DISSENT IN THE RANKS AGAINST APARTHEID

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Supporting Palestinian state-bid – in Tel Aviv Nov.29 – Uri Avnery spoke as veteran of the two states idea
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If everyone agreed on everything there would be results rather than continued discussions. For 0ver 65 years pro Palestinian activists have been discussing the various issues facing the ultimate solution of statehood. These discussions take place on both sides of the wall. To date, the solution has not been found.
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This week, one of the most prolific writers and activists, Uri Avnery, penned an essay regarding apartheid …. Israeli Apartheid …. is it or isn’t it an apartheid state?
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Jonathan Cook, a Nazareth based journalist responds …. both pieces are worth reading.
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But before I continue, I must wish Brother Avnery a Happy 90th Birthday which he celebrated this week. We all wish him many more years of good health and activism despite whatever disagreements we might have with him.
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Mazal Tov! Ad Mea v’Esrim!!
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Is Israel an apartheid state? Well, first one must settle the question: which Israel? Israel proper, within the Green Line, or the Israeli occupation regime in the occupied Palestinian territories, or both together?
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Taking Apartheid Apart 
By Uri Avnery
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IS ISRAEL an apartheid state? This question is not going away. It raises its head every few months.

The term “apartheid” is often used purely for propaganda purposes. Apartheid, like racism and fascism, is a rhetorical term one uses to denigrate one’s opponent.

But apartheid is also a term with a precise content. It applies to a specific regime. Equating another regime to it may be accurate, partly correct or just wrong. So, necessarily, will be the conclusions drawn from the comparison.

RECENTLY I had the opportunity to discuss this subject with an expert, who had lived in South Africa throughout the apartheid era. I learned a lot from this.

Is Israel an apartheid state? Well, first one must settle the question: which Israel? Israel proper, within the Green Line, or the Israeli occupation regime in the occupied Palestinian territories, or both together?

Let’s come back to that later.

THE DIFFERENCES between the two cases are obvious.

First, the SA regime was based, as with their Nazi mentors, on the theory of racial superiority. Racism was its official creed. The Zionist ideology of Israel is not racist, in this sense, but rather based on a mixture of nationalism and religion, though the early Zionists were mostly atheists.

The founders of Zionism always rejected accusations of racism as absurd. It’s the anti-Semites who are racist. Zionists were liberal, socialist, progressive. (As far as I know, only one Zionist leader had openly endorsed racism: Arthur Ruppin, the German Jew who was the father of the Zionist settlements in the early 20th century.)

Then there are the numbers. In SA there was a huge black majority. Whites were about a fifth of the population.

In Israel proper, the Arab citizens constitute a minority of about 20%. In the total territory under Israeli rule between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the numbers of Jews and Arabs are roughly equal. The Arabs may by now constitute a small majority – precise numbers are hard to come by. This Arab majority is bound to grow slowly larger as time passes.

Furthermore, the white economy in SA was totally dependent on black labor. At the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip in 1967, the Zionist insistence on “Jewish Labor” came to an end and cheap Arab labor from the “territories” flooded Israel. However, with the beginning of the first intifada this development was stopped with surprising speed. Large numbers of foreign workers were imported: Eastern Europeans and Chinese for the building trade, Thais for agriculture, Philippinos for personal care, etc.

It is now one of the main jobs of the Israeli army to prevent Palestinians from illegally crossing the de facto border” into Israel to seek work.

This is a fundamental difference between the two cases, one that has a profound impact on the possible solutions.

Sadly, in the West Bank, the Palestinians are widely employed in the building of the settlements and work in the enterprises there, which my friends and I have called to boycott. The economic misery of the population drives them to this perverse situation.

In Israel proper, Arab citizens complain about discrimination, which limits their employment in Jewish enterprises and government offices. The authorities regularly promise to do something about this kind of discrimination.

On the whole, the situation of the Arab minority inside Israel proper is much like that of many national minorities in Europe and elsewhere. They enjoy equality under the law, vote for parliament, are represented by very lively parties of their own, but in practice suffer discrimination in many areas. To call this apartheid would be grossly misleading.

I ALWAYS thought that one of the major differences was that the Israeli regime in the occupied territories expropriates Palestinian lands for Jewish settlements. This includes private property and so-called “government lands”.

In Ottoman times, the land reserves of the towns and villages were registered in the name of the Sultan. Under the British, these lands became government property, and they remained so under the Jordanian regime. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, these lands were taken over by the occupation regime and turned over to the settlers, depriving the Palestinian towns and villages of the land reserves they need for natural increase.

By the way, after the 1948 war, huge stretches of Arab land in Israel were expropriated and a wide array of laws enacted for this purpose – not only the “absentee” property of the refugees, but also lands of Arabs who were declared “present absentees”’ – an absurd term meaning people who had not left Israel during the war but had left their villages. And the “government lands” in the part of Palestine that had become Israel also served to settle the masses of new Jewish immigrants who streamed into the country.

I always thought that in this respect we were worse than SA. Not so, said my friend, the apartheid government did exactly the same, deporting Blacks to certain areas and grabbing their land for Whites Only.

I ALWAYS thought that in SA all the Whites were engaged in the fight against all the Blacks. However, it appears that both sides were profoundly divided.

On the white side, there were the Afrikaners, the descendents of Dutch settlers, speaking a Dutch dialect called Afrikaans, and the British who spoke English. These were two communities of roughly equal size who disliked each other intensely. The British despised the unsophisticated Afrikaners, the Afrikaners hated the effete British. Indeed, the apartheid party called itself “nationalist” mainly because it considered itself a nation born in the country, while the British were attached to their homeland. (I am told that the Afrikaners called the British “salty penis”, because they stood with one foot in SA and with the other in Britain, so that their sexual organ dipped into the ocean.)

The black population was also divided into many communities and tribes who did not like each other, making it difficult for them to unite for the liberation struggle.

THE SITUATION in the West Bank is in many ways similar to the apartheid regime.

Since Oslo, the West Bank is divided into areas A, B and C, in which Israeli rule is exercised in different ways. In SA, there were many different Bantustans (“homelands”) with different regimes. Some were officially fully autonomous, others were partly so. All were enclaves surrounded by white territories.

In certain respects, the situation in SA was at least officially better than in the West Bank. Under SA law, the Blacks were at least officially “separate but equal”. The general law applied to all. This is not the case in our occupied territories, where the local population is subject to military law, which is quite arbitrary, while their settler neighbors are subject to Israeli civil law.

ONE CONTENTIOUS question: how far – if at all – did the international boycott contribute to the downfall of the apartheid regime?

When I asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he answered that the effect was mainly moral. It raised the morale of the black community. My new friend said the same – but applied it to the Whites. Their morale was undermined.

How much did this contribute to the victory? My friend estimated: about 30%.

The economic effect was minor. The psychological effect was far more important. The Whites considered themselves the vanguard of the West in the fight against communism. The ungratefulness of the West stunned them. (They would have wholeheartedly subscribed to the promise of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, that the future Jewish state would be the vanguard of Europe and a wall against Asiatic – viz. Arab – barbarism.)

It was no accident that apartheid broke down a few years after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The US lost interest. Can this happen in our relations with the US, too?

(By the way, young South African blacks who were sent by the African National Congress to the Soviet Union to study were shocked by the racism they met there. “They are worse than our Whites,” they commented.)

THE AREA where the boycott hit the apartheid people the most was sports. Cricket is a national obsession in SA. When they could no longer take part in international competitions, they felt the blow. Their self-confidence was broken.

Their international isolation forced them to think more deeply about the morality of apartheid. There was more and more self-questioning. In the final elections after the agreement, many Whites, including many Afrikaners, voted for the end of apartheid.

Will a boycott of Israel have the same effect? I doubt it. Jews are used to being isolated. “The whole world against us” is, for them, a natural situation. Indeed, I sometimes have the feeling that many Jews feel uncomfortable when the situation is different.

One huge difference between the two cases is that all South Africans – black, white, “coloured” or Indian – wanted one state. There were no takers for partition. (David Ben-Gurion, a great advocate of Palestine-style partition, once proposed concentrating all the Whites in SA in the Cape region and establishing there an Israel-style white state. No one was interested. A similar proposal by Ben-Gurion for Algeria met the same fate.)

In our case, a large majority on each side wants to live in a state of their own. The idea of a unified country, in which Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians will live side-by-side as equals, serving in the same army and paying the same taxes does not appeal to them at all.

APARTHEID WAS brought down by the Blacks themselves. No crypto-colonialist condescension can obscure this fact.

The mass strikes of African workers, on whom the white economy depended, made the position of the ruling Whites impossible. The mass uprising of the Blacks, who displayed immense physical courage, was decisive. In the end, the Blacks liberated themselves.

And another difference: in SA there was a Nelson Mandela and a Frederik de Klerk.

 

Written FOR

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And the response ….

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Does Uri Avnery know so little about Israel?

By Jonathan Cook
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One of my concerns about Uri Avnery is that, whatever the good work he has done as a journalist and peace activist, especially in regard to the occupied territories, he still has an ability to write utter nonsense when it comes to what is happening inside Israel. It is difficult to know whether this is simple ignorance or a bad case of ideological blinkers. But it is also hard to believe a man who has studied his own society for so long can really know so little about what is going on there.

There is a lot to challenge in his latest piece, on the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa, but the following paragraph really assaults the intellect:

On the whole, the situation of the Arab minority inside Israel proper is much like that of many national minorities in Europe and elsewhere. They enjoy equality under the law, vote for parliament, are represented by very lively parties of their own, but in practice suffer discrimination in many areas. To call this apartheid would be grossly misleading.

I’d love Avnery to point out the European state where, like Israel, 93 per cent of the land has been nationalised for one ethnic group (Jews) to the exclusion of another ethnic group (Palestinian Arabs). Or where vetting committees operate by law in hundreds of communities precisely to prevent one ethnic group (Palestinian Arabs) from living in these communities.

Or the European state, like Israel, where two separate citizenship laws exist – the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952) – which are designed to confer rights on members of an ethnic group (Jews) who are not actually yet citizens or present in the state, privileging them over a group (Palestinian Arabs) who do have citizenship and are present in the state.

Or a European state that has 55 laws that explicitly discriminate based on which ethnic group you belong to.

Or a European state that, like Israel, defers some of what should be its sovereign powers to extra-territorial bodies such as the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund whose charters obligate them to discriminate based on ethnic belonging.

Or the European state that denies its citizens access to any civil institutions on personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and burial, requiring all citizens to submit to the whims and prejudices of religious leaders.

Or a European state which does not recognise its own nationality, and where the only way to join the dominant national group (Jews) or to immigrate is through conversion.

I’d be surprised if he could find one European state that has a single one of these characteristics. Even if he could, it would not have more than one of those characteristics. Israel has them all and many more.

Now tell me Israel discriminates against Palestinian Arab citizens the way European states do against their minorities.

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5 Comments

  1. October 30, 2013 at 08:57

    […] Supporting Palestinian state-bid – in Tel Aviv Nov.29 – Uri Avnery spoke as veteran of the two states idea * If everyone agreed on everything there would be results rather than continued discussion…  […]

  2. October 30, 2013 at 23:53

    […] DISSENT IN THE RANKS AGAINST APARTHEID […]

  3. hampar said,

    October 31, 2013 at 01:44

    Avnery presents interesting parallels, but Cook very convincing rebuttals.

  4. PJ London said,

    October 31, 2013 at 16:15

    His portrayal of South Africa is equally in error.

  5. November 3, 2013 at 09:02

    Jonathan, I appreciate your critique on Avnery on the following point: “campaign for the creation of a Palestinian state, to preserve its Jewish state.” How you would be less Zionist than Avnery, if you also recognize “Israel” as a State.
    As a journalist in Occupied Palestine, you’re supposed to know the history of Palestine that hasn’t begun in 1948 or 1900, but long before. You know that the Zionists, as much the population as the politicians, religious as well as lay people, consider themselves as Jews. The religious Zionists (not the Jews) seek to make a parallel with the Judaism and its contrast the Zionism! They are totally opposed to all levels (goal, way of thinking, speaking and acting).
    You certainly know that when the Zionist ideology took the form of a political movement, and later a material form, the form of a political domination in Arabic Palestine, it was and it still yet to attack the Judaism and to create conflict in the world to reach their expansionist goal.
    But, the Occupied Palestine is above all the Holy Land, and we can treat it politically only!
    The Zionist entity is named “Israel” by the Zionists to deceive the Jews first. Then the Zionists imposed their “state” by terror and theft to the Palestinian population.
    A question: is The creation of this Zionist “state”, in which the UN was complicit between 46 and 48, in accordance with international law?
    So you also know that the Jews are in Exile and they have nothing to do in Palestine as the dominant mass.
    Thus… what remains to be done? Dismantling of the Zionist entity, and return the sovereignty of Palestine to the Palestinians who are mostly Muslims, if necessary by a third intifada. Do you agree with that?


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