Gandhi would have loved it. Nelson Mandela would have saluted. Martin
Luther King would have been the most excited - it would have reminded
him of the old days.
22, 2007, a decree of the Officer Commanding the Central Sector,
General Yair Naveh, was about to come into force. It forbade Israeli
drivers from giving a ride to Palestinian passengers in the occupied
territories. The knitted-Kippah-wearing General, a friend of the
settlers, justified this as a vital security necessity. In the
past, inhabitants of the West Bank have sometimes reached Israeli
territory in Israeli cars.
activists decided that this nauseating order must be protested.
Several organizations planned a protest action for the very day
it was due to come into force. They organized a "Freedom Ride"
of Israeli car-owners who were to enter the West Bank (a criminal
offence in itself) and give a ride to local Palestinians, who
had volunteered for the action.
event in the making. Israeli drivers and Palestinian passengers
breaking the law openly, facing arrest and trial in a military
At the last
moment, the general "froze" the order. The demonstration was called
* * *
that was suspended (but not officially rescinded) emitted a strong
odor of apartheid. It joins a large number of acts of the occupation
authorities that are reminiscent of the racist regime of South
Africa, such as the systematic building of roads in the West Bank
for Israelis only and on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel.
Or the "temporary" law that forbids Palestinians in the occupied
territories, who have married Israeli citizens, to live with their
spouses in Israel. And, most importantly, the Wall, which is officially
called "the separation obstacle". In Afrikaans, "apartheid" means
of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert amounts to the establishment of
a "Palestinian state" that would be nothing more than a string
of Palestinian islands in an Israeli sea. It is easy to detect
a similarity between the planned enclaves and the "Bantustans"
that were set up by the White regime in South Africa - the so-called
"homelands" where the Blacks were supposed to enjoy "self-rule"
but which really amounted to racist concentration camps.
this, we are right when we use the term "apartheid" in our daily
struggle against the occupation. We speak about the "apartheid
wall" and "apartheid methods". The order of General Naveh has
practically given official sanction to the use of this term. Even
institutions that are far from the radical peace camp did relate
it to the Apartheid system.
"vision" of Ariel Sharon and
Ehud Olmert amounts to the
establishment of a "Palestinian state"
that would be nothing more than
a string of Palestinian islands in
an Israeli sea. It is easy to detect
a similarity between the planned
enclaves and the "Bantustans"
that were set up by the
White regime in South Africa -
the so-called "homelands"
where the Blacks were supposed
to enjoy "self-rule"
but which really amounted to
racist concentration camps.
the title of former President Jimmy Carter's new book is fully
justified - "Palestine - Peace not Apartheid". The title aroused
the ire of the "friends of Israel" even more than the content
of the book itself. How dare he? To compare Israel to the obnoxious
racist regime? To allege that the government of Israel is motivated
by racism, when all its actions are driven solely by the necessity
to defend its citizens against Arab terrorists? (By the way, on
the cover of the book there is a photo of a demonstration against
the wall that was organized by Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush. Carter's
nose points to a poster of ours that says: "The Wall - Jail for
Palestinians, Ghetto for Israelis".)
that Carter himself was not completely happy with the use of this
term. He has hinted that it was added at the request of the publishers,
who thought a provocative title would stimulate publicity. If
so, the ploy was successful. The famous Jewish lobby was fully
mobilized. Carter was pilloried as an anti-Semite and a liar.
The storm around the title displaced any debate about the facts
cited in the book, which have not been seriously questioned. The
book has not yet appeared in Hebrew.
* * *
we use the term "Apartheid" to describe the situation, we have
to be aware of the fact that the similarity between the Israeli
occupation and the White regime in South Africa concerns only
the methods, not the substance. This must be made quite clear,
so as to prevent grave errors in the analysis of the situation
and the conclusions drawn from it.
It is always
dangerous to draw analogies with other countries and other times.
No two countries and no two situations are exactly the same. Every
conflict has its own specific historical roots. Even when the
symptoms are the same, the disease may be quite different.
all apply to comparisons between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and the historical conflict between the Whites and the Blacks
in South Africa. Suffice it to point out several basic differences:
(a) In SA
there was a conflict between Blacks and Whites, but both agreed
that the state of South Africa must remain intact - the question
was only who would rule it. Almost nobody proposed to partition
the country between the Blacks and the Whites.
is between two different nations with different national identities,
each of which places the highest value on a national state of
(b) In SA,
the idea of "separateness" was an instrument of the White minority
for the oppression of the Black majority, and the Black population
rejected it unanimously. Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians
want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state
of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be separated
from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration of the majority
on both sides, and the real question is where the border between
them should run.
On the Israeli side, only the settlers and their allies demand
to keep the whole historical area of the country united and object
to separation, in order to rob the Palestinians of their land
and enlarge the settlements. On the Palestinian side, the Islamic
fundamentalists also believe that the whole country is a "waqf"
(religious trust) and belongs to Allah, and therefore must not
(c) In SA,
a White minority (about 10 per cent) ruled over a huge majority
of Blacks (78 per cent), people of mixed race (7 per cent) and
Asians (3 per cent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan
River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal
number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians
who are citizens of Israel).
(d) The SA
economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have existed
without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding
the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli
labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.
* * *
It is important
to point out these fundamental differences in order to prevent
grave mistakes in the strategy of the struggle for ending the
and abroad there are people who cite this analogy without paying
due attention to the essential differences between the two conflicts.
Their conclusion: the methods that were so successful against
the South African regime can again be applied to the struggle
against the occupation - namely, mobilization of world public
opinion, an international boycott and isolation.
That is reminiscent
of a classical fallacy, which used to be taught in logic classes:
an Eskimo knows ice. Ice is transparent. Ice can be chewed. When
given a glass of water, which is also transparent, he thinks he
can chew it.
South Africa, no White would
have dreamt of ethnic cleansing.
Even the racists understood that
the country could not exist without
the Black population. But in Israel,
this goal is under serious
consideration, both openly and
in secret. One of its main advocates,
Avigdor Lieberman, is a member
of the government and,
in January 2007, Condoleezza Rice
met with him officially.
Apartheid is not the worst danger
hovering over the heads of the
Palestinians. They are menaced by
something infinitely worse: "Transfer",
which means total expulsion.
no doubt that it is essential to arouse international public opinion
against the criminal treatment by the occupation authorities of
the Palestinian people. We do this every day, just as Jimmy Carter
is doing now. However, it must be clear that this is immeasurably
more difficult than the campaign that led to the overthrow of
the South African regime. One of the reasons: during World War
II, the people who later became the rulers of South Africa tried
to sabotage the anti-Nazi effort and were imprisoned, and therefore
aroused world-wide loathing. Israel is accepted by the world as
the "State of the Holocaust Survivors", and therefore arouses
It is a serious
error to think that international public opinion will put an end
to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli public
itself is convinced of the need to do so.
another important difference between the two conflicts, and this
may be more dangerous than any other: in South Africa, no White
would have dreamt of ethnic cleansing. Even the racists understood
that the country could not exist without the Black population.
But in Israel, this goal is under serious consideration, both
openly and in secret. One of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman,
is a member of the government and, in January 2007, Condoleezza
Rice met with him officially. Apartheid is not the worst danger
hovering over the heads of the Palestinians. They are menaced
by something infinitely worse: "Transfer", which means total expulsion.
* * *
in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid analogy to
its logical conclusion: the solution here will be the same as
the one in South Africa. There, the Whites surrendered and the
Black majority assumed power. The country remained united. Thanks
to wise leaders, headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem
de Klerk, this happened without bloodshed.
that is a beautiful dream for the end of days. Because of the
people involved and their anxieties, it would inevitably turn
into a nightmare. In this country there are two peoples with a
very strong national consciousness. After 125 years of conflict,
there is not the slightest chance that they would live together
in one state, share the same government, serve in the same army
and pay the same taxes. Economically, technologically and educationally,
the gap between the two populations is immense. In such a situation,
power relations similar to those in Apartheid South Africa would
the demographic demon is lurking. There is an existential angst
among the Jews that the demographic balance will change even within
the Green Line. Every morning the babies are counted - how many
Jewish babies were born during the night, and how many Arab. In
a joint state, the discrimination would grow a hundredfold. The
drive to dispossess and expel would know no bounds, rampant Jewish
settlement activity would flourish, together with the effort to
put the Arabs at a disadvantage by all possible means. In short:
* * *
It may be
hoped that this situation will change in 50 years. I have no doubt
that in the end, a federation between the two states, perhaps
including Jordan too, will come about. Yasser Arafat spoke with
me about this several times. But neither the Palestinians not
the Israelis can afford 50 more years of bloodshed, occupation
and creeping ethnic cleansing.
The end of
the occupation will come in the framework of peace between the
two peoples, who will live in two free neighboring states - Israel
and Palestine - with the border between them based on the Green
Line. I hope that this will be an open border.
Then - inshallah
- Palestinians will freely ride in Israeli cars, and Israelis
will ride freely in Palestinian cars. When that time comes, nobody
will remember General Yair Naveh, or even his boss, General Dan
The above article is published by Gush
by Uri Avnery:
Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.
He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices
of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's
hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Those who want
to help out Gush Shalom can email [email protected]
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