people, seeking exclusive domination, into a land already populated by a different people, and not end up with a discriminatory and abusive system of rule. And if the abusive system persists something akin to apartheid becomes inevitable. So does periodic mass resistance.