March 4, 2010

Israel and Apartheid

As you’ve probably heard, a number of pro-Palestinian groups have dubbed the first week of March Israeli Apartheid Week. By holding numerous events, mostly on college campuses, these groups hope “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”

Predictably, these events have elicited an angry response from many neoconservatives, who have vehemently argued that Israel is not an apartheid state. Most notably, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen has written:

“The Israel of today and the South Africa of yesterday have almost nothing in common. In South Africa, the minority white population harshly ruled the majority black population. Nonwhites were denied civil rights, and in 1958, they were even deprived of citizenship. In contrast, Israeli Arabs, about one-fifth of the country, have the same civil and political rights as do Israeli Jews. Arabs sit in the Knesset and serve in the military, although most are exempt from the draft. Whatever this is—and it looks suspiciously like a liberal democracy—it cannot be apartheid.

“The West Bank, more or less under Israeli military rule, is a different matter. But it is not part of Israel proper, and under every conceivable peace plan—including those proposed by Israeli governments—almost all of it will revert to the Palestinian Authority and become the heartland of a Palestinian state.”

Cohen’s first point—that Israeli Arabs are not subject to apartheid—is undoubtedly correct. Although Israeli Arabs face extraordinary discrimination, discrimination that is tantamount to that faced by African-Americans in the Jim Crow South, I wouldn’t say that they are victims of apartheid.

My problem with Cohen’s article lies in his second point. Ever the Israel-defender, he doesn’t say a word about the situation faced by Arabs in the West Bank but simply asserts that most of the West Bank will eventually become part of a Palestinian state and then goes on to accuse Israel’s critics of being racist and dishonest. Needless to say, claiming that the West Bank will eventually become part of a Palestinian state does not prove Cohen’s main point, which is that “[t]he Israel of today and the South Africa of yesterday have almost nothing in common.” Even if we grant that Palestinians will eventually control most of the West Bank (and I honestly don’t see how this is possible), this doesn’t change the fact that Israel has been occupying the West Bank for forty-three years now and that its current treatment of Palestinians there undoubtedly resembles South Africa’s former treatment of its black citizens.

First of all, Israel accords Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank different legal rights. Only Jewish settlers can vote. Moreover, while Jewish settlers are subject to the Israeli legal system, Palestinians live under military rule. Consequently, “settlers enjoy liberties and legal guarantees that are denied Palestinian defendants…charged with a similar offense. The authority to arrest an individual, the maximum detention before being brought before a judge, the right to meet with an attorney, the protections available to defendants at the trial, the maximum punishment allowed by law, and the release of prisoners before completion of sentence— all of these differ greatly in the two systems of law, with the Israeli system providing the suspect and defendant with more protections.”

Palestinians face discrimination in numerous other ways. For instance, although Palestinians make up 83% of the West Bank’s population, Israel prevents [.pdf] them from accessing the Jordan River and allows them to use just 20% of the Mountain Aquifer, the area’s other main water source. Additionally, Israel excludes the Palestinians from more than 60% of the land in the West Bank. Through a network of walls, checkpoints, and roads, it has splintered the remaining Palestinian land into an archipelago of sixty-four enclaves. While Israel allows its own citizens to travel between Jewish settlements and Israel proper, it often restricts Palestinian movement between these different enclaves, sometimes shutting down roads for several days at a time. It seems clear that Israel often imposes these travel restrictions as collective punishment, something it never does to its own citizens. Other forms of collective punishment Israel has employed include imposing curfews in Palestinian areas and even demolishing Palestinian homes.

And the discrimination does not end there. Israel is far more likely to approve construction permits for Jews than Palestinians. According to the Israeli government’s own numbers, from 2000 to 2007 the government approved just 91 of 1,624 Palestinian building permit requests. During the same time, Jewish settlers built 18,472 homes and apartments. This inequality has forced many Palestinians to build homes without permits. From 2000 to 2007, Israel issued demolition orders against 4,993 Palestinian homes, eventually demolishing 33% of these homes. During the same period, it issued demolition orders against 2,900 settler homes built without permits but only ended up demolishing 7% of them.

One of the ugliest examples of Jewish-Palestinian disparity can be found in the West Bank city of Hebron. As B’Tselem noted [.pdf] in its 2008 Annual Report, “In 2008, Israel continued to carry out its ‘separation policy’ in the center of Hebron. As part of this policy, Israel imposes a long list of prohibitions and restrictions on Palestinian movement on major thoroughfares, along which settlers are allowed to move freely. Israeli security forces routinely delay Palestinian passersby for repeated checks, in which they harass and humiliate them. Palestinian residents of the city center are also exposed to extensive violence by Israeli settlers, much greater than elsewhere in the West Bank. Therefore, the restraint shown by the authorities on enforcing the law against settlers in this city is especially blatant.”

There are certainly differences between the modern West Bank and South Africa from 1948 to 1994, but, as I’ve briefly described, there are also many similarities, and these similarities are striking. Like the South African National Party, the State of Israel has imposed what can only be described as an apartheid system. Given that the American government, and thus our tax dollars, make this system possible, I think it follows that each of us has an obligation to feel outraged by this injustice and to do our part to bring it to an end.

Related Posts:
A Introduction to Israel’s Blockade of Gaza
A Tale of Two Regimes: Political Repression in Iran and Israel
The Jerusalem Post Slams Amnesty International - Again


mordy said...

Its a funny thing, I am an orthodox jew and a semi anarchist, but I came to my political ideals from my Jewish philosophy.

1st things 1st..... The idea that the Arabs have a claim to Israel is absurd. Forget religion for a sec. and look historically, Did Alexander kick the Arabs out? Did the Romans burn a Mosque or Temple, did Nebachanezzer kill Arabs over their religion, obviously not.... so unless you propose to give the land back to the yebisute or the caananite or amorite, the land is the Jews, no matter who was there in 1948.

Considering this and considering the Arab claim the land does not belong to the Jews, why are the libertarians not screaming bloody hell that the arabs dont respect property rights?

While I believe govt is corrupt, ,and do not support an Israeli Govt, as the only authority over the Jews is God not Bibi....its amazing that the libertarians wholly ignore the corrupt Govts of the Palestinians, from Arafat to Hamas who have stolen foreign aid for their own ends.

I mean lets be fair, Israel, while a sucker...did not have to give any land belongs to them rightfully.

What else is wholly ignored, and I like to refer to this as the libertarian neurosis is that they view govts allied with the US as equivalent to the US. While this may be true some of the time,not all of the time...

Lets make a clear distinction... Afghanistan...the threat against us has almost nothing to do with our involvement there.

Can the same be said of Israel...

.... If someone shoots rockets at you not have the right to stop the threat to your life via necessary means....

if there is consistent bombings in your markets from a specific group....should you not take action...

ok then so the question of course is how much action.....

....but lets be honest that is not the questions libertarians deal with

how much....great question....i dont know....but we should not ignore the macro view of the situation....that seems silly

Don Emmerich said...

I appreciate your comments, but I completely disagree.

First of all, let’s say that Land X originally belonged to the Smith family, but that at some point in the past the Smiths were kicked off the land, and the Joneses subsequently moved in. Let’s now suppose that Mr. Smith comes along and provides credible evidence to Mr. Jones that the Smiths, not the Joneses, are the rightful owners of the land. In such a situation, I’d agree that, all other things being equal, Mr. Smith is entitled to the land.

But that’s not the situation in Israel/Palestine. Yes, Jews once lived there, although, as you point out, they were not the original inhabitants. Therefore, I think that if a modern Jewish individual could demonstrate that a particular plot of land once belonged to his ancestors, then, all other things being equal, he would be entitled to that land. But, of course, no modern Jew can demonstrate that any piece of land in Israel/Palestine belonged to his relatives two thousand years ago.

A strong case can be made--and in fact has been made, most recently by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand--that, contrary to common belief, there wasn’t a mass exodus of Jews from Palestine following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Appealing to both scientific and historical evidence, Sand argues that most of the original Jews stayed in the land and that many of their descendents subsequently converted to the Muslim faith. In other words, many of the descendents of the original Jews are Palestinians. And, of course, we know that many non-Jewish Russians, North Africans, and Yemenis converted to Judaism during the Middle Ages. This has been well-documented.

So basically you have some modern Jews who descended from the original Jews, but you also have a number of modern Arabs who descended from the original Jews.

My great uncle and aunt and their children live in Nahal Oz, which is in southern Israel. I have no idea whether my family descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it’s certainly not something I could ever prove. My great uncle is from Los Angeles, my great aunt from Denver. In the 1970s, they packed up their bags and moved to Israel, and you’re telling me that they have a right to be there, just because their parents and grandparents practiced Judaism? Even though they themselves might not have descended from the original Jews? Whereas Palestinians--who can prove that their families lived in the land until the 1948 War--don’t have the right to move back to their homes? That makes absolutely no sense.

Regarding your second point, in which you write, “If someone shoots rockets at you not have the right to stop the threat to your life via necessary means....”

My response is that, yes, of course you have the right to stop the threat. Of course. Nobody denies that. The question we need to ask is, by what means are you justified in stopping the threat? If you have the choice of stopping the threat through peaceful means but instead try to stop it through violent means--specifically, by unleashing a military campaign that ends up killing large numbers of civilians--then you’re not justified, not according to international law, not according to natural law. And I think that’s essentially what happened in Gaza in 2008-2009. I’ve written about this:

Don Emmerich said...

By the way, I appreciate your respectufl response to my post. As you well know, this is a very heated issue, and it's always nice to find someone who's willing to discuss it in courteous, respectful manner.

Even if we don't end up agreeing on this point, I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the future. It's been a busy week here, but I definitely plan on checking out your blog soon.