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PACBI-Israeli Apartheid: Whats in a Name?

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PACBI | 1 June 2012

Israeli Apartheid: Whats in a Name?

This month, almost a year after South Africans succeeded in severing institutional ties between the University of Johannesburg and Ben Gurion University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal cancelled a lecture by a representative of the Israeli state [1]. It is significant that the first major successful implementations of the academic boycott of Israeli institutions should come from South Africa.  For all who wish to see, this highlights the way formerly oppressed South Africans recognize the parallels between their oppression under apartheid rule and the apartheid that continues to be practiced on the Palestinians.  It also puts the nature of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, specifically, and the Palestinian struggle more generally, in perspective. It forces us to move beyond an occupation-only paradigm and to think instead of three-tiers of Israeli oppression: occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. It is the apartheid paradigm that we wish to focus on here, as it is often the least understood or recognized, despite the mounting international studies that have shown beyond doubt that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. 

It is crucial for the world to understand that ending the occupation alone will not bring about justice for the majority of the Palestinian people, 69% of whom are refugees or internally displaced persons, a whole 50% are still in exile, and only 38% live in the 1967-occupied Palestinian territory, more than 40% of whom are refugees [2]. Nor will it address all their rights under international law. For justice and equality to prevail, we must understand Israeli apartheid, and resist it.
Many have spoken out against Israel for practicing apartheid, among them former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Richard Falk. In some cases, when public figures have endorsed the charge of apartheid, they have referred to apartheid policies in the OPT and not in Israel within its – still undeclared -- pre-1967 borders. However, it must be stressed that authoritative opinions have emerged that extend the ambit of apartheid: recently, the Cape Town session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine found that “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid” [3], while the 80th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2012 also found Israel in violation of the crime of apartheid in the treatment of its Palestinian citizens inside Israel by determining that many state policies within Israel also violate the prohibition on apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) . [4].
We believe that Israel is not becoming, or at risk of turning into, an apartheid state, as many left Zionists would like us to believe; it is and has always been since its foundation an apartheid state, according to the UN definition of the term. That the charge has become more popular today indicates, more than anything else, that awareness of this aspect of Israel’s oppression has become much more heightened in recent years as a result of Israel’s adoption of fanatically racist laws and the myriad reports by human rights organizations addressing the matter from a legal perspective. In addition, more South African anti-apartheid leaders, with their morally authoritative voice, have come forth accusing Israel of apartheid [5].
But what is apartheid and why exactly is Israel considered an apartheid state? 
What is Apartheid?

While the term apartheid, an Afrikaans term, was first used in the South African context and referred to clear institutionalized and legalized segregation by white settlers over the indigenous population, it later took on an international legal dimension.  In 1973, apartheid became encoded in the UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid [6], which was later adopted by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Under Article II of the Convention, the crime of apartheid is defined as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them,” and also includes “similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa.” While South African style apartheid is one benchmark, the real determinant of the crime of apartheid is whether or not policies and practices of oppression fall under the list of violations included in Article II [7] of the Convention.
The crime is defined in terms of oppressor and oppressed (not majorities and minorities, as some incorrectly understand it), and prohibits the institutionalization of racist discrimination and oppression in which racism is legally enshrined through state institutions. Racial discrimination is defined in international law [8] as any distinction based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.  So the argument that since Palestinians are not a “race” then apartheid does not apply is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally misleading.
Israeli Apartheid
In the West Bank and Gaza, the prolonged Israeli occupation has developed into a pervasive system of apartheid, which includes checkpoints, the Wall, house demolitions, destruction of property, denial of access to education, arbitrary imprisonment, Israeli-only roads and a siege. The Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their lands in 1948 are also subjected to Israeli apartheid in the sense that they are denied, based on their ethnic/national identity, their internationally sanctioned right to return to their homes, in violation of Article 2c of the apartheid convention, as well as of UN Resolution 194 [9].
In Israel, Palestinian citizens face apartheid through an intricate Israeli legal system, with over twenty laws, that enables and justifies the entrenched system of racial discrimination [10]. Like South Africa’s notorious Population Registration Act, Israel has its own Population Registry Law (1965) whereby every citizen must register his or her nationality as defined by the state. In Israel, much of life and many rights and privileges are organized on the basis of nationality, which is defined primarily as either Jewish or Arab (there are many other categories as well, such as Druze and Bedouin). “Israeli” nationality is not recognized within this system, as demonstrated by rulings from the country’s Supreme Court rejecting cases calling for citizens to be allowed to register as Israeli. 
Aside from this two-tier system of citizenship, Israeli land policy is also comparable to South Africa’s Group Areas Act (1950), which legally reserved 87% of South African land to whites. In Israel, 93% of land is reserved for Israel’s Jewish citizens [12].  These are but a few examples of the many laws that expose the myth that is Israeli democracy.  The most significant of these racist laws have existed since the founding of the Israeli state and have been supported by both liberal and conservative Israeli governments.  The tension between laws, such as the Loyalty Oath and the Population Registry Law, and Israel’s professed commitment to democratic values, pervades many aspects of political life. For example, in order to field candidates in parliamentary elections, Palestinian political parties in Israel must recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  In this context, the electoral process has become little more than a cover for racial discrimination.
Supporting the fundamental and inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination means, at a minimum, upholding the basic rights of all Palestinians as enshrined in international law. Calling for ending the occupation addresses, at best, most of the rights of 38% of the Palestinian people. Without ending Israeli apartheid and supporting refugee rights, the Palestinian people as a whole cannot exercise its right to self-determination. Real solidarity with the Palestinians means rejecting Israel’s occupation, colonization as well as apartheid. Only then can Palestinians enjoy freedom, justice and equality.
[5] For instance, ANC leader and former Mandela advisor Ahmed Kathrada declared his solidarity with the Palestinians “resisting Israeli apartheid”:; Reverend Allan Boesak called Israel’s apartheid “more terrifying”:; and South African Christian leaders have accused Israel of being a “worse apartheid” than South Africa:
[10] For details, see Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which documents over 20 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel ( See also the “Inequality Report”:

Posted on 01-06-2012

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