March 16, 2010

Israel and Apartheid (part 2)

After making the case that apartheid does not exist in Israel proper, Alan Dershowitz writes:

What is true of Israel proper, including Israeli Arab areas, is not true of the occupied territories. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza several years ago, only to be attacked by Hamas rockets. Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank only because the Palestinians walked away from a generous offer of statehood on 97% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and with a $35 billion compensation package for refugees. Had it accepted that offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, there would be a Palestinian state in the West Bank. There would be no separation barrier. There would be no roads restricted to Israeli citizens (Jews, Arabs and Christians.) And there would be no civilian settlements. I have long opposed civilian settlements in the West Bank, as many, perhaps most Israelis, do. But to call an occupation, which continues because of the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the two-state solution, “Apartheid” is to misuse that word. As those of us who fought in the actual struggle of apartheid well understand, there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank.

Nowhere in his article does Dershowitz attempt to show that “there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank.” I imagine he realizes that he can’t prove this. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it’s pretty clear that there are many striking similarities between apartheid South Africa and the modern West Bank and that, like the South African National Party, the State of Israel has imposed what can only be described as an apartheid system.

As evidence that Israel doesn’t practice apartheid, Dershowitz simply claims that Ehud Barak once gave Yasser Arafat a “generous offer of statehood.” Needless to say, this is a helluva non-sequitur, even for someone like Alan Dershowitz. The fact that Israel once offered to return 97% of the West Bank proves that it doesn’t currently practice apartheid? Huh?

Even if Israel once offered to return 100% of the West Bank, even if it agreed to let all of the 1948 refugees return, this wouldn’t change the fact that it is currently depriving Palestinians living in the West Bank of some of their most basic human rights. For instance, Israel prevents [.pdf] Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and allows them to use just 20% of the Mountain Aquifer, the area’s other main water source; it excludes the Palestinians from more than 60% of the land in the West Bank and, through a network of walls, checkpoints, and roads, has splintered the remaining Palestinian land into an archipelago of sixty-four enclaves; it frequently restricts Palestinian movement between these different enclaves, sometimes shutting down roads for several days at a time. I could go on and on.

So, even if it’s the case that Yasser Arafat should have accepted Ehud Barak’s “generous offer of peace,” the fact remains that Israel is an apartheid state. (And by the way, Barak’s offer, though certainly the most generous one an Israeli prime minister has ever made to the Palestinians, still failed to comply with international law.)

But Dershowitz simply refuses to acknowledge this point and instead spends the majority of his article lambasting the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gaza Strip. These governments, he writes, are true perpetrators of apartheid, and therefore we ought to spend our energy criticizing them. Instead of Israeli Apartheid Week, he writes:

I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.

He goes on to claim that Israeli Apartheid Week is “carefully designed to cover up far more serious problems of real apartheid in Arab and Muslim nations.”

Of course, the fact that many Muslim nations commit apartheid doesn’t change the fact that Israel does, too. And even if we accept Dershowitz’s claim that these Muslim nations are greater perpetrators of apartheid, it still doesn’t absolve Israel from its sins in the West Bank.

So why then all the focus on Israel? Do pro-Palestinian activists really intend to cover up the evils of the Saudi, Jordanian, and Pakistani governments? That’s certainly not my intention, and I’ve never met another pro-Palestinian activist who had anything but contempt for these regimes.

Personally speaking, I take such a strong interest in the suffering of the Palestinians because, as an American, I feel somewhat responsible. Every year, the money I pay in taxes helps subsidize the Israeli government and all its evil practices. Since I feel that refusing to pay taxes would be completely counterproductive, I try to help in other ways. I give what I can to pro-Palestinian charities, and I frequently blog about these issues, trying my best to expose the sophistries of people like Alan Dershowitz.

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