Omar Barghouti | January 26, 2006
Israeli Apartheid: Time for the South African Treatment
By now, most Palestinians recognize Israel’s entrenched system of colonialism, racism and denial of basic human rights as a form of apartheid. In fact, Palestinians are far from alone in holding this view of Israel; leading South African intellectuals, politicians and human rights advocates subscribe to the same school of thought. For instance, in an article in the Guardian tellingly entitled “Apartheid in the Holy Land,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote:
I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. […] Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? 
In fact, many Jews have not forgotten. Inside Israel, some Jewish politicians and journalists have made clear analogies between Israel and South Africa. Roman Bronfman, Chair of the Democratic Choice faction in the Yahad party, criticized what he termed “an apartheid regime in the occupied territories,” adding, “The policy of apartheid has also infiltrated sovereign Israel, and discriminates daily against Israeli Arabs and other minorities. The struggle against such a fascist viewpoint is the job of every humanist.”
Esther Levitan, the Jewish grandmother once condemned to indefinite solitary confinement without trial in apartheid South Africa for her activism in the ANC, admitted in an interview with Ha’aretz that she considered Israel appallingly racist, saying: “Israelis have this loathsome hatred of Arabs that makes me sick. […] They will create a worse apartheid here.”
Former Israeli education minister, Shulamit Aloni, recently stated that Israel commits war crimes, “utilizes terror” and is “no different from racist South Africa.” When asked how she viewed Israel’s future, Aloni responded: “I can show you Mussolini’s books about fascism. If you read them you’ll reach the unequivocal conclusion that ministers in the current Israeli government are walking on the same path.”
Brave Jewish South African leaders also made their voices heard against Israeli apartheid when they issued their famous Not in Our Names Declaration of Conscience flatly condemning Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights as the root cause of the conflict. The Declaration, authored by government minister Ronnie Kasrils and legislator Max Ozinsky and signed by hundreds of other leading Jewish South Africans, states, “It becomes difficult, particularly from a South African perspective, not to draw parallels with the oppression experienced by Palestinians under the hand of Israel and the oppression experienced in South Africa under apartheid rule.”
What could have stirred all this moral indignation, one may wonder? The following representative samples of Israeli oppression of the three main parts of the Palestinian people (under occupation, in exile and in Israel) may help answer this question.
Nothing captures the immense injustice of the occupation as much as Israel’s colonial Wall, built mostly on occupied territory, and condemned as illegal by a historic advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in July 2004. Despite the Wall’s grave repercussions on Palestinian livelihood, environment, and political rights, a near total consensus exists amongst Israeli Jews in its support. The former Israeli environment minister, Yehudit Naot, however, protested a specific aspect of the Wall, saying:
The separation fence severs the continuity of open areas and is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks. The protective system will irreversibly affect the land resource and create enclaves of communities that are cut off from their surroundings. 
Even after irises were moved and passages for small animals were created, the spokesperson for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority complained:
The animals don't know that there is now a border. They are used to a certain living space, and what we are concerned about is that their genetic diversity will be affected because different population groups will not be able to mate and reproduce. Isolating the populations on two sides of a fence definitely creates a genetic problem. 
While so attuned to the welfare of wild flowers and foxes, Israel treated Palestinian children as dispensable creatures. Professionally-trained sharpshooters fatally targeted them in minor stone-throwing incidences. For example, medical sources and human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, have documented in the first stage of the current Palestinian intifada a pattern of targeting the eyes and knees of Palestinian children with “clear intention” to harm. Tel Aviv University professor Tanya Reinhart writes, “A common practice [among sharpshooters] is shooting a rubber-coated metal bullet straight in the eye -- a little game of well-trained soldiers, which requires maximum precision.”
And when there was no stone-throwing incident to hide behind, Israeli soldiers had to provoke one. The veteran American journalist Chris Hedges exposed how Israeli troops in Gaza had methodically provoked Palestinian children playing in the dunes of southern Gaza in order to shoot them. While the kids were playing football, the voice out of the army Jeeps would bellow,
“Come on, dogs. […] Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come! [...] Son of a bitch!” Describing how the plan would then unfold, Hedges writes:
The boys -- most no more than ten or eleven years old -- dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. [...] A percussion grenade explodes. The boys [...] scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.
Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight [...]. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered […] but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.
As outrageous as they are, Israeli violations of human rights in the occupied territory are not the only form of oppression practiced against the Palestinians. Two other crucial dimensions of Israeli injustice and breaches of international law are no less important, if arguably less urgent, namely Israel’s denial of Palestinian refugee rights and its system of racial discrimination against its own Arab-Palestinian citizens. Palestinians cannot ignore either form of oppression.
Israel and Palestinian Refugee Rights
Far from admitting its guilt in creating the world’s oldest and largest refugee problem, Israel has constantly evaded any responsibility for the Nakba, the catastrophe of Palestinian dispossession and uprooting around 1948. Most peculiar in the mainstream Israeli discourse about the “birth” of the state is the total denial of any crime. Israelis, with few bright exceptions, regard the Zionists’ ruthless destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages and their campaign of ethnic cleansing which led to the exile of more than 750 thousand Palestinians as Israel’s “independence.” Even committed Israeli leftists often grieve over the loss of Israel’s “moral superiority” after occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, as if prior to that Israel were a normal, civil and law-abiding state.
But the truth that was literally buried under the rubble was eventually unearthed, thanks in no small part to Israel’s new historians. Today, the refugee problem irrefutably remains the most consequential and morally charged issue in this entire conflict.
Manipulating the Holocaust, Israel has premised its rejection of Palestinian refugee rights on the theory that Jews are unsafe among Gentiles and must therefore live in a state with a dominant Jewish character that is to be sacredly maintained, regardless of international law and irrespective of the human and political rights of the displaced natives of the land on which this state was erected. No other country in the world today claims a similar right to ethno-religious supremacy. When the victims of the “super-victims” are portrayed as relative humans, as possessing inferior comparative worth, such an attitude is largely tolerated.
While denying Palestinian refugees their basic rights, Jews in Israel and the west have scored numerous successes in their campaigns for Holocaust restitution and compensation, which often included the right to return to Germany, Poland and other countries from which Jewish refugees were expelled. But the quintessence of moral inconsistency is betrayed by the World Sephardic Federation’s pressure on Spain to recognize the descendants of the Jews expelled from Andalusia more than five centuries ago as Spanish citizens and to rehabilitate them accordingly.
The fact that refugees form a majority of the Palestinian people coupled with their 57-year old suffering in exile make the recognition of the basic rights of Palestinian refugees, including their right to return to their lands, the litmus test of morality for anyone suggesting a just and enduring solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moral and legal rights aside, the denial of Palestinian refugee rights guarantees the perpetuation of conflict.
Israel and its own Arab-Palestinian Citizens
Israel might not be unique in racially discriminating against its national minority. But it is certainly unique in its remarkable and sustained success -- so far -- in getting away with it, projecting a false image of enlightenment and democracy. At the core of Israel’s distinct form of apartheid lies a deep-rooted view of the Palestinian citizens of the state not just as undesirable reminders of the “original sin,” but also as a demographic threat. Racial discrimination against them in every vital aspect of life has always been the norm. In fact, advocating comprehensive and unequivocal equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel has become tantamount to sedition, if not treason. An Israeli High Court justice once stated on record that: “it is necessary to prevent a Jew or Arab who calls for equality of rights for Arabs from sitting in the Knesset or being elected to it.” To this date, significant majorities of Israeli Jews have consistently opposed full equality with the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Even in cancer research, Israeli apartheid is strongly present. In June 2001, the Health Ministry published a map of the geographical distribution of malignant diseases in Israel during the years 1984-1999. The detailed report presents data about such diseases in communities with more than 10,000 residents. The report did not include a single Arab community in Israel, with the exception of Rahat. When asked why, Ministry officials resorted to the ubiquitous excuse of “budgetary problems.” But why is this research particularly important? Well, because in Israel only when a correlation is shown between the presence of polluting sites and the incidence of malignant disease is it possible to prevent installation of new hazards, or demand tighter environmental standards. By intentionally omitting Arab towns in its extensive cancer mapping, the Health Ministry has indirectly given a green light to polluters to relocate to Arab towns. The results of such health apartheid are ominous. In the past three decades the rate of malignant diseases in the Palestinian population in Israel has risen by 97.8 percent among men, and 123 percent among women, as opposed to a rise of 39.8 percent for men and 24.4 percent for women in the Jewish population. A spokesperson for the Center Against Racism commented: “The report has produced two different groups. One, an overprivileged group, whose lives are dear to the state and to the Health Ministry; a second, whose lives are of no importance to the state.”
This discrimination must be seen in the wider context of Israel’s perception of Palestinians. Israeli politicians, intellectuals, academics and mass media outlets often passionately debate how best to fight the country’s demographic “war” with the Palestinians. Racist walls have been erected in several localities inside Israel where Jews and Palestinians live in close proximity. In Lydda, Ramleh and Caesaria barriers of various forms were built to demographically separate the two communities. Echoing a popular view in Israel, a ranking academic, Major General (reserve) Shlomo Gazit from the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, preeches: “Democracy has to be subordinated to demography.”
Many Israelis from across the political spectrum now support various forms of ethnic cleansing of Palestinian citizens of Israel. This once taboo, extreme-right slogan upheld by such fringe figures as Rabbi Meir Kahane has now become part of the acceptable discourse about demography in the Israeli mainstream.
One conscientious Israeli who is revolted by all this language of demographic control is Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University, who says: “It's frightening when Jews talk about demography.”
Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain addressed this rarely mentioned aspect of Israel’s apartheid in an article in the Guardian, where they wrote:
The desire for an ethnic-religious majority of Israeli Jews has seeped across from the occupied territories to permeate the Israeli 'national’ agenda, which increasingly views Palestinian citizens of Israel as a 'demographic threat’ […]. The Palestinian minority in Israel has for decades been denied basic equality in health, education, housing and land possession, solely because it is not Jewish. The fact that this minority is allowed to vote hardly redresses the rampant injustice in all other basic human rights. They are excluded from the very definition of the 'Jewish state’, and have virtually no influence on the laws, or political, social and economic policies. Hence their similarity to the black South Africans. 
What’s to be Done, then?
The abject failure of the international community in the last few decades to bring about Israel’s compliance with international law has prompted people of conscience the world over to go beyond mere condemnation of Israeli crimes and human rights violations to explicitly endorse and advocate effective pressures on Israel, as was done with the apartheid regime in South Africa. In an article entitled “Against Israeli Apartheid,” Desmond Tutu states:
Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you about today's life in the occupied territories. […] The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar. […] Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we went through. […] If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.
This is precisely the conclusion reached by Palestinian civil society. On July 9, marking the first anniversary of the ICJ’s advisory opinion against the Wall, more than 170 Palestinian political parties, trade unions, professional associations and other civil society organizations issued a Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, directed against Israel until it fully complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. The BDS campaign is anchored in Palestinian non-violent resistance to Israeli oppression in all its dimensions. Setting an important precedent, this historic document was signed by representatives of the three constituent sectors of the people of Palestine: refugees, Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territory. It is also the first time such a non-violent form of resistance was widely endorsed by virtually all sectors of Palestinian society. A crucial feature in the Call is its direct appeal to conscientious Israelis to support it.
Support for boycotting Israel was strongest in South Africa. In October 2004, a call for a comprehensive boycott of Israel issued by solidarity groups in South Africa was endorsed by major South African organizations and unions, including the Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Landless People’s Movement, South African NGO Coalition, Anti-War Coalition and Physicians for Human Rights.
So what is Palestinian Civil Society calling for exactly?
Based on the above described three-tiered system of Israeli apartheid, the Palestinian BDS Call states:
We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.
The BDS Call is modelled after the earlier Call issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) which became the center of focus during the debate leading to and following the AUT’s boycott of selected Israeli universities back in April 2005. That historic decision was overturned in May of the same year. For 34 days, Palestinians everywhere saw some light at the end of the 57-year long tunnel of dark oppression. We realized that Israel could be brought down from the pedestal it is placed on in the west, to borrow Desmond Tutu’s metaphor. For 34 days, we felt that the world was listening, that finally we had a true rupture in the wall of shameful silence and complicity in the international arena. For 34 days, we witnessed a defining moment of transformation in the modus operandi of the solidarity movement from mostly raising awareness and issuing appeals or condemnations, as important as these issues remain, to also applying effective pressure to bring about justice and peace.
There are many arguments against heeding the Palestinian Call. I shall try to summarize the most rational and popular among them, giving counter arguments, the key to which is the principle of moral consistency.
Main Arguments Against BDS
Some distinguished supporters of the Palestinian cause have argued against applying South-Africa style sanctions and boycotts to Israel for various reasons, most significant of which are:
(A) Israel is essentially a democratic country with a vibrant civil society, and therefore it can be convinced to end its oppression without sanctions.
(B) Unlike in South Africa during apartheid, the majority in Israel is opposed to sanctions.
(C) Israeli civil society organizations are largely progressive and at the vanguard of the peace movement, and therefore they must be supported not boycotted.
(A) How can an ethno-religious supremacy that is also a colonial power ever qualify as a democracy? NYU professor Tony Judt, for instance, calls Israel a “dysfunctional anachronism,” categorizing it among the “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno states.”
The famous Jewish-American writer, I.F. Stone, summed up the dilemma of Zionism saying: “Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world, the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racist and exclusivist.”
(B) Of all the anti-boycott arguments, this one reflects either surprising naiveté or deliberate intellectual dishonesty. Are we to judge whether to apply sanctions on a colonial power based on the opinion of the majority in the oppressors’ community? Does the oppressed community count at all?
(C) This is simply a myth propagated and maintained by some Israeli academics and intellectuals who count themselves in the “left.” The vast majority of Israelis serve in the army’s reserve forces, and therefore directly know of or participate in the daily crimes of occupation and colonization. Moreover, with the exception of a tiny yet crucial minority, Israeli civil society is largely opposed to full equality of the Palestinians, is supportive of the state’s oppression or is acquiescently silent about it.
Second Set of Arguments Against BDS
From a slightly different perspective, some observers have argued that boycotting Israel is counterproductive and may lead to:
(1) Losing the ability to influence Israel’s possible path to peace
(2) Radicalizing the Israeli right and pulling the rug from under the feet of the left
(3) Indirectly increasing the suffering of Palestinians who stand to lose financially and may even be subjected to deteriorating conditions of oppression by a wilder, more isolated Israel.
Second Set of Counter Arguments
(1) What influence? Europe hardly has any right now. Even in the U.S., the Israeliziation of US foreign policy, particularly vs. the middle east, has reached new depths, effectively tying the hands of any prospective American pressure aimed at curtailing, not to mention changing, Israel’s oppressive policies.
(2) What left? The Zionist left in Israel easily makes the far-right parties in Europe look as moral as Mother Teresa, especially when it comes to recognizing Palestinian refugees’ rights. On the other hand, the morally consistent, non-Zionist left is a very tiny group, whose members may inadvertently end up losing benefits, privileges and funding as a result of boycott. This should compel us to nuance our boycott tactics to decrease the possibility of that unnecessarily happening. But, we all know, this is not an exact science (if any science is). We must emphasize the positive impact boycott can have on the overall struggle for human rights, equality and real democracy even in Israel.
(3) More suffocation? Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu was horrified by the elaborate, multi-layered siege Israel has set up in the occupied Palestinian territories, calling for South-Africa style sanctions against Israel.
The Holocaust and Anti-Semitism Argument
As the French philosopher Etienne Balibar says, “Israel should not be allowed to instrumentalize the genocide of European Jews to put [itself] above the law of nations.” Beyond that, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s oppression, as the U.S. and most of official Europe often do, the West has in fact perpetuated the misery, the human suffering and the injustice that have ensued since the Holocaust.
As to the anti-Semitism charge, it is patently misplaced and clearly used as a tool of intellectual intimidation. It is hardly worth reiterating that Palestinian calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions do not target Jews or even Israelis qua Jews. They are strictly directed against Israel as a colonial power that violates Palestinian rights and international law. The growing support among progressive European and American Jews for effective pressure on Israel is one counter-argument that is not well publicized.
BDS does not preclude joint Palestinian-Israeli cooperation so long as it recognizes the reality of oppression, accepts the basic need for equality and is directed against injustice. It just sets careful criteria for making such cooperation morally sound and politically effective. It is not enough to call for peace, for this word has become the most abused word in the English dictionary, particularly when two notorious and certified war criminals currently regard themselves as “men of peace.” Peace without justice is equivalent to institutionalizing injustice.
Peace projects which deliberately omit any mention of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians are nothing more than harmful and corrupt endeavours. Those who imagine they can wish away the conflict by suggesting some forums for rapprochement, détente, or “dialogue” -- which they hope can lead to authentic processes of reconciliation and eventually peace -- are clinically delusional or dangerously deceptive. Attempting to change the perception of the oppressed rather than help end oppression itself is an indicator of moral blindness and political short-sightedness. Prolonging oppression is not only unethical, it is pragmatically counter-productive as well, as it perpetuates the conflict.
Boycott, divestment and sanctions do not come in one size that fits all. If the basic premise that Israel needs to be pressured in order to comply with international law is accepted, then diverse forms of pressure can be applied in accordance with specific contexts. Without principled and effective support for this minimal, civil, non-violent form of resistance to oppression, or for any comparable form of struggle, international civil society organizations will be abandoning their moral obligation to stand up for right, justice, true peace, equality and a chance to validate the prevalence of universal ethical principles.
* Independent Palestinian researcher; founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
 Desmond Tutu, Apartheid in the Holy Land, The Guardian, April 29, 2002.
 Roman Bronfman, The Hong Kong of the Middle East, Ha’aretz, May 20, 2005.
 Thomas O'Dwyer, Parts and apartheid, Ha’aretz, May 24, 2002.
 Roee Nahmias, 'Israeli terror is worse’, Yedioth Ahronoth, July 29, 2005.
 Jon Jeter, South African Jews Polarized Over Israel, Washington Post, December 19, 2001.
 Ha’aretz Editorial, A Fence Along the Settlers’ Lines, October 3, 2003.
 Mazal Mualem, Old Habitats Die Hard, Ha’aretz June 20, 2003.
 Dr. Aghlab Khouri of St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem explains in his affidavit to a human rights organization the effect of the impact of a rubber coated metal bullet to the eye: “The cases that I [have] treated during the clashes were cases of direct shots to the eyes with rubber coated metal bullets. This kind of bullet does not have a sharp end but has a piece of metal inside; they hit the eye with great speed, creating an impact that shatters the eye.”
LAW, Israel’s Excessive and Indiscriminate Use of Force: Eye Injuries, November 2, 2000.
 Physicians for Human Rights, Evaluation of the Use of Force in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, November 3, 2000. http://www.phrusa.org/research/forensics/israel/Israel_force_2.html
 Tanya Reinhart, Don’t Say You Didn’t Know, Indymedia, November 6, 2000.
 Chris Hedges, A Gaza Diary, Harper’s Magazine, October 2001.
 For more on this argument, refer to: Omar Barghouti, The Spirit of Auschwitz, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 2 - 8 May 2002.
 DPA, Sephardi Jews Demand Recognition from Spanish Government, Ha’aretz, October 15, 2002.
 For more details on this, refer to: Omar Barghouti, On Refugees, Creativity & Ethics, ZNet, September 28, 2002.
 According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, “Although the Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel represent approximately 20% of its population, this community suffers from institutionalized discrimination that produces severe socio-economic gaps between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. No significant investments are made to eliminate these gaps. On the contrary, the Arab population continues to suffer from under-budgeting and discrimination in many areas including employment, education, property and planning policies, and health care services.” http://www.phr.org.il/Phr/Pages/PhrArticle_Unit.asp?Cat=37&Pcat=4
 Israeli writer Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi says, “Israelis seem to be haunted by […] the curse of the original sin against the native Arabs. How can Israel be discussed without recalling the dispossession and exclusion of non-Jews? This is the most basic fact about Israel, and no understanding of Israeli reality is possible without it. The original sin haunts and torments Israelis: it marks everything and taints everybody. Its memory poisons the blood and marks every moment of existence.’ Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (1993); cited in: “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” www.cactus48.com
 Edward Herman, Israeli Apartheid and Terrorism, Z-Magazine, April 29, 2002.
 Ha’aretz, May 22, 2003.
 Eli Ashkenazi, Budget for Cancer Mapping doesn’t extend to Arab Sector, Ha’aretz, March 28, 2005.
 Lily Galili, Long Division, Ha’aretz, December 19, 2003.
 Lily Galili, A Jewish demographic state, Ha’aretz, Monday, July 01, 2002.
 Yulie Khromchenco , Poll: 64% of Israeli Jews support encouraging Arabs to leave, Ha’aretz, June 22, 2004.
 Galili, 2002.
 Ronnie Kasrils and Victoria Brittain, Both Palestinians and Israelis will benefit from a boycott, The Guardian, May 25, 2005.
 Desmond Tutu and Ian Urbina, Against Israeli Apartheid, The Nation, July 15, 2002.
 Palestinian Civil Society's Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) can be read in full at: www.PACBI.org
 Tony Judt, Israel: The Alternative, New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, #16, October 23, 2003. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16671
 I.F. Stone, For a new approach to the Israeli-Arab Conflict, The New York Review of Books, August 3, 1967.
 Etienne Balibar, A Complex Urgent Universal Political Cause, Address before the conference of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP), Université Libre de Bruxelles, July 3rd and 4th
Posted on 30-01-2006