As Israeli Apartheid Week unfolds around the world, apologists for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people scramble to defend their chosen regime’s system of racism, ethnic cleansing, and occupation, against the charge of apartheid.
“The apartheid analogy is fatally flawed,” the Jerusalem Connection’s Shelley Neese writes. The David Project’s David Bernstein says, “The apartheid analogy is specious and absurd.” The Anti-Defamation League has even circulated an old report: “The Apartheid Analogy: Wrong for Israel.”
These commentators are right, but not for the reasons they claim. An apartheid ‘analogy’ is fatally flawed, specious, absurd, and wrong for Israel because apartheid is not an analogy, but a crime as well-defined in law as embezzlement or kidnapping.
The most relevant statute, the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, perhaps muddies the waters by stating that “the term ‘the crime of apartheid’ … shall include similar practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa.”
But it goes on to define exactly what those and other “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” are.
Most will sound familiar to anyone who follows news from Palestine. The ban on “arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups” should bring to mind Hana Shalabi, Khader Adnan, and 307 other administrative detainees held indefinitely without charges, evidence, or trials. This is further to the 4,078 Palestinian political prisoners sentenced by military courts or facing the imminent prospect, all under occupation laws no Jew will ever face.
The prohibition of “measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country” could have been meant to describe discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
They are barred by law from their country’s ethnically-cleansed land controlled by the Jewish National Fund, face forcible displacement in the Naqab and Jim Crow-style ‘admissions committees’ when seeking new homes, and have never — over nearly 64 years of occupation — been allowed to construct a new community.
And one could write volumes about Zionist “measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group” in the occupied West Bank alone.
There, illegal settlements and the Apartheid Wall carve Palestinian communities into segmented Bantustans, separating inhabitants from natural resources and their families and friends in a steady process that began with the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948: racial partition writ large.
The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifically proscribes such ethnic cleansing, defining “the crime of apartheid” to include “deportation or forcible transfer of population … in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
This aptly summarizes an unbroken chain of crimes committed by Zionists, from the Nakba of 1948 to the Naqab of today.
Of course astute Zionists know all of this very well. They target an imaginary apartheid ‘analogy’ because it can only work to their advantage.
Palestinians and allies bogged down in fruitless debates over how much or how little Palestine in 2012 resembles South Africa in 1973 will spend that much less time driving home their actual point: that Israel’s culpability in the crimes of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, as clearly defined and universally understood, is obvious.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned supporters of Palestine fall into this carefully-laid trap. A promotional summary of the new documentary Roadmap to Apartheid promises that the film “winds its way through the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel moving from town to town and issue to issue to show why the apartheid analogy is being used with increasing potency.”
Such an historical comparison may interest viewers. But by casting apartheid as an ‘analogy’, rather than a straightforward question of international law, it risks confusing them with irrelevant distractions.
A 21st-century apartheid regime, toasted in foreign capitals and benefiting from new technologies of surveillance, control, and violence, will differ significantly from an earlier, internationally-isolated, and less-advanced one.
Incidentally, these differences do not favor Israel. After visiting Palestine in 2006, Willie Madisha, former president of South Africa’s Congress of South African Trade Unions, commented: “The horrendous dehumanization of Black South Africans during the erstwhile Apartheid years is a Sunday picnic, compared with what I saw and what I know is happening to the Palestinian people.”
Following his own 2004 visit, South African activist Arun Gandhi agreed: “When I come here and see the situation here, I find that what is happening here is ten times worse than what I had experienced in South Africa. This is Apartheid.”
John Dugard, a South African professor of international law and a former Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, has observed that “every black South African that I’ve spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse.”
Yet even these comparisons, though they may favor Palestine, are beside the point. Israeli policies constitute the crime of apartheid not because they resemble those of South Africa, or even because they are worse, but rather because a well-established body of international law defines them as such.
The common elements of national oppression, from South Africa and Palestine to Ireland and the indigenous Americas, matter. But we should not confuse the building blocks of international solidarity with a suitable basis for legal analysis.
Why choose to make one of the easiest, most straightforward questions about Palestine unnecessarily difficult? And when Zionists attempt to do so, why should we play along with them?